“I got hate mail from third graders,” said Neil de Grasse Tyson (with no small amount of amusement) recently on The Daily Show. He was referring to his part in Pluto losing its status as a recognized planet three years ago. He started the ball rolling in 2000 when, as director of the Hayden Planetarium, he decided to place the icy celestial object apart from the rest of the planets in the New York City institution’s “Hall of the Universe” exhibit. Now he has a book on the astronomy flap entitled The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, and he’s in Arlington this week to discuss it.

Tyson’s relaxed manner and sense of humor recall the days when Leonard Bernstein and Carl Sagan took to print, radio, and television to bring their specialized fields of study to a wider audience. Such “public intellectuals” – who have the people and media skills to make complicated concepts easily understandable to the layperson – haven’t been easy to find since the passing of those gentlemen, but the 44-year-old Tyson has done his part to fill the void. His personable style hasn’t gone unnoticed, as People magazine recently voted him its Sexiest Astrophysicist. (Night & Day would have voted for Hanny van Arkel, the Dutch schoolteacher who discovered the first voorwerp in 2007, but that’s just us.) Tyson will be able to talk about voorwerps, astronomy on the Internet, the effect of Disney cartoons on the Pluto controversy, whether or not Earth will be hit by an asteroid in 2029, and other heavenly matters at UTA.

Neil de Grasse Tyson speaks at 8pm Tue at UTA, Texas Hall, 701 W Nedderman Dr, Arlington. Admission is free. Call 817-272-2963.

Previous articleMr. Friday Night
Next articleSalvation through Science