Monday, August 6, 2012

Star Trek: Tidal Locking

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 2, Episode 10
The Dauphin

During "The Dauphin" the crew heads to a planet engulfed in a Civil War. This planet rotates once per time it circles its sun, meaning that one side of the planet is always light and the other is always dark. This phenomenon is called tidal locking.

How does tidal locking work, does it actually happen, and what are the consequences?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Star Trek: Orbits

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)

During Star Trek episodes it is all too common to hear Captain Picard say "standard orbit, Mr. LaForge." This puts the ship close enough to the planet to keep it moving in circular motion around it.

Synchronous orbit is also sometimes requested. What is the distinction between the two, and what physics is required to keep a ship in orbit?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Star Trek: Neutrinos

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 2, Episode 8
A Matter of Honor

In an episode where Riker becomes first officer of a Klingon ship, there was a brief mention of neutrinos. A beam of neutrinos was used to remove organisms from the hulls of ships.

You may have heard of neutrinos, cute and mysterious little particles, but what are they and where do they come from? Could they actually be used to rid a ship of organisms?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Star Trek: Artificial Gravity

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)

The artificial gravity on the Enterprise has always confused me a little bit. I want to know how they do it!

Where does gravity come from and how can it be simulated in outer space? As it turns out, there are many ways to artificially simulate gravity.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Star Trek: Sound in Outer Space and on Other Planets

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)

In Star Trek there is little or no mention of the fact that outer space is a vacuum. There is not air to breathe and no matter to provide resistance to a spaceship.

It is interesting to consider the properties of sound waves and the effect of outer space on how we are able to communicate.

Star Trek: Galactic Cosmic Rays

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)

In outer space there is a type of very high energy radiation called galactic cosmic rays. These rays are comprised of charged particles, like atomic nuclei and electrons. They are one of the two major contributors to the radiation dose received by astronauts (the other coming from solar particle events), and the only one that it has been impossible to shield against thus far.

These galactic cosmic rays are ubiquitous in outer space.

While they are never, or very rarely, mentioned during Star Trek, they are a very important part of travel in outer space, and it is vital that astronauts and engineers know about them before leaving the safety of the earth's atmosphere.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Star Trek: Binary Stars and Pulsars

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 23
We'll Always Have Paris

In search of the source of a time disturbance, Picard and the Enterprise follow a relay signal to a binary star system. There they find the source of the disturbance and the scientist responsible.

What are binary star systems? Properties of these systems can provide insight into the nature of space and time.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Star Trek: Antimatter

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 22
Skin of Evil

The Enterprise comes in contact with a creature made out of an oily substance, which calls itself Armus. It is the embodiment of evil. In its haste to get to the planet Amus inhabits, the Enterprise must realign the dilithium crystals for its warp core. The warp core supposedly runs on an antimatter reaction. What is antimatter, and is it enough to power a ship like the Enterprise?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Star Trek: The Physics of Solar Flares

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 21

When the Enterprise comes the the aid of a small freighter, the crew discovers two cultures that have come to be dependent on one another for survival. Solar flares from the nearby sun make it difficult to rescue these people from their freighter, because the flares are interfering with the electronic equipment on the Enterprise. What are solar flares, and can they really be powerful enough to interfere with the Enterprise's electronics?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Star Trek: Supernovae and Element Scanning on Angel One

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 13
Angel One

An away team beams down to Angel One in order to look for a lost freighter crew. The crew has apparently hidden away on the planet, so the Enterprise must use advanced scanning technology to locate them. There are elements not endemic to Angel One that the crew would have brought with them. By scanning the planet for platinum, the Enterprise is able to locate the freighter crew. How would such a scanning technology work, and is it realistic?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Star Trek: Radiation Damage and Infertility

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 15
When the Bough Breaks

The Aldeans have incredible technology, which has managed to cloak their entire planet for thousands of years. Having advanced technology has come at a price, however. The cloaking device has depleted the planet's ozone layer and its people have become infertile due to DNA damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. The Enterprise reseeds the planet's ozone layer and Dr. Crusher offers them an antidote to reverse the damage done by the radiation. How closely does this match the actual effects of exposure to radiation?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Star Trek: Velara III and the Physics of Inorganic Life

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 17
Home Soil

Episode 17 begins with the mysterious death of one of the crew tasked with terraforming the uninhabited planet of Velara III. While trying to determine how he was killed, Geordi and Data discover a small light-emitting sphere. It turns out to be a form of inorganic life. In this post I will consider the implications of finding intelligent inorganic life.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Star Trek: Aldea and the Physics of Invisibility

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 16
When the Bough Breaks

At the start of episode 16, the Enterprise stumbles upon the mythical planet Aldea, which has been said to possess a cloaking device and other advanced technology. The cloaking device is intriguing and I am going to explore the possibility of the technology ever existing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Star Trek Physics: The Bynars

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) (Picture)
Season 1, Episode 14

The bynars, an alien species that live and work in pairs, board the Enterprise at Starbase 74 to perform some repairs and upgrades to the computer systems. These creatures live symbiotically with computers and have a language and way of thinking that is linked strongly to binary. Binary is the most basic level of computer programming - all higher level programs are eventually understood by the computer as a combination of 0's and 1's. In this post I'm going to muse on the possibility of a species like the binars existing someday.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Physics of Jurassic Park (1993)

SPOILER ALERT! Plot details from Jurassic Park (1993)
(Reference for image at left)

Jurassic Park is one of my favorite science fiction movies. Every boy has a dinosaur phase while growing up and I never quite outgrew mine. The thought of using science to populate an island with dinosaurs is mind bogglingly awesome. In the post after the jump I analyze the possibility of cloning dinosaurs from ancient mosquito blood, the scientific precedent for asexual reproduction in reptiles, and more...

The Physics of Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010)

SPOILER ALERT! Details about Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010) below

Iron Man and Iron Man 2 contain many fantastic scifi elements, including the arc reactor, chemical poisoning, and creating new elements using particle beams. In this post I investigate the scientific basis of these technologies and biological effects. For example: Is it possible to make an arc reactor? Yes and no! I explain more after the jump.