Tag Archives: star trek

Is there coffee in that nebula?

One of Star Trek Voyager’s best loved quotes was said in season 1, episode 6 (“The Cloud”). 75 years from home, the ship had run out of coffee and Neelix’ substitute just doesn’t cut it. The use of the replicators was confined as energy had to be saved. Then the crew approaches a strange nebula and while being far away from home, they’re still in space to explore. Captain Katherine Janeway orders to set course, for “There is coffee in that nebula.” This has been printed on countless mugs all over the world ever since. But what exactly is a nebula? And can we really find coffee there?

captain janeway

Captain Janeway enjoying a cuppa. Picture credit Star Trek

What’s a nebula then?

A nebula is a cloud of either gas, dust, or a combination of the two. They’re being held together and compacted by gravity. They’re the space’s nurseries as stars are born there and are typically found in interstellar space. The gorgeous pictures you see with nearly ever space article are often nebulae. The colours are created by the different elements within. Most Nebulae contain about 90% of hydrogen. This makes sense as stars are mostly composed of hydrogen. It’s also the most common chemical element in the universe. 

What else is in a nebula? Mostly helium and 0,1% of heavy elements such as carbon, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. All these elements undergo an interstellar gravitational collapse. This causes the matter to clump together and form these amazing structures, which are typically huge in size and are very dense. You can fly through a nebula though in theory. I say in theory because one of the closest and best known nebula, the Orion Nebula, is about 20 light years away. So, if you’d be able to fly at the speed of light, which we can not and most likely never will, it will still take 20 years to get there. 

Through the pretty colours

Will flying through a nebula be a cosmic out of your mind experience? If you mean you will be mesmerized by all the pretty colours we can see from afar, you may be very underwhelmed. The closer you get to the nebula, the fainter the colours will appear. Open a picture of a nebula (or a cat, or something else) on your computer and zoom in. The more you zoom in, the more the picture becomes unclear. Pixels are causing this. Think of these pixels as chemical elements. Seen from far away, it’s clear and beautiful as the pixels are all close together. But get closer, or zoom in, they move from each other (pixels appear bigger) and it loses its focus. 

OK, that’s in short what a nebula is. The birthplace of stars which are pretty and you can fly into in. But is there coffee in that nebula? What Captain Janeway really was looking for, was energy for the replicator food dispensers. A replicator, if you aren’t into the Star Trek universe (you’re missing out by the way), is a device which is able to replicate any food you would want, if programmed correctly into the system. Wishing for Earl Grey will give you a plant. Therefore wish for a Tea, Earl Grey, Hot, if you want to enjoy a tea like a real star ship captain. 

The cloud

After a few weeks in the Delta Quadrant, energy levels are getting low and to save energy, Neelix, a Delta Quadrant alien, has been appointed as a chef on board and cooks with supplies found on the various planets they encounter. For the sake of suspense, the replicators require a certain kind of energy. When the crew detect this nebula with signs of omicron particles (we have yet to find it, but in the future they have), which they need for them, they set course. This being Star Trek, and Voyager being an exploration star ship, things of course don’t go as planned and the nebula isn’t a nebula but a life form. So in the end, captain Janeway doesn’t get her coffee, which is also bad news for the crew in my personal opinion. 

In conclusion, can you find coffee in a nebula? Only if you’re able to have a device that is able to convert the elements of that nebula into coffee. And if you don’t mistake a life form for a nebula. So, for the time being, we better keep to our earthly coffee beans and treat the ground and the people working there very well.  

Stephen Hawking – Brief Answers to the Big Questions

This collection of thoughts and essays by the late Stephen Hawking looks like it’s been put together after his dead. As to show one last time what kind of genius he has been. Even if that was the case, there is no shame in that because his ideas have been wondrous and highly influencing. He’s arguably the best theoretical scientist of our time. However he was already working on this book, collecting his thoughts and essays about the Big Questions and it has been carefully wrapped up after his passing in March 2018. His unexpected passing however have given this book even more power.

 

Star Trek

What we get is a private look inside his life. We read about his family, his time in university and the struggle with his illness. He also speaks about the doors that have been opened. And although he doesn’t say it, his pure determination has made him stand out in more ways than just his remarkable mind and gave him parts in series such as Star Trek – The Next Generation and The Simpsons. All these aspects are mentioned during his essays which give them a personal touch. Also his sense of humor shines through and I admit to have had a loud chuckle when reading through this work. He isn’t just a physics genius but knows what goes on in the rest of the world and is not afraid to speak his mind about them.

This book, it essentially being a theoretical physics book (in the popular science category), is surprisingly easy to read. You may want to avoid skipping parts or you may lose the plot. This book gave me the ultimate description of a black hole and I will not shy away of using it when I’d ever get in the position where I want to explain what makes a black hole. He is famed for his work on black holes but the book also tackles AI, time travel and aliens. And he explains how he got to his ideas, and how other things just aren’t possible. He doesn’t force you to agree with him but then, it’s hard not to with the explanations he gives. Also, his essays are highly scientific.

Legacy

As these are all collected essays and other small publications, some topics are mentioned more than once and the one anecdote will appear twice as well. This isn’t annoying or anything. The subjects don’t feel disconnected from each other either, even though they are written separate from each other. It’s a whole and that’s quite an accomplishment.

If theoretical physics is your thing, you need to read this book. But even if it’s not and you’re just curious about the world, you will enjoy this book as well. I recommend this for everyone who has the ability to think. I’d nearly go as far by saying that this is essential reading. Stephen Hawking contributed greatly to science and has inspired many in his life. His legacy will live on forever, his contribution to Earth and the Universe and especially to Black Holes are in-erasable. What a mind and we must be grateful he defied all odds and lived for as long as he did. But no one is more grateful for that than Stephen Hawking himself and if anything, it’s that what shines through the entire book. An absolute must-read.

Why Star Trek Discovery matters. So so much.

This post contains spoilers about Star Trek Discovery (up to episode 5).

I need to talk about episode 5 of Star Trek Discovery. What this has to do with alien life and theories on extraterrestrial beings? More than one might expect. Let me first start with saying (not even explaining) why Star Trek matters. It is about exploring. It’s about science, the search for more knowledge and the cooperation between species. It has always set examples without it being preachy. Star Trek TOS had TVs first ethnic kiss for example. It doesn’t seem important now, but it was then. The crew also featured various colours. At the time, Asians were usually portrait as a serving role, Sulu is a very valued and over all equal member of the crew.

TOS and TNG both gave geeks and nerd alike a role model in Spock and Data respectively. For the longest time, and still today, nerds and geeks are being stereotyped and given the feeling that you just don’t want to a geek or a nerd as they are always picked on (and throw away the glasses of a nerd and behold – the person becomes attractive. Barf!). Both Spock and Data are highly respected and were important role models for geeks and nerd for generations. Star Trek focusses on science rather than war (even in 2017 Discovery, where the Klingon war is the set of the story). It shows what humanity should strive for. An exploring species that treats everyone equal, not just alien species but also within their own species. The only difference between the characters are in rang and even there no one is discriminated. To be blunt, that is why I hugely favour Star Trek over Star Wars.

Granted, the series after The Next Generation were a little lost on me. Maybe it was overkill. I don’t know. Star Trek Discovery got my attention and I vowed myself to give it a chance. There is nothing like the original and it’s hard to beat Picard and Data. So far the characters on Discovery aren’t coming close to how I feel about some of the characters in TOS and TNG. Michael Durnham gets there though as is her roommate Sylvia Tilly. I’m a sucker for underdogs and outcasts, what else can I say? Despite the war with the Klingons and captain Lorca, Discovery does not disappoint.

This has various reasons. For one, science is back. Some may say it’s too much science but the new spore-based propulsion system is to die for. It’s biological technology and in development and so far the Discovery is the only ship it actually works properly. It makes the Discovery unique and captain Lorca greedy and arrogant. In episode 4 Durnham discovers that the Tardigrade captured at a sister ship significantly helps the Discovery warp. This however drains the creature, making it hurt and depressed. This is noted by Durnham and she is determined to help the Tardigrade. This shows compassion for all living beings, something that is common on Star Trek as everyone is vegan by that time in the future. We see how the Tardigrade suffers from the spore-based propulsion system with almost devastating outcome but we also see the beautiful and absolutely touching release of Tardigrade to freedom and happiness. As it turns out, the use of living creatures is essentially not allowed and the Tardigrade is just that. Also, it’s not needed as the scientists discover.

One of the scientists that helps discovering just that is cadet Sylvia Tilly, the ship’s least favourite crew member, Michael Durnham aside. She has a lot of annoying features but is adorable as well, or at least I think so. She persists in becoming friends with her roommate Durnham who is at first incredibly distant, being a prisoner and Vulcan trained after all. It pays off, for Tilly I mean. She is also accountable for the use of the word ‘fuck’ for the very first time in Star Trek. It’s used in the same way we all would use it. And that makes it real. Also, she is the smart outcast and giving so many other smart outcasts watching another role model. In fact, we are all Tilly. This is wonderful.

Fast forward to the homely scene in front of the bath room mirror. This scene is a real cliffhanger as we see Lt Stamets’ reflection in the mirror not doing what Stamets is actually doing, which possibly has been caused by the Tardrigrade’s DNA (this makes sense when you have seen the episode). But before that he is brushing his teeth together with doctor Culber. In an earlier episode they have been seen bickering while Culber was fixing Stamets’ nose, more or less introducing us to these two characters. The teeth brushing scene shows us two people in love, with one having a serious problem. This scene is important because of Stamets using the Tardigrade’s DNA. It’s actually after the scene (which is the end of the episode) which makes you then realise you just witnessed a gay couple without a fuzz made about it. Exactly how it should be and what we hopefully will achieve in the future. As Star Trek is situated in the future, this is done incredibly clever and surely made everyone in the LGBTQ+ community melt and jump for joy. THIS is what we want! And again, this is what it should be, always. It is huge without it being huge, brilliant.

In all, Star Trek Discovery shows us, like all Star Trek series, the way we want us to evolve as a human species and still shows us the lesser traits we have a hard time shaking off (see Captain Lorca). It’s humanity in the stars, more and more technically evolved. And yes, it was humanity that caused the Klingon war. The Klingon’s wanted to start it anyway but waited for someone making a vital mistake and it were the humans, the youngest member of the United Federation of Planets. We see more alien species on board of the Discovery without having explained who they are and where they come from. Simply because it is not relevant in this society. It’s a mirror to the future with one simple message to us all: Make it so.