Bill Nye is back. He is back with a purple lab coat, a spotted bow tie, and serious, levelheaded science packaged in zaniness.
Mr. Nye, now the CEO of the Planetary Society, has launched a new miniseries on YouTube called "Why With Nye” that covers the Juno mission to Jupiter. The series debuted online on Tuesday, with an episode explaining the Juno’s Earth pass-by, expected a day later.
“Why With Nye features legendary educator and entertainer Bill Nye demystifying the cutting-edge science behind NASA's groundbreaking Juno mission to Jupiter,” according to the THNKR channel, where the series is hosted.
Nye, a former mechanical engineer at Boeing, was the host of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” from 1992 to 1996. Since then, he has emerged as a public defender of science, a bulwark against efforts to put creationism in schools and the idea that climate change is not happening. And even after giving up the “Science Guy” mantle, he has remained a popular educator and entertainer with a gift for explaining complicated science with a dose of goofiness.
“For centuries, we studied the planet Jupiter with instruments like this,” says Nye, holding an old, wooden telescope. “But if you’re like me, and I know I am, you want to know more. And in order to know more, we’ve got to get a spacecraft up close. But Jupiter is fantastically far away – way out there. So how do we do it?”
Well, we – or rather, NASA – build the Juno spacecraft.
Juno was launched in 2011 with an Atlas V 551 rocket – “Like everything else the government does, we were on a budget, so we had to use a rocket that already existed,” says Nye, cryptically. At about noon on Wednesday, the craft, drifting back toward Earth from Mars’s orbit, picked up a gravity boost from its home planet to help send it toward Jupiter, some 483 million miles from Earth. It is expected to arrive at the gas giant in 2016.
Unexpectedly, the craft is now in “safe mode,” the protective state into which a spacecraft goes when it encounters a problem, the Planetary Society reported. Though it is unclear what caused the craft to defend itself, it is reported to be secure.
But we may have to wait a while for Nye himself to reassure us that the craft is OK. Following the mothballing of most of NASA’s activities during the government shutdown, Nye’s program is now suspended.
“This just in: our gov’t is shut down,” he tweeted, on Wednesday. “So no hangout today, unfortunately.”
“Don’t think Juno spacecraft will change course as a result,” he said.