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Neil deGrasse Tyson: When It Comes To Asteroids, Be Afraid. Be (A Tiny Bit) Afraid.

Helga Esteb

In 2013, a meteor exploded over the Ural Mountains in Russia (you might remember the dashcam footage and the seemingly non-plussed Russians who captured it).

Which begs the question: What else flying around in the cosmos might come into contact with Earth? And who better to deliver the answer than Neil deGrasse Tyson?

  The director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Cosmos was welcomed by an adoring fan base Monday night for a lecture at the Winspear Opera House.

According to Tyson, the next time the Earth will even be buzzed by anything is April 13, 2029 – yes, a Friday the 13th if you’re looking for omens. That’s when Apophis – a near-Earth asteroid – will fly by. The asteroid is named for an evil Egyptian god, even though scientists have already determined there’s zero chance it will hit our planet. Still, Tyson says the science community reserves menacing sounding names for the closest asteroids and names like “Tiffany and Bambi” for the really far away ones.

Surfers and weathermen, watch out

But just because we’re safe in 2029 doesn’t mean we should completely relax. Apophis will circle by again on April 13, 2036 (a Thursday this time). One calculation has it hitting us just off the coast of Southern California. If that were to happen, the asteroid would dive deep into the Pacific Ocean, triggering a series of tsunamis. Water would only make it about a quarter mile inland along the West Coast, and seeing as this is 22 years from now, we’d have plenty of time to prepare. In fact, Tyson says surfers and weathermen are the only possible casualties.

And even they are probably safe. While we can’t completely rule out the event, Tyson says the odds are right at one in a million of Apophis hitting (that’s an actually calculated one in a million, not a figure of speech).

How nerdy can you get?

On an even happier note, as Tyson took the crowd on a tour of the universe, he paused to tell the story of how he ended up in a Superman comic book. Basically, the folks at Action Comics were looking for a way for Superman to see Krypton’s destruction. Tyson did a little research and found a star that the Man of Steel could theoretically be from, though even he admits the science is a little shaky on that one.

As Tyson showed panels from the comic book, a fanboy near the front leapt to his feet and yelled, “I have an original sketch of that!" Like, actually on him.

And, sure enough, he delivered the drawing to the front of the stage, which Tyson happily autographed.

So just remember: You might feel nerdy thinking about the mysteries of the cosmos. But you’ll never be Neil-deGrasse-Tyson-signed-my-original-Superman-comic-book-sketch nerdy.

Photo Credit: Helga Esteb/

Stephen Becker is senior producer of the Think show , which airs on more than 25 stations across Texas and beyond. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar. His 2011 story about the history of eight-track tapes was featured nationally on NPR's All Things Considered. His works has been recognized with numerous state and national awards.