Star Trek rings in the science with Carolyn Porco

By Phil Plait | February 11, 2008 5:00 pm

Update: has an interview with Carolyn online, with comments from some Trek folks like Andre Bormanis and JJ Abrams.

How cool is this: Carolyn Porco has been brought in as a science advisor for the new Trek movie! She’ll be consulting on the visuals of the solar system in the movie to make sure they’re accurate.

There’s a good reason they’re using her: she’s the imaging team leader for the Cassini Saturn probe, so she knows her stuff. Regular readers know she’s a great scientist and (gloat gloat) a friend of mine. But of course, I’m not jealous at all.

Trek fanboy that I am, I now have even more reason to see this movie: if they have effects showing the Enterprise going past Saturn, I may pass out from hyperventilation.

Update: Check the comments below for a surprise. :-)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (61)

Links to this Post

  1. Universe Today » Astrosphere for February 12, 2008 | February 12, 2008
  1. I remember in the first film, when the Enterprise sailed past Jupiter. I believe they used Voyager images to base their Jovian system visuals.

    I hope that J.J. Abrams actually listens to what Caroline has to say, and takes it to heart. I personally am trying not to get my hopes up about the film. I’ve been hurt before. :(

    And Phil… you have the Enterprise side lit and Saturn back lit. :)

  2. davidlpf

    So no reflections of the ship as it flys above a ring like in the voyage intro.

  3. Kevin, I know. :-) I wondered how long it would be before someone pointed that out. But it’s hard to find a good fully-lit picture of the Big E.

  4. Pierre

    I bet the Enterprise goes ‘Swooosh’ as it passes Saturn. And at a completely unrealistic speed too, something that, once scaled against Saturn’s size, would be measured at 1 or 2 times c.

  5. It would be ultra-cool if they went back to Roddenberry’s original vision of making Star Trek more scientifically accurate… sadly, ST:TMP had Isaac Asimov as a science advisor but it was just to use his name more than anything, if I recall from his multi-volume autobiography.

  6. Saturn is fine, but if they show it going past Uranus, I’m leaving the theater.

  7. davidlpf

    Last thing we need is a close up of Uranus.

  8. Potterbro

    I know this is somewhat off topic but some have mentioned Uranus and it connects to a conversation I was having last night. Why aren’t there any currently planned missions to send a probe to Uranus or Neptune… something like Cassini or the like. Both have extremely interesting atmospheres and properties that certainly make them worth taking a better look at. I mean, the only close observations of either of them that I know of came from Voyager 2.

    The only reason I can think of is that it is tough to get funding for something that won’t arrive at it’s destination till a long time after its initial funding… but to me that isn’t a very good reason.

  9. JeffS


    NASA has a proposed Neptune/Triton orbiter mission. But it’s way out there. Current information on the NASA site has a launch date of 2035, which probably means “never for now”.

  10. Hey BA, if you’re in touch with her, can you ask her to get the stars correct? These days it is trivially easy for anywhere within 100 parsecs f Earth, but even terrestrial, non-sci-fi movies seem to always just use random dots. Correct stars in a movie would be a great step forward.

  11. I agree wholeheartedly, Potter.
    But right now I dinna want to think about probing anybudiez uranus, I just had a gastroenteroscopy!
    I kill me!

    You should get Carolyn to get you on the set during filming! Maybe you could get a bit part as an extra!

  12. Kevin L.

    Apparently Porco is also a candidate to succeed Richard Dawkins as the Charles Simonyi Professorship in the Public Understanding of Science:

  13. Hey Lab Lemming,

    Check out the new website of my company, Diamond Sky Productions, at The stars in my logo (bottom of the home page) are *a real star field*. They might look familiar?

    All of you Star Trek fans out there — like those at — have put a lot of faith in me. I assure you … I will be taking this responsibility very seriously. If by the end of it all, the Star Trek production crew thinks I’m the biggest pain in the butt they’ve ever met, then I will have done my job 😉

    Meanwhile, this year, I hope to work on my much belated book, The Captain’s Log. It is obviously a propitious year for it. Wish me luck!

    Best to Phil and all of you,
    Carolyn Porco

    PS. And I hope you visit our new website and forum — — and engage in some stimulating discussion of the intersection of science and the public. See you there!

  14. KaiYeves

    Nice title pun, as usual.

  15. I usually don’t comment, and admittedly this is a little vacuous as to substance … but I just had to comment that as I opened my feed reader to BA Blog, music, on random, decided to start playing the TNG theme.

    I was highly amused.

    And, as skeptical as I am of a ret-conning movie for Trek, I have to admit …. I’m a little excited in spite of myself. Alas for being a Trekkie!

  16. Did I mention that Carolyn sometimes drops by here on the BABlog? :-)

  17. Nope Phil, don’t think you did. I think we know now though 😛

  18. Hooray, congrats Carolyn! Best of “luck,” but of course you don’t need it and it doesn’t really exist anyway. Um, you know what I mean.

  19. chris H

    “celebrity scientists pay attention to what phil plait’s blog” new at 11

    wow kool

  20. Grumpy

    Brett McCoy: “ST:TMP had Isaac Asimov as a science advisor but it was just to use his name more than anything…”

    IIRC, Asimov was more of a science *fiction* advisor. Apparently, Paramount was concerned that the story was too far-out, so the producers hired Asimov to reassure them that it was well within the real of SF. Which sounds too ridiculous to be true, but then… this is Hollywood.

    A Trek science advisor who takes the job seriously? That’ll be a switch. Having Andre Bormanis around didn’t stop Voyager from encountering “macroviruses” and such nonsense (then again, he’s not a biologist). Bormanis even wrote a book explaining why Trek science was plausible!

    Not a job I would want to have. “You don’t need Foley effects for the spacewalking scene. There’s no sound in a vacuum,” says the science advisor. “Who is this person?” says the director.

  21. Dadoo

    Someday, I hope to contribute something of value to the discussions here. Sadly, it will not be today. Today, I just came by to say: Carolyn Porco is hot!

  22. I for one am offended by that picture. Clearly the sun is coming from directly behind Saturn, yet the shadows on the Enterprise indicate the light is coming from the upper left. What, are we supposed to believe this is some sort of magical spaceship? 😉

  23. Just Al

    Those of you who seem to be having some difficulty with the light angles on Saturn and the Enterprise are allowing yourselves to be fooled by perspective. You’re thinking Enterprise is in front of Saturn…

  24. Pop

    Get a grip people. The Enterprise space ship isn’t real, and I suspect Saturn isn’t either. Next thing you’ll claim is the world is round. I know for a fact it’s flat and falls off sharp about a mile from where I live.

  25. I see a unicorn.

    Nice logo, and good luck with the film.

  26. Why is the poor planet Uranus the butt of so many jokes?


    Congrats to Carolyn from a ST viewer since “The Man Trap”.

  27. gia

    I only just saw Carolyn’s TED talk the other week and have to admit that it actually made me cry in that ‘oh my god isn’t the Universe so FREAKIN’ AMAZING!!!!’ way.

    I’m a new fan of Carolyn’s so this is delightful news. We need more Carolyn in the world! More! More! More!

  28. Nigel Depledge

    Those light angles are just one of many photographic anomalies. (Many, many wonderful anomalies…).

    It proves that the Enterprise has never been anywhere near Saturn. In fact it’s never even left Earth orbit, because of the deadly radiation.

    They’ve been lying to us. It’s all fiction, I tell you!!


  29. boggis the cat

    Surely Phil could be one of the “security” staff? Practice your “brutal death from aliens-that-look-like-people-in-a-suit” scenes. 😉

    Stanley Kubrick got around the no sound in space “problem” fairly well, and I noticed that with the new Battlestar Galactica series they have the sound set up so that it isn’t quite so jarringly wrong. So I guess it could be within the realm of possibility to make a Star Trek movie that isn’t ludicrous.

    Nah, never happen! 😀

  30. Lao Tzu

    I really wish Carolyn all the best, but I hope we won’t be disappointed. After all, even the movie Sunshine had a science advisor, and still it turned out to be a complete mess, science-wise.
    Not the scientist’s fault, I am sure, but it is always depressing to see that Hollywood hires science advisors without the actual desire to use their expertise. But who knows? It might be different this time.
    Hope springs eternal…

  31. dusty59

    ZOMG!!! a rock star scientist! this is so much fun.

  32. Pete

    I think this pic would be more accurate. 😉

    Ah… photoshop and free time…

  33. StevoR

    Asked # John Paradox on 12 Feb 2008 at 1:43 am :

    “Why is the poor planet Uranus the butt of so many jokes? J/P=?”

    Because of the name.

    That simple & that unjust.

    For the record I suggest English speakers use the original proper Greek spelling & prounciation of Ouranos. Three syllables with the emphasis on the second : “Oo- RAN- oss.”

    Its the only planet with a Greek rather than Roman gods name (mind you the Roman gods are the Greek gods by other names – pretty much..) so you’d think we could at least get it right … :-(

  34. StevoR

    Incidentally, folks (& sorry I know you may hate me for saying this but) surely I’m not alone in thinking :

    Enough with Star Trek! Let the dead series rest in peace.

    ‘Trek : Next Gen’ was great, ‘Voyager’ and even ‘DS9’ had their moments but from “Enterprise” onwards that franchise has been flogging a _very_ dead – and now very ripe-smelling – horse.


    All In My Humble Opinion Naturally.

  35. dani

    ok, enough with the silent in space complaints… i figured this one out decades ago…

    the swooshing you hear is the metal spaceship (which never seems to be insulated) interacting with magnetic fields at relatavistic speeds!


    do i win the no-prize? ™


  36. Edward

    What is so wrong with Uranus?

  37. I’m picturing Phil beaming down somewhere in a red shirt.

  38. Doc

    “I for one am offended by that picture. Clearly the sun is coming from directly behind Saturn, yet the shadows on the Enterprise indicate the light is coming from the upper left. What, are we supposed to believe this is some sort of magical spaceship?”

    SIlly, why are you assuming the light on the Enterprise is coming from the sun? It’s actually from a very bright spotlight attached to an off-screen space-dock.

  39. John Weiss

    All Starfleet ships have exterior lights which float *just* off of camera. That’s why they’re so well-lit even when they’re in the inky depths of space.

    As for sound in space, I’ve always kind of liked JMS’s take on it: it’s ornamentation, just like the music. (You don’t assume that there’s a full orchestra hovering out there, do you?)

    And a lot of CICLOPS reads your blog, Phil. We keep meaning to invite you out to lunch sometime, but never seem to remember to do so.

  40. Doc

    And the whooshing sound as a ship passes is simply the ambient proximity alert generated by a spacesuit’s radar – that way you can tell a ship went past, and which way it’s going, without looking.

  41. JJonahJansen

    do i win the no-prize? ™

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. :-)
    I can’t believe someone actually referenced the ‘no-prize’!
    I actually got one of those from Stan Lee when I was child in the sixties. IIRC I answered some question about Thor to get it. When it arrived, I was so excited. And I wasn’t even disappointed to find it was exactly as advertised; an empty envelope stamped on the front with “No-Prize”. Sadly, it got thrown out by my mom with all of my (now valuable) comics.

  42. CR

    Pete, nice pic! Now that’s a believable shot.

    StevoR… interesting info about the Greek spelling. And you’re right about the Roman gods being, for the most part, Greek by another name. I’m totally with you on the dead & rotting horse that Star Trek has become. (On the “ST Trailer” thread, I admitted I was unimpressed by the trailer, which everyone else seems to think is the best thing ever.)
    I’m sure the SFX for the new ST film will be great, and with Carolyn Porco on board, might even have a few surprises (like visual accuracy) thrown in. But we KNOW movies can have great sfx. That’s not really enough for me these days. (And I used to be a sci-fi-holic in my youth… couldn’t get enough of it.)

    Oh, well. Have fun. I’ll be watching something else.

  43. CR

    JJonahJansen: They actually mailed ‘No-Prize’s to people? I always thought it was just a saying. That’s hilarious! :)

  44. John Weiss

    > (mind you the Roman gods are the Greek gods by other names – pretty much..)

    That’s not really the case, although it’s easy to see why people think that. The Roman’s regarded *everyone’s* gods (well, almost everyone’s) as being basically the same as theirs, just with different names and stories. They almost always associated the local pantheon with theirs in a more or less one-to-one connection. The Greek-Roman link-up is the most famous example of this, but hardly unique. And while the Romans wholesale “borrowed” a lot of the Greek myths about the gods, the gods themselves remained essentially Roman, as did the religion. (There are somewhat equivalent cases of important stories in Christianity, too.) The best example of how the gods differed, even post-melding, is Mars/Ares: the former is a noble god, the latter is a bratty trouble-maker (in most incarnations I’ve seen, anyway).

  45. KaiYves

    OMG! I posted on the same blog as a celebrity!
    I posted on the same blog as a celebrity!
    I posted on the same blog as… okay, yes, I’ll stop now.

  46. anomalous4real

    [[a bratty trouble-maker]]

    He certainly gave Xena a lot of grief…… but Kevin Smith was TEH HAWT!!!!! 😉

  47. themadlolscientist

    [[Next thing you’ll claim is the world is round. I know for a fact it’s flat and falls off sharp about a mile from where I live]]

    It’s both round and flat. Haven’t you ever read Terry Pratchett?

    [[the swooshing you hear is the metal spaceship (which never seems to be insulated) interacting with magnetic fields at relatavistic speeds!]]

    Just like the highly charged 2007 TU24, which ripped off our atmosphere and sent the moon careening into the sun.

    [[I’m picturing Phil beaming down somewhere in a red shirt.]]

    Somehow the guy in the red shirt always gets it. He (and it’s almost always a he) never gets any lines either. But Phil isn’t allowed to die; he’s the Good Guy!

    OTOH, if they ever decide to do a Voyager movie, he could play himself and get to hang out in the astrometrics lab with Seven of Nine. 😉

    p.s. In space, no one can hear you play your Theremin. 😀

  48. firemancarl

    Well, as far as Uranus goes, as long as there is no life on Uranus, we can all rest easy.

    As an ex Navy guy, I really like how the new BSG( soon to be over -arrrgghhhh!) uses ambient noises on the Galactica. The one thing that really caught my attention was the use of the 1MC, the ships main “bullhorn” to broadcast time, who needs to report where, and any other info vital to the ships activity Very nice touch. I hope the new Star Trek movie use something similar.

  49. All this talk of Uranus reminds me of an exchange from “Futurama.” The professor explains that the name of the planet Uranus was changed several hundred years earlier because of all the stupid jokes. So Fry asks, “What’s it called now?” And the professor says “Urpenis.

  50. tjm220

    Actually the professor said it was called “Urectum”.

  51. BaldApe

    I assumed that the warp field emitted some visible ER which accounts for being able to see the danged thing at all in interstellar space.

  52. Radwaste

    I dream of a scene where Kirk points at the Sun from some distance away, perhaps explaining this to a winsome Yeoman Rand, as he calls it an unregarded yellow sun (Douglas Adams) where everyone you’ve ever known lived (Carl Sagan – the Pale Blue Dot). But I expect stupidity. I am rarely denied.

  53. tjm220: Urectum…. Urpenis…. It’s all the same.

  54. JB of Brisbane

    So can anybody fill me in as to which Roman god corresponds to the Greek Ouranos? My mythology could do with a bit of revision.

    Dare I say it… oh, what the heck… the reason the Enterprise is front-lit in the picture is because of light coming from Uranus.

  55. John Weiss

    JB of Brisbane:
    Caelus, I suppose. (Latin for “Sky” and now turned into an English word for that color blue.) He wasn’t very important to the Romans, though.

  56. Peter B

    And apropos nothing at all, there was a 10th century Byzantine general named Nikephoros Ouranos. So it was also a surname.

    Who were the Byzantines? What the Eastern Roman Empire evolved into when the Western Roman Empire was conquered by barbarians in the 5th century.

    Sorry, I just had to show off that particular piece of information that few others would know. :-)

  57. This is a cool thing and they’ll need it for Star Trek XI

    go to

  58. crissysdad

    Of course Enterprise is well lit And makes sound as it passes backlit Saturn! How did the image ever come about? If the Enterprise is acceptable, why not ships that provide good lighting (outside of the frame of the shot, not to mention, “What’s taking the Pics?”
    Silent movies are dull (for the hearing), so picking apart every inconsistancy misses the siory of the pic.
    Hopefully CP will have more impact on the story than the graphics.
    My 2 cents.

  59. Nihilodei

    To John Weiss,

    If you are going to discuss Roman adoption of philosophical ideals, could you please not generalise.

    Be specific, look to the formation and then phases of Rome. Don’t just spit out some glib overview of a brief period of the empire.

    I know for a fact that Romans and their offspring plaited their eyebrows!

    Afaedontism, when the gutter on via Appia isn’t deep enough

  60. John Weiss

    Nihilodei, the nature of this discussion is general, people here don’t need or want a long thesis on Roman religion. My point stands regardless: the Romans did not adopt the Greek gods since they *clearly* had those gods before they started importing Greek culture. It’s difficult to see how you’re taking offense at this.

    If you want to have a long argument about this, we should take if offline. But please be more polite about it.


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