Star Trek (2009), novae, and getting the science right

I am a Trekkie/trekker.  I love Star Trek.  Granted, it is taking me quite a while to get used to the whole alternate universe that the newer Star Trek films use (no Vulcan planet?  Does that mean NO TUVOK too?), but slowly I am coming around.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock

As much as I love many of the stories in Star Trek (not to mention the music!), the natural-born scientist in me that drives my own work with the Peers of Beinan Series and the Legendary Women of World History Series balks at its claims.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the 2009 “Star Trek” movie starring Chris Pine, Zachery Quinto, and Leonard Nimoy.   In the movie, the alternate universe is created when the Romulan sun’s impending supernova threatens to destroy the (Milky Way) galaxy and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock tries to stop it with “red matter” which creates a sort of black hole.


Do to spacetime, an entire universe can fit inside of a black hole.  Source:  Cosmo:  A Spacetime Odyssey.  Episode:  A Sky Full of Ghosts

Sounds great, right?  Unless you happen to know the life cycle of a star and recognize that novae and supernovae happen pretty regularly; they are the stellar deaths that most efficiently fling out into the universe most of the elements we take for granted everyday — like carbon, oxygen, silicon, and every metal known to humankind.  Novae and supernovae are not killers; life on this planet would not exist without them.  Think about it:  for us to exist, for Earth to exist, stars had to die.  That is because dying stars run out of hydrogen to fuse into helium and create bigger and heavier elements as they die, a subject covered in Cosmos:  A Spacetime Odyssey.


Or put another way:  Star Trek got it WRONG — BIG TIME


Now some of you are no doubt asking “so what?  It’s fiction!”


Well yes, but Star Trek is SCIENCE FICTION.  More than that, it is major cultural institution.  More people will watch Star Trek in any given point of time than they will read a book on physics/astronomy, attend a planetarium show, look through a telescope, or attend any other sort of science-education event.


That means for the average person,  Star Trek and other programs become their science textbook, shaping the viewer’s inner reality whether we in the publishing and media industries intend for them or not.


So why do I like Star Trek?  Well it is NOT the science, for certain.


For me, the appeal of Star Trek lies in the characters and the stories themselves.  Correct the science to harmonize with real life data and these stories barely, if at all, change.  Stories about what it means to be a part of a culture.  Stories about social issues.  Stories about our strengths and those things each of us work at improving each day.  Star Trek allows us to talk openly about current events without stepping on each other’s toes.


It is a lesson well learned for my own writing:  tell great stories, explore the big questions, and, for heaven’s sake, get the science right!


What do you think?




One thought on “Star Trek (2009), novae, and getting the science right

  1. I love the characters, and the relationships between them, especially the deep friendship between Kirk and Spock and McCoy and Scotty. I too am a star trek fan, and a science fiction writer, working on my first novel. Star Trek’s influence on me will no doubt be reflected in my writing.

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