Neil deGrasse Tyson has earned his position as America’s celebrity astrophysicist.

He got his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University, became director of the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s American Museum of Natural History while still in his 30s and has developed great skill at crafting sound bites and funny retorts to media questions.

The result is he’s one of the national media’s go-to guys for stories about what’s happening in the universe. He has a weekly satellite radio show, “Star Talk,” which also airs periodically on the National Geographic cable TV channel. He gives talks in theaters and musics venues, including one scheduled for Wednesday at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.

Tyson, 58, says he didn’t set out to be a radio and TV personality. He just wanted to be as good at communicating the broader and finer points of the cosmos as he could. So it is, that in conversations or interviews, he can casually drop in references to Katy Perry or the old Frank Sinatra tune “Fly Me to the Moon” while also listing the daily high temperature on Venus – 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

His appearance Wednesday, he says, will consist simply of him and some slides. The talk is titled “The Cosmic Perspective,” which he says is an exploration of how small we all are in comparison to the universe. The subject is also a chapter in his recent book, a New York Times best-seller called “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

Speaking from his office in New York, Tyson agreed to answer a few questions about astrophysics, media attention, pop culture and his personal wardrobe.

Q: Was the eclipse in August just a creation of the media or did it actually happen? Why so much hype?

A: All the hype was justified. What justified it is the moon’s shadow hit the earth in the Pacific Ocean, it land-fell in Oregon, crossed the entire continental United States, came through South Carolina and then left the earth. So this eclipse path didn’t touch any other country. It’s literally America’s eclipse. And if you run the demographics on this, 200 million people live within one day’s drive of this path of totality. There were many people who never even knew this was something they could see, every couple years, by going somewhere on earth. There’s a total eclipse somewhere on earth every 18 to 24 months. What was not justified was anyone saying that the eclipse was rare. They happen more frequently than the Olympics, but no one says, “Rare Olympics coming up.”

Q: What was the best thing about all the attention the eclipse got?

A: For me, what it affirmed was people’s confidence in science, that we could predict to the second when the sun would completely disappear. I tweeted something that said, “Odd. No one is in denial of America’s Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. Like climate change, methods and tools of science predict it.” This was heavily retweeted, 140,000 times. I’m thinking people are warming up to science and what science can be and what role it plays. I also tweeted (as Hurricane Irma headed for Florida), “The National Weather Service is a branch of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), home to 5,000 scientists and engineers. They know WTF they’re doing.”

Q: How did you happen to become a celebrity astrophysicist?

A: I’m not entirely what I seem, in the sense that I’m much more passive about all of this than it otherwise looks. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t say, “How can I bring the universe to the public today?” In fact, I hope the phone never rings or that the inbox is empty, so I can do things that I want to do. What happened was, I started getting called (after becoming director of the Hayden Planetarium in 1996), and I’m an easy date for all the news-gathering headquarters here in New York City. I can show up, do the interview, and I’m home for dinner. They don’t have to fly me anywhere. Then I said to myself, “I spend so much time and energy contemplating the universe, the least I can do is come up with a really good sound bite.” I started working on sound bites and the succinctness of a reply when time is of the essence.

Q: Why did you want to work on sound bites and get better at talking to the media?

A: Because I can. I mean, why not? We should all try to be the best in something, be better at it at today than you were yesterday. A big part of this is I spend part of my week exposing myself to pop culture forces. What is the hit TV show these days? What sporting event is leading the pack? What did Katy Perry do this weekend? Did Trump say something interesting or odd? This serves as a tool kit for communicating back to whoever will listen.

Q: Speaking of pop culture, was Elton John correct when he sang (in 1972’s “Rocket Man”) that “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, in fact it’s cold as hell?”

A: Interesting. When was that? Early ’70s right? Yeah, it’s cold as hell. But hell is hot, so it’s cold as heaven (laughs).

Q: Are any of the other planets good places to raise your kids?

A: No, Mars is the closest we have. Venus is 900 degrees Fahrenheit. You could cook a pizza in a few seconds on a windowsill.

Q: Do you have a favorite song about the moon or the sun?

A: I like the old classic “Fly Me to the Moon.” What I like about it is the moon is the closest thing they go to in that song. (Paraphrasing lyrics) Fly me to the moon and on to Jupiter and Mars. There are other places to go in that song, which I’m totally enchanted by. I like it anytime the universe serves as the artist’s muse.

Q: Where do you get your cosmic-themed vests?

A: Four of them or so are custom-made and hand-sewn, from people who have met me when I give a talk, and they hand me this gift. I have about six cosmic vests. But my real repertoire is in the ties. I have about 130 ties (with cosmic scenes).

Q: Do you have a favorite?

A: Again, I like the role that science has played in art, so my favorite tie is (one that depicts the image of) van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

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Twitter: @RayRouthier