Few people can geek out to a movie harder than astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, but he met his match when it came to Thor’s hammer.
Tyson, who’s the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium as well as the host of such TV shows as “StarTalk” and “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” is likely to tell the tale during his sold-out lectures at Seattle’s Paramount Theater on Wednesday and Thursday.
He may also touch on the other Hollywood reality checks he’s conducted over the years – like the time he went on a Twitter rant over the scientific inaccuracies in “Gravity,” or complained about a screwed-up sky in “Titanic” (which led director James Cameron to correct the scene for the film’s re-release in 3-D).
After all, the title of his talk is “An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies.”
The tempest over Mjolnir, the hammer wielded by Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth in the Marvel movies), marks one of the rare times when Tyson admits he was out-geeked at the movies. Back in 2013, he picked up on the claim that the super-heavy hammer was forged in the heart of a dying star – and mused about its mass in a tweet:
If Thor's hammer is made of neutron-star matter, implied by legend, then it weighs as much as a herd of 300-billion elephants
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 5, 2013
Not so fast, said Suveen Mathaudhu, who’s a program manager in the materials science division of the U.S. Army Research Office as well as a professor at North Carolina State University and a die-hard comics fan.
“The critical mistake Tyson makes is thinking that Mjolnir was forged of the core of a dying star, when it was actually forged in the core of a dying star,” Mathaudu said in an NC State blog posting. “It’s well-documented that the hammer is made out of ‘Uru,’ a fictional metal from Thor’s native realm of Asgard.”
He cited an authoritative source – specifically, a Marvel trading card – as setting Mjolnir’s weight at 42.3 pounds. That would imply that the hammer is less dense than aluminum, but Mathaudu suggested that Uru may be an exotic material akin to metallic hydrogen.
Tyson said he would stand corrected. “There are those geekier than I am,” he acknowledged on stage in Milwaukee.
If you’re dying to see Tyson on stage in Seattle this week, about the only way to do it is to buy a ticket on the secondary market – through StubHub, Vivid Seats or Craigslist, for example. But there are other ways to get on the Tyson train.
National Geographic Channel is ramping up the third season of “StarTalk,” a TV talk show that features Tyson’s chats with celebrities, plus commentary from a supporting cast of comedians and scientists.
This week’s season premiere featured Whoopi Goldberg talking about “Star Trek” and medical marijuana. Next week’s celebrity guest is actress Mayim Bialik, who plays a neuroscientist on “The Big Bang Theory” and actually has a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
The glossy 288-page volume addresses topics ranging from climate change to evolution to wormholes to zombies. Most of the book would probably be rated PG-13, but parents, take note: The chapter about love and sex touches on topics such as Viagra, gender assignment and whether size matters (and we’re not talking about Pluto here).
There’s even a chapter about comic-book superpowers and movie miscues. But geeks, take note: You won’t find a single word about Thor’s hammer.