"Enterprise"; still flunking Physics 101

I haven’t seen the show “Enterprise” that much, but I caught tonight’s episode, most of which took place aboard a shuttlecraft. Remarkably, after 36 years of Star Trek, they still get basic science wrong. I’m not talking about whether there might be microscopic singularities in space, or whether a warp engine is feasible – I mean Newtonian mechanics.

The shuttlecraft is traveling in normal space, using impulse engines. I don’t know how fast they’re going (the engine is firing, which means they’re accelerating) but I know it’s well below lightspeed. Yet as the view pans to follow the shuttlecraft, you see shifts in the field of stars that indicate the shuttlecraft is actually passing stars at a noticeable rate. They used to make this mistake all the time in the original series – even if the ship was supposed to be in orbit around a planet, they would show it passing stars.

Now, if they really were going at close to lightspeed, using impulse engines, they would be subject to noticeable time dilation; this actually would have come in handy, because their problem was that they only had a few days of oxygen, and didnt’ know if they’d be rescued. So if their time rate had been significantly slowed down compared to the rest of the universe, they would have had a better chance.

Anyway. Later on, they decide to eject and blow up their engine to try and attract attention from Enterprise, hoping that the ship will increase speed to rescue them sooner. (We’re told that they can be seen from Enterprise, which is a quarter of a light year away. This sounds unlikely, but never mind.) Their dialogue seems to indicate that they think they’ll stop moving once they lose their engine, and the special effects kind of make it look like this is what happens. Actually, of course, they wouldn’t slow down at all, they just wouldn’t be accelerating anymore. Whatever velocity they had reached through days of constant acceleration, that’s what they’d have. (Also, for some reason the shuttlecraft immediately goes into a slow tumble. Don’t they have gyro’s?)

For a capper, they repeated the old myth about hair and nails continuing to grow after death. They should have read the Straight Dope report on that subject.

Still an interesting show, but there’s no reason to be so sloppy with basic science. (Do they still have science classes in school? I just ask because I’d like for our country to survive in the modern world.)

Dude, after Voyager and its “crack in the black hole’s event horizon” nonsense, you expect them to get even the basics right?

I’m shocked that anyone could be shocked at this. Whenever Star Trek (of any series) used real scientific terminology, they were always wrong.

One of the more amusing examples was the TNG episode “Conundrum” in which Data describes less-technologically-advanced culture’s space station as having a forcefield of about 3000 joules. Wow. That’s as much energy as a large pizza. I pictured the station’s defense system being a guy with a tennis racket batting away torpedoes and eating pizza to keep up his energy.

Those parts are when you put your fingers in your ears and say “Lalalalalalala!!!”

Put your fingers in your ears and say “Lalalalalalalalal” and hope T’pol decontaminates again. I could watch that for hours.

Yeah, at least the dialogue about “T’Pol’s bum” was scientifically accurate.

In one episode Spock says that [some device] will increase the volume “by 1 to the fourth power.”

Wow! She ‘decontaminates’? I’ve got to see that one!

It was only the second episode I’ve seen (last night, that is) and I spotted the ‘we’re going to stop if we lose the engines’ thing, too. Basic physics, children. Unless they’re in some sort of nebula or something that would generate friction.

Has there been any determination on the speed of impulse power in this series? I know in TNG impulse power is about 3-4 times light speed (it’s referenced in the first season).

I always thought the impulse engines were basically advanced ion or plasma rockets (like they’re trying to develop at Marshall Space Center right now). In that case, obviously, they’d be restricted to sublight speeds. I remember that in TNG the shuttlecraft have some warp capability, so that they’re really little starships.

And about nebulae; if you were in the middle of one, would you even be able to see it with the naked eye? All the photos I’ve seen are taken with large telescopes and long exposure times; I really don’t know, but I suspect that the gas is so tenuous you might not see it at all from inside the nebula.

Well, enough nitpicking. I like the premise of the show – humans trying out their first large starships, trying to get some respect among older, more advanced races, not completely sure of their technology.

Speaking of which, I haven’t seen the show that much, but am I correct in thinking they don’t have working transporters yet? As I recall, they used those on the original show to avoid having to film a landing sequence every week. Of all the devices on the show, that always seemed the least likely to me. I kind of like the technological level they’ve got on “Enterprise”; it reminds me of the long tradition of science fiction stories the show originally came out of – by guys like Eric Frank Russell, Heinlein, etc.

Now if they continued the show for decades, maybe we’d get to the point where they decide female Starfleet officers are going to look like go-go dancers… (admit it; wouldn’t you like to see T’Pol in a blue miniskirt and boots?)

Mmmmmmmmmm. Force field.

Hey, am i the only Hoshi fan in this thread? Why can’t she decontaminate and wear go-go boots?

Some real nebulae are visible to the naked eye, such as the Orion Nebula. If you were in the middle of such a nebula, the whole sky would glow faintly. You could also be in a dark nebula, which would manifest by dimming or blotting out all the stars.

A real nebula, though, would not appreciably slow a ship. Even the densest nebulae are about on a par with the best vacuums we can produce in a laboratory on Earth. Star Trek nebulae, of course, are much denser than real ones, and might be able to provide some friction. Of course, a dense Star Trek nebula would be even more visible than a real one, so if you didn’t see one around the shuttle, there wasn’t one there.

Are you saying you missed the episode where Hoshi and T’Pol decontaminated together?!? Best Enterprise ever.

Oddly enough, it could be the most likely Star Trek idea to come true. Have you seen on the news the advances in quantum teleportation? At this point, they can only teleport light photons, but at some point in the distant future they might be able to transport people.

As, well, not quite. The diffuse emission from a nebula would actually be invisible to the naked eye if you were inside the nebula. In the case of Orion, the nebula as seen from Earth is about the size of the full Moon. If you were inside the nebula, that same amount of light would be spread over the entire sky, reducing the birghtness by a factor of about 200,000 (that’s how many Moons will fit in the sky). That’s too dim to see.

However, the shocked filaments and tendrils will still be seen, because they are very thin, so being near them won’t spread their light out much. And, as Chronos points out, dense dark regions will block out stars.

I will just tell you to wait until the January 2003 issue of Astronomy Magazine, where I hear a very good article will be published about this very topic. :wink:

“They’re firing again! Increase shield strength to ‘sausage and pepperoni!’”

**Blalron **:

Right, because the only difference between photons and people is scale.

And of course scale doesn’t matter.

And of course people aren’t more complicated than photons.

No way, man, i got that one on tape!! i just noticed massive T’Pol references but not a Hoshi to be found.

Thanks, Bad Astronomer! They’re constantly around nebulae in the various Star Trek series, but have they ever orbited a pulsar or something really exotic (that is, something exotic that definitely exists)? If I were a real Trekkie, I’d know this.

Star Trek has never been “hard” science fiction, it’s always been “soft”. I think you could even call it science fantasy, like superhero stories or Star Wars. Asking how the warp drive or the artificial gravity or the transporter or phasers or force fields or subspace radio work is like asking how Superman can fly or how did that tornado get Dorothy from Kansas to Oz. There are no plausible answers.

Star Trek has always been a series of morality tales set in a futuristic world.