Captain’s Blog: Episode 307, 27.02.2017

Greetings, captains! Sorry for the delay; in moving to a new server, a wormhole opened and ate my draft. This week, we talked about theme parks and Black History Month. Plus, a little follow-up on the exciting news about the TRAPPIST-1 system. Engines to full; here we go!

The theme park Movie Park Germany is a theme park based on bringing the movies to life. Located in Bottrop-Kirchhellen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, it has five zones, each with its own theme: Streets of New York, Hollywood Street Set, The Old West, and Santa Monica Pier. The fifth is Nickland, which is a reference to the cable television network Nickelodeon. The new Star Trek roller coaster is located in the Santa Monica Pier zone on the Federation Plaza. Although most of the videos discussing this attraction are, unsurprisingly, in German, I did find a plot synopsis in English, courtesy of Inside the Magic. Visitors attend Starfleet Academy, become cadets, then go on the roller coaster to save the Enterprise-D. The Borg have taken over the ship. (What is that, the fourth time?) Now the newly fledged cadets must break through the Borg cube’s shields, disable the cube, and save the day. Here’s a video I found that has an early, unofficial simulation of how the ride will probably go.

I personally do not care for roller coasters, so I’m really unable to judge how exciting this one might be. It’s a triple-launch coaster, which they discuss a little in the video. First you go a little ways up a hill, then you go backwards up a twisted half-pipe, then you go over the hill, and then on to the rest of the ride. The highest point of the coaster is 131 feet (40 meters) high. If anyone who speaks better German than I do can track down a more official video of the coaster, I’d love to share it!

Poster for 'Star Trek: Operation Enterprise' roller coaster at Movie Park Germany theme park

The caption translates to “The new roller coaster sensation opening Spring 2017.”
Poster courtesy of Movie Park Germany

Also apparently opening this year is the Red Sea Astrarium, a new theme park in Aqaba, Jordan. I don’t think the entire theme park is Trek-themed; there seems to be a specific area dedicated to “The Star Trek Experience,” probably much like the Federation Plaza at Movie Park Germany. King Abdullah II of Jordan pushed for a Star Trek-themed area in the park, as he is a very big fan. In 1996, then-Prince Abdullah actually made a cameo appearance in the Voyager episode “Investigations” as a sciences lieutenant. That’s some serious cosplay.

Then-Prince Abdullah of Jordan appearing on 'Voyager' in 1996

Life goals: Get a Memory Alpha entry!
Photo courtesy of Memory Alpha.

Our crew talked a little about Black History Month in relation to Nichelle Nichols, but I’d like to highlight another important cameo appearance on the show. Dr. Mae Jemison is an American physician and astronaut. In 1992, she served as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle USS Endeavor, becoming the first African-American woman to travel in space. She began all of her communications with Houston Mission Control by informing them that “hailing frequencies [were] open.” In 1993, Dr. Jemison made a cameo appearance as Lt. Palmer in the Next Generation episode “Second Chances.” (Nichelle Nichols, a friend of Jemison’s, visited her on set!) Dr. Jemison was the first astronaut to play a Starfleet crewmember; two more astronauts, Col. E. Michael Fincke and Col. Terry Virt, appeared in the series finale of Enterprise. In a speech at Duke University in 1993, Dr. Jemison spoke about Nichols inspiring her to become an astronaut, saying that Nichols had inspired a flood of women to join NASA, “and she did it on her own.” In a wonderful example of how inspiration can be passed from one generation to the next, Ruthie Lyle-Cannon was inspired to become an electrical engineer by Dr. Jemison. In 1998, Dr. Lyle-Cannon became the first African-American woman ever to earn a PhD in Electrical Engineering from New York University. New York University has been operating since 1831.

Nichelle Nichols and Dr. Mae Jemison on the set of 'Next Generation.'

Nichols and Jemison: Creating the future.
Picture courtesy of Memory Alpha.

Community Questions: This Week

I talked a little last week about Nicholas Meyer’s interview with TrekMovie, specifically highlighting the quote that inspired this week’s community question.

I hope it perpetuates the Star Trek condition of helping people see themselves, making us able to contemplate dilemmas that otherwise we might be too close to judge without prejudice. I thought that was the series’ strength – by taking hot button issues, renaming them and setting them someplace else, that we could think about ourselves and how we want to be.

The gift of Star Trek, and science fiction in general, is that it lets us explore “what if.” But we also need to remember that “what if” doesn’t have to be metaphorical. Uhura’s presence on the bridge of the Enterprise opened up a realm of possibilities simply because she was a woman of color doing a job where neither of those facts mattered. John Cho, who plays Sulu in the Kelvin universe films, talked to NBC about how he never saw anyone on television “who looked like me” until he saw George Takei piloting the ship.

One of the things I’ve always treasured about Star Trek is the way it tries to tell us that we are more alike than we are different, and that what makes us different doesn’t have to separate us. I hope Discovery carries this message forward. I personally would like for actors from Middle Eastern backgrounds to be cast in prominent roles. Just as putting a Russian on the bridge of the Enterprise was a nod to the tensions of the Cold War, I feel having characters of Arab descent would be a way to acknowledge the fears of today. As Gene Roddenberry once said:

If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.

Is it a good time to talk about exoplanet discoveries? It’s always a good time to talk about exoplanet discoveries!

NASA mock travel poster for the TRAPPIST-1 system

There are larger sizes of this poster available for download at NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Travel Bureau and you should get one!

I feel like I don’t have a whole lot to add to this week’s discussion of TRAPPIST-1; Dr. Hurt did a fabulous job. (Round of applause!) So I suppose I’ll just sum up the discovery timeline and then add in some fun facts I learned.

  • The initial discovery was made by a team led by Michaël Gillon at the University of Liège in Belgium.
  • Though the team is in Belgium, the telescope used was the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope – South, which is located at La Silla Observatory in Chile.
  • The observations which led to the discovery of the star now called TRAPPIST-1 were made from September to December, 2016.
  • Said initial discovery, reported in the May 2016 issue of Nature magazine, consisted of TRAPPIST-1 and three planets.
  • Follow-up observations were made at a wide range of ground-based telescopes, including the UK InfraRed Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawai’i, the South African Astronomical Observatory, and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, as well as a 20-day observation through the Spitzer Space Telescope.
  • The announcement made by NASA on the 22nd of February was to confirm the initial findings with the addition of four more planets.
  • The next steps will be to assess the planets in the habitable zone for atmospheres and their compositions.
A NASA artist's rendering of TRAPPIST-1 and its seven known planets

An artist’s rendering of TRAPPIST-1 and its seven known planets.
Picture courtesy of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.

The star itself is what’s called an ultra-cool dwarf star, which means that it has a low temperature (for a star) and that it’s very small. It has about 8% of the mass and 11% of the radius of our Sun. It also doesn’t give off nearly as much energy: its luminosity, i.e., the amount of energy per second it gives off, is 0.05% that of our Sun. Most of that energy is on the infrared side of the spectrum, meaning the light from TRAPPIST-1 would feel warm but not bright. I’ve been trying to find data on the absolute magnitude of TRAPPIST-1. (Absolute magnitude is how bright a celestial object would look from a distance of ten parsecs, assuming nothing gets in the way.) I haven’t found any exact figures: the closest thing I’ve found is that it’s “about 2000 times dimmer than the Sun.” A perhaps more helpful description was given by astronomer Amaury Triaud of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in England, who co-authored the papers announcing the discoveries. According to, he said that the daytime skies of TRAPPIST-1’s planets “would never get brighter than Earth’s skies just after sunset.” For contrast, the sun is approximately 400,000 times as bright as the full moon.

Comparison of relative sizes of our Sun and TRAPPIST-1

Who’s a cute little sun? Yes you are! Yes you are!
Picture courtesy of the European Southern Observatory (ESO)

If you’re wondering why the star is named TRAPPIST-1, it’s because the star is the first discovered by TRAPPIST. TRAPPIST is named after the Trappist monks. Or, to be more precise, it’s named after their beer. Only eleven breweries in the world sell what’s billed as “Authentic Trappist beer.” Of those eleven, six are in Belgium. They really like Trappist beer. In fact, the initial discovery was celebrated by the team with a round of beer! Scotty would approve. Mostly.

Finally, in case you missed the Oscars, Joel Harlow, Richard Alonzo, and the rest of the Star Trek: Beyond makeup team sadly did not win the Oscar for Best Makeup. (Suicide Squad? Really, Academy? I mean, I’ll grant you the Killer Croc makeup is neat, but… really?) Nevertheless, they accomplished an extraordinary amount of work to amazing effect, and I hope we get to see more of it in the next Kelvin movie.

That’s all I’ve got for this week! Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or send them to me directly via whitby at priorityonenetwork dot com. Have a great week!

Whitby, out.

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