Star Trek Beyond…(sigh…)

(I’d suggest you go get a really big cup of coffee, 32 oz. size should do, because we’re going to be here for a while!  I also must apologize for the length of this review; it kind of goes on and on, just like the movie.  Not “War and Peace” long, but long.  But, if I’m going to do it, it must be nothing less than complete, regardless of the pain we all feel.)

Sigh….Here we go…

It’s hard to believe that it has been 3 short years since Star Trek Into Darkness came out.  I still wake up with the cold sweats over that one.  Check out my post if you need a refresher on that piece of work.  Star Trek Beyond, the latest installment of the franchise takes us beyond alright. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure where we ended up; other than with another installment to the franchise, and a whole lot of head shaking.  

I was a bit confused as I watched the movie.  I kept thinking that I was watching the Star Trek Comedy Hour, starring Montgomery Scotty and featuring Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy and his faithful straight-man, Mr. Spock.  I like Simon Pegg (Scotty) and some of the movies he’s done, but he’s not the first person I would think of if you said you want a new Star Trek script.  While the original Star Trek always had its lighter moments, it didn’t provide them at the cost of the dignity of the characters.  Today, Scotty comes off as much as a buffoon as an engineer.  

But, this is the alternate universe created by JJ Abrams and we’ve got to live with it, along with its plot holes, eye-numbing special effects and absurdities. (But, we don’t have to pay $20 to see it in the cinema!) Tis a shame that there is a dearth of science fiction writers out there, in our universe, that can be called upon to write an intelligent and engaging story.

So, let’s take a walk through Star Trek Beyond. (Of course there are spoilers to follow. I’d suggest that you just read them and forget about watching the movie.  It will save you about two hours of your life that you can do something with, like: promote world peace; perfect cold fusion; plan a trip to Mars; bake a cake or write the script for the next Star Trek movie.)

The movie opens with Kirk brokering a peace treaty between the Fibonan and Teenaxi races.

Comic moment here: although the Teenaxi creatures appear large, menacing and threatening, they are really, teeny, tiny creatures—wait, teeny?…Teenaxi?  That’s funny!  To bad most people will miss it if they don’t have the subtitles on.  But, the real kicker is that Kirk is surprised by their size when they jump down from their lofty heights to attack him.  

It would seem to me if you are brokering a peace treaty between two races, you would know a lot about each race involved, including their physical stature and demeanor.  Must be Kirk missed the briefing about them. (Or, Spock forgot to brief Kirk, because he was curled up in his bed sobbing over his break-up with Uhura – damned human half!)

So we move on to Kirk in the doldrums.  He’s depressed.  (Whaa-whaa-whaa! Life’s a bore on a starship.)  Kirk’s tired of the mysteries of the unknown.  (Hmm, do they have millennials in the 23rd century?)  He has to decide which uniform he’s going to wear every day.  Gee, it’s the same uniform, and he’s got a closet full of them.  They sure do have a lot of room on these starships.  Too bad they don’t have a replicator, like they do for the food they eat, to make their uniforms every day.  

They are way out in deep space and the entire crew’s struggling to cope.  But wait!  There’s the Federation’s newest, most advanced space station, the Yorktown just up ahead.  Looking like a snow-globe in space, says Dr. McCoy.  I couldn’t agree with him more!  I guess they’re not so far out in deep space after all.  Good thing, because Jim Kirk wants off the Enterprise and to sit at a desk job as Vice Admiral at this deep-space space station.  That sounds like a job that would provide a wealth of variety and excitement every day!  This guy’s been captain for 3 years and he want’s a Vice Admiral’s position?  That’s ambitious!  

Question:  Would you put Star Fleet’s most advanced space station near a mysterious nebula, impervious to sensors and not check it out first?

Who knows what could be in there.  The Klingons could be hiding in there or maybe even the Romulans, or both, just waiting for the Federation to build a space station nearby.

And speaking of the station: Wow!  What a special effect!  Wow!  What a waste of space!  You have this huge sphere that you have to fill with air and you construct all the living area on rings instead of on a much small sphere with more surface area and a self-contained atmosphere.  Maybe JJ should check out one of his other projects in another galaxy far, far away for optimal space station construction. (Can you say “Death Star”?)  And, I’m not going to get into flying a starship all the way to the center of the station through a narrow spoke connecting these rings.  Hope Sulu’s got a steady hand on the wheel and he’s not texting.

Of course life is going to put a jink in the Captain’s plans of a cushy desk job, because he has the only ship in Star Fleet that has sensors to navigate the nearby nebula that the alien, Kalara just popped out of.  That’s probably because the last time out, under Kirk’s command, the Enterprise got all shot-up and needed to be rebuilt.  

Just a brief comment about the nebula.  Nebulae are vast collections of teeny, tiny gas molecules and dust particles, not unlike the smoke from a cigarette, not spinning and churning mountain-sized hunks of rock that look more like an asteroid field on steroids, which the Enterprise skillfully navigates through, thanks to those dandy new sensors.

Now the action really begins!  You have one Federation starship approaching a planet with a mysterious undulating mass – a vessel of some sort – orbiting it, and they start jamming you.  The good Captain orders shields up and fire at will.
Good job, Kirk!  Now the bad news.
It’s not a ship but thousands and thousands of small ships making up a cloud that appears about twenty times larger than the Enterprise.  Oh, it gets worse: Chekov reports that the phasers have minimal effect and the torpedoes can’t track them.
Oh my goodness!  What will they do?
The intrepid Captain Kirk commands: “Fire everything we got!”

Seriously? Time for reader participation while I bang my head against the nearest wall.

Question 1: Did Captain Kirk not hear what Chekov just said?
A)    Yes, he did, but couldn’t understand Chekov because of his heavy accent.
B)    No, he didn’t, because at that moment he was wishing he had that cushy desk job as Vice Admiral at the Yorktown.
C)    Yes, he did, but he’s the Captain and he doesn’t have to listen to anyone, especially an Ensign.

Question 2: Did Captain Kirk not hear Spock say that they are not equipped for this manner of engagement?
A)    No, he didn’t, because he was still trying figure out what the heck Chekov said.
B)    Yes, he did, but he was trying to decide if it was just Spock’s emotional human-side over-reacting to Chekov’s obvious distress or because he didn’t understand Chekov either.
C)    Yes, he did, but he’s the Captain and he doesn’t have to listen to anyone, especially his half-human science officer.

What you really need to understand is that the Enterprise only has phasers and torpedoes.  In other words: They’re already firing everything they’ve got!  Bad job, Kirk!  If you survive this, you should be court-marshaled for being stupid. (Relax, that’s not going to happen.)

So now this collection of space-born buzz saws shred the good ship Enterprise and before Kirk can utter, warp us out of here, they’ve severed the warp engines, damaged the shields and destroyed the deflector dish.  Countless numbers of the crew are killed and the aliens that have crashed into the ship are running amuck.

I’m glad that when the alien ships breach the hull they, very considerately, hermetically seal the hole they punched in the ship; otherwise, the air in the compromised compartments would be rushing out and the air breathing creatures would suffocate.  A running gun battle ensues with the Federation phasers sounding like pop guns and we quickly discover that they’re all lousy shots.  Apparently, the Feds spend little time at the target range.  

And, when Spock and McCoy leave the bridge, Spock gets a phaser and McCoy gets a tricorder.
I can only assume that if McCoy had a phaser and shot an alien, by the medical oath he took as a doctor, he would have to stop and administer first aid.  It makes sense!  Do not give the doctor a weapon!

Okay, the leader of the bad guys makes his grand appearance.  Krall.  Hmm, he looks familiar.

Krall "Star Trek Beyond" and G'kar, "Babylon 5"

Krall “Star Trek Beyond”                              and                        G’kar, “Babylon 5

 Alternate universe cousins or just a severe lack of imagination?

As the ship heads off on impulse power the crew on the bridge sit calmly at their stations while everyone below is falling, sliding and generally careening all over the place.  Huh?

So the Enterprise tries to make a run for it and Krall orders his minions to severe the saucer from the engineering section by cutting the dorsal structure in two.  The impulse engines quit because they are trying to draw power from the warp core reserve and it is no longer there.  But! There are auxiliary generators that can power the impulse engines.  Great!  But, what’s this?  The impulse engines still think they are connected to the warp core and stop.  And, now they have to separate the saucer from the dorsal section in order for the impulse engines to switch to the auxiliary generators.

What group of inept engineers designed this ship? Moe, Larry and Curly?

Let’s consider this for a moment. We are in the 23rd century and are on one of Star Fleet’s flag ships running the latest and greatest hardware and software.  The impulse engines are for tooling around a solar system and backup if your warp engines—used for long distance, high-speed travel—don’t work.

Question: You are the design manager for the engine system and you have a design decision to make.  Do you:

1)    Make the impulse engines totally independent of the main engines so you can use them at any time? (Pick this one! Pick this one!)
2)    Make the impulse engines dependent on your main engines so that you can’t run your them in an emergency unless you are connected to the mains or completely disconnected from the section of the ship that connects the saucer to engineering? (Don’t pick this one!)
3)    Subcontract the engine controller design to the Klingon/Romulan Microsoft Division Ltd., LLC and let them worry about it? (If you’re JJ Abrams and company, pick this one!)

Am I being too critical here?  I mean, is it beyond reason to think that there is some logic in how a vehicle of this complexity and sophistication would be designed—especially for emergency situations.  They’ve had well over a hundred years of warping about the galaxy, and when they couldn’t warp, they impulsed.  One would think these systems would be totally independent for optimal reliability.

But, wait!  There’s more…sigh…

We get the comedy team Spock and McCoy ejecting from the Enterprise in an escape pod of some sort and one of the bad guys’ ship spears it, and by some twist of fate(?) poor script writing(?), Spock ejects the alien crew from their ship and he and McCoy end up inside it.  What?

How is it that Spock and McCoy did not fly out of the ship along with the bad guys—especially since they were not strapped into anything?  Understand that the reason the bad guys flew off into cold space is because the atmosphere inside their ship carried them out as it flowed into the vacuum of space when the hatch opened.  So just what are our Federation heroes breathing?  But, it does get better, because Bones McCoy took the required course for doctors, “Piloting Alien Ships – 201” at Star Fleet Academy and he just jumps on the control seat and flies the ship to a safe landing on the planet.  Good job, Bones!

(Curious as to why the aliens weren’t strapped in?  They tool about in their pointy ships and routinely ram other ships at what seems to be a very high velocity, and they aren’t splattered all over the inside of their craft?  Amazing…ly…stupid!)

But…wait…there’s still more…sigh.

Mr. Spock has managed to get himself impaled with a piece of the alien ship. Ouch!  And good thing that McCoy is there, because even without his medical kit, he can save Spock.
How?  You might ask.
Well, space cadet, McCoy also took the elective, “Bashing Alien Weapons With a Rock to Make Them Work-101” back at the Academy, which he obviously aced.  After beating an alien weapon into functional prime, he heats a piece of the alien ship he ripped off with his bare hands until it glows red and then, in one swift motion, rips out the impaling object and slides the glowing spike under Spock’s tunic to cauterize the wound.  What a doctor!  He doesn’t even need to see the wound to cauterize it: just drive the spike home and he’s done!  Even more amazing is the material their uniforms are made out of.  They can tolerate being touched with something that’s about 1000°F and not burst into flames. (I wonder if they wrinkle if you leave them in the dryer too long…)

So, while McCoy and Spock are playing hide the hot stick, Kirk, and what’s left of his crew, leave the doomed saucer of the Enterprise in Kelvin escape pods.
Now, I’ve got to get me one of those, because when you land you end up in this spiffy, neat blue suit with gloves and everything.  The real question is: Does the pod automatically dress you or do you have to strip down to your underwear in some alien forest to put the suit on?  Is it one size fits all?  Does it come in camo?

Scotty escapes by gutting a photon torpedo and launching himself off the Enterprise using what appears to be a 23rd century version of an X-Box controller.
Damn, this guy is good!  Even more amazing is that his torpedo collides and careens off mountain tops and rock spires and doesn’t explode.  I guess he must have removed the detonator, too.  But, one has to ask, what is this thing made of that it can impact rocks at hundreds (thousands?) of miles per hour and not be ripped apart?  Even more interesting is that Scotty is inside this torpedo, which is not made to carry humans, and he’s not pulverized like a bag of haggis by bouncing around the inside every time it hits something.

Here’s an experiment you can do at home: Take a fresh egg in its shell and put it in a storage container with a lid, close the lid nice and snug and now fling it across the room into a wall of your choice.  Slowly open the lid and peek inside.  The yellow goo you see is Montgomery Scotty in a photon torpedo casing after he bounced off his first granite peak.  We won’t even talk about his four-finger grab on the cliffside after he exits the torpedo casing.  What does this guy do, crush coconuts with his bare hands in his spare time?  (Sorry, I said I wasn’t going to talk about this!)

And, the saga continues…sigh…

Kirk, Chekov and Kalara head back to the trashed saucer section, which conveniently crashed nearby to use the ship’s sensors.  This ship is like the old Timex watches: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!  They see the ship and Chekov comments “It looks like there is power.”
No, dear Chekov, those are just flames lapping out of the holes in the hull.  The special effects team forgot to switch from campfires to artificial lights…

Once inside they, of course, fire up the sensors.
What’s interesting is that on the bridge everyone is standing upright on the deck, but when the Captain and Kalara go below deck to get the artifact, they are walking on the corridor wall!  Huh?  The saucer did come to rest at an angle, so all the decks should be at the same angle. I guess it fits in the category of: Hey, it looks good and we don’t have enough money to turn the bridge set on its side. And, nobody will notice.  That’s a rap!

So Kirk and Chekov find themselves trapped on the ship by the bad guys and Kirk decides the only way out is to fire the thrusters.
Yup. Those flame-throwing rockets that made their first appearance in that classic of all classics, Star Trek Into Darkness.
But, they can’t just start them up because even though the fuel is primed, Chekov can’t get it to combust…
Just like when your gas stove won’t light.  Click…Click…Click…Click.

So, guess what, Kirk is going to light it off with a blast from his trusty phaser.
Aren’t there thrusters on the top too? Why don’t they light?  Or, does the ship only thrust in one direction? So many questions.  We get a big explosion (can’t get enough of those!) and satisfying blue flames shooting out of the saucer on one side, which lift it and ultimately flip the saucer over!  Wow!

Not so fast there, buckeroo.  Thrusters are used in space to adjust the motion or attitude (how the object is oriented) of an object by exerting hundreds to thousands of pounds of force on it from one side or the other.  They are not strong enough to lift the vehicle off a planet’s surface.  But, it’s a nice diversion for the audience so they don’t realize that the dynamic duo ran all the way back up to the bridge, shot-out a window (The windows are transparent aluminum on our side of the universe…) and slid down the top of the saucer deck shooting at the aliens all the way down.  What a scene!  Why didn’t they do that before they lit the thrusters?  (Sorry. Stupid question.  Of course it was a perfect opportunity for pyrotechnics—pretty blue flames shooting out of the ship.)

We find that Montgomery Scotty’s new sidekick, Jaylah has taken up residence in a starship, the USS Franklin that was lost a 100 years earlier.
And bless Jaylah’s little heart, she’s been trying for years to repair it to take off to freedom, and she has managed to fix many of the ships systems.  But, she’s never been to Star Fleet!  So where did she get those amazing skills?  Or, is it that everything the Federation makes is just so simple it’s intuitively obvious to any creature that can walk on two feet how to repair and operate it.

And, we all know that if it’s going to fly again, Montgomery Scotty will make it so in a matter of hours…on a ship that is over a hundred years old…and that he has never seen…and that he has no idea what is wrong with it…(spoiler alert to a spoiler alert) and is buried in the side of a mountain.  But, since when has that ever been a problem?

Chekov and Kirk soon join the party and Scotty fires up the transporter and beams Spock and McCoy on board.  Shortly, the young Russian powers up the sensors, like an old pro, to scan for Uhura’s Vulcan necklace.  He must hang around Scotty way too much.

What we ultimately find out is that Krall is the captain of the USS Franklin (he was human back then).  And that he has lived so long by sucking the energy out of other creatures, leaving a dry husk behind.
Hmm, that sounds familiar.  Ever watch the space-vampire movie, “Lifeforce”?

So they’ve got to rescue the remaining crew of the Enterprise from the enemy base and they need a diversion.  Low and behold there is a PX70 on board.
A motorcycle that’s over a 100 years old…I hope they put some stabilizer in the gas tank and those pistons didn’t seize up.  But, wait there’s more!  We see the motorcycle beaming onto the ground at full speed.  One has to ask how the good Captain got the motorcycle up to, say 50 mph—okay lets give him the benefit of the doubt, 30 mph inside the transporter room that’s maybe twenty by twenty feet square?

So we get the typical battle to save the prisoners.  I’m glad that martial arts are a Universal combat technique.  It would be so sad to see one alien use martial arts to beat the snot out of another alien that only learned defense by verbal abuse – ‘Oh,yeah, your mamma wears combat boots!’. The ultimate wow comes when Kirk jumps his PX70 through the air as he’s being beamed up and manages to grab Jaylah’s hand as she’s falling off the top of a building! 

What timing!  What skill!  What the hell?  We’re supposed to believe this?  Evel Knievel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evel_Knievel) would have been proud of him!  There is suspension of disbelief and there is brain dead.

Time to leave the planet.  The USS Franklin is in tip-top shape, thanks to that miracle worker Montgomery Scotty, and with Sulu at the helm, (did everyone at Star Fleet Academy study the operating manual for the USS Franklin??) they power up the impulse engines and fly the ship out of the mountain side it was embedded in…Did I say embedded? Yes, but I meant buried in!

Just how did this ship crash?  Did they back into the mountain after excavating neat little holes for the engines?  Why aren’t the engine nacelles crushed and bent with half the mountain laying on them? Of course they couldn’t pull out with ¼  impulse power.  What were they thinking? 

It specifically states in the USS Franklin operating manual that when pulling out of a mountainside one needs to use ½ impulse power.  Sulu pushes the pedal to ½ impulse power and manages to move the ship over the cliff edge, and now it has to free-fall to reach terminal velocity so the “stabilizers can provide lift”.  HUH?  Stabilizers?  Provide lift?  What?!

You have impulse engines that can propel this ship through space at up to ¼ the speed of light and you have to fall to reach terminal velocity.  And just what the hell do the stabilizers do? This is a spaceship, not an airplane.  I’m surprised that they didn’t set the flaps to 50% and call the tower for wind speed, direction and runway temperature.  To top it off, they need to light those damn thrusters to keep from crashing into the ground. 

Oh, by the way, on your way down please trim off a few of those cliff faces and on your way out, take a few of those tall rock peaks down a bit, please.  Yes, don’t worry, your ship can handle shearing off granite mountain tops.  A little touch up paint and you’re good to go.

Hang on space cadets, we’re in the home stretch!

Is this guy crazy? Krall, that is.  He could have made a fortune selling his mining hardware to the Romulans and Klingons.  I can see it now: “Starship Shredders are Us!”  They’re small, cheap, fast, blow through defensive shields like butter, hell, blow through starships like butter.  You can slice and dice them. And, if you act now, we’ll through in a used PX70 with your order!  But wait, there’s more!  For every 10,000 you buy you get a signed Krall command ship at half price!

Krall and his minions—lots and lots of minions—(Like, where did they all come from?  We find that most of his crew died, so these loyal followers are a mystery.) are headed off to deliver the super weapon of the ancients to the Yorktown space station.
These ancients pop up all over the place, did you ever notice?  And they had the neatest technology.  But if they were so smart why are they all dead?  But, that’s a discussion for another day.
We have Kirk heading out with the Franklin to take on Krall with his pulsed phaser canons and spacial torpedoes.

Question:  If you had a state-of-the-art starship and came up against an enemy that turned your ship into a floating pile of scrap metal, would you think that taking a starship that is a 100 years older is going to do any better?

Captain Kirk thinks so – “Lock and load!”  But, they decide to disorient the bees by beaming Spock and McCoy (the ace alien-ship pilot) into one of the mining ships and (here we go again) as fast as you can say JJ Abrams, they eject the witless crew of the ship into the harsh rigors of deep space—all the while not blowing themselves out of the ship as the cabin air rushes out.  McCoy flies and Spock determines that the mining ships share a cyberpathic link to coordinate their movements.  Yes, cyberpathic, not cyber-pathetic

So after a few elegant exchanges of exquisite technobabble they determine that sending a very high frequency signal, VHF to you and me and Captain Kirk, of 57.7 MegaHertz.  Mind you, this is determined to be a frequency that the alien ships would not anticipate so as to cause a chain reaction that would wipe out the whole swarm of alien ships.  How do they know they won’t anticipate it? Is there a list of unanticipated radio frequencies everyone subscribes to?  They need to broadcast something loud and distracting to drown out their communication’s link.  Let’s see, is that amplitude modulation or frequency modulation, maybe it’s pulse code modulation?  Or maybe its just the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage.  (Would “Feeling’ by Morris Albert have had the same effect?)  Whatever it is, the alien ships start exploding left and right, up and down…

Okay, where have I seen this before? “Mars Attacks!”  This is where some obnoxious Martians invade Earth and we ultimately defeat them by playing Slim Whitman’s Indian Love Call (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfTORdsPspw) which causes their heads to explode.

At first I thought that Krall’s ships exploded when the Enterprise broadcast their song, but after watching the movie clip way too many times and consulting other resources, I think what is supposed to be happening is that the ships are colliding and exploding.

Questions:  (Rhetorical, they are.)
A) Why didn’t these flying boxes of TNT explode when the impacted and shredded the Enterprise?
B) Why didn’t they explode when they impacted Spock and McCoy’s escape pod and all the others they captured?
C) Why didn’t Krall’s personal ship get wasted in the melee?
D) Why? Why? Why? Oh, why did I watch this movie??

I think I like the “Mars Attacks” interpretation better.  It’s less stupid.  But equally absurd.  Sigh…

Question: Why does Krall even need the deadly ancient weapon?
Krall has thousands of these ships at his beck and call and they would happily shred the snow-globe Yorktown in a matter of minutes, wreaking havoc and destruction across the station, but instead, he must release the deadly ancient weapon to dissolve everyone on board?

And we find out that he’s pissed that they made him a starship captain when he was a Federation soldier.  He couldn’t kill people anymore; he had to be a diplomat.  The icing on the cake was when he got stranded in the nebula and nobody came to rescue him.  So he turned to the local alien technology to prolong his life which turned him into a G’kar look-a-like.

So where in the world—sorry, universe—did Krall come from?

His real name is Balthazar Edison.
Wait!  With a name like Balthazar, he chooses Krall??  I think he really missed a major public relations opportunity with the name change.  If you want to strike fear in your enemies you want a name that sets them on edge, like Khan; General Zod; Dr. Otto Octavius.  Which one sends a bigger chill down your spine: Krall or Balthazar?  Krall sounds like something you’d name your Chihuahua .  Here, Krall. Common boy…Good Krall…Good dog!…Balthazar’s got an edge to it: this is one bad-ass villain you don’t want to cross.

Meanwhile, back at the station.

The USS Franklin flies through the wall of the Yorktown to get the bad guys.
No hull breaches on the starship, no one even falls out of their seats! What a ship!  But, what about the air on the station?  Is the station careening about the solar system like a party balloon let loose before tying it off as the air rushes out? (No?)
After bouncing off the walls, floor and ceiling of the tunnel they’re in, the Franklin charges up through a small lake and intercepts the three alien ships like a dart board in an English Pub!

Question:  You have this idyllic lake in the middle of your space station and one surmises that this water is basically sitting in a huge bathtub.  The good ship USS Franklin now blasts up through the lake from below to capture the bad guys.  That’s right.  Punches a great big hole in the bottom of the bathtub!  Where does all the water go?  Somebody better get a really big mop.

Krall escapes (Wow, what a surprise!) and prepares to release the ancient weapon in the ventilation system.  But now he looks human.  How’d that happen? This guy’s got a million tricks up his sleeve.

Of course only Montgomery Scotty can disable the ventilation system on board the station to thwart the ancient weapon.
Why? You might ask.  

Because, the resident engineers are too stupid to know how to operate the very life support system on board their deep-space station that keeps them alive—far, far away from Federation support, and Scotty, never having seen this station before, just needs to look at the operational schematics to find a back door.  Back door to what?  If he’s looking for a way to hack the code that operates the ventilation system he’d be better off looking at the source code.  He does admit that he needs Jaylah’s eyes—I’m really hoping that was a figure of speech.

Scotty does his thing. Kirk does his thing and finally the bad guy, Balthazar—sorry, Krall ends up floating in space and dying by his own weapon.  (Why don’t they use the transporter to get Krall?)  Lastly, Kirk, who is following Krall out the airlock, is saved by the excellent piloting skills of McCoy (what a set of hands!) and Spock’s timely catch as the good Captain flies by.

Kirk saves the day and of course they offer him the Vice Admiral’s chair.  But Kirk observes that Vice Admirals don’t fly. (Gee, that’s probably why they call it a desk job.)  Then Kirk comments, “Where’s the fun in that?”
Ah, excuse me.
Two hours ago (our time) he was whining for the desk job, now it’s no fun?  You mean he wants to go back into space?
Ah, excuse me.
You don’t have a starship anymore.  Oh, and your crew was decimated.

Question: The Captain of a certain starship makes a very bad decision—a tremendously bad decision—when facing an enemy he can’t fight, against the repeated recommendations of his bridge crew.  Said Captain has his starship turned into space confetti and loses most of his crew.

This captain should be:
1)    Spaced out of the nearest airlock? (Considering that this is not the first starship he’s trashed.)
2)    Given the Vice Admiral’s chair at the nearest space station?
3)    Traded to the Klingons so he can wreck some of their starships.
4)    Given command of another starship that is just being built with all the latest Federation technology and bling?

So, it only took losing one Federation Starship, the USS Enterprise and wrecking another, the USS Franklin (an antique, I might add.  Wonder what it would have brought on the Antiques Roadshow?) along with untold damage to the space station Yorktown and losing most of his crew to get Jim Kirk out of the doldrums and raring to go back out and finish his five year mission.  What a captain!

And, they give him another starship!

I can’t wait for the next movie…sigh…

“Menagerie” – New Wallpaper Available

I only started this about a year ago and finally got around to finishing it!  That is after dozens of iterations and renderings.  I think it’s finally finished…I think…

The Visitor adds to his collection after another visit to Earth.  Magic or technology?  To us, it is one in the same.

Have they been here already?  Have they added to their collection one by one and we’ve not noticed?  Are they out there at all?  Maybe one day we’ll find out, until then, enjoy!

“Menagerie”

Till next time,

RC Davison

Orb – New Wallpaper

“Orb” evolved while while watching a presidential debate.  I think I was looking for a planet to escape to, but unfortunately the planet I created doesn’t really appear to be too hospitable to us humans.  (After the debate I think I was wiling to take a chance on it!)

Wallpaper - Orb

Orb

Our world, from its sapphire blue oceans to its emerald green forests, provides everything we need to exist.  Surely there are planets in this vast Universe–in our galaxy alone–that provide nurturing environments to their indigenous species. The resultant lifeforms may be so alien in nature to us that we may never find a common reference point to share our experiences.

We can’t communicate with the other intelligent species on this planet, so communicating with an alien race from another planet may be quite a challenge.  Although, one could reason that the aliens would be as motivated to establish communication as we would be.  One could also argue that dolphins and chimps (among other intelligent animals) don’t have anything to say to us.

Enjoy!

Till next time,

RC Davison

Bird’s Eye View

A new wallpaper exploring the view of the world from a bird’s perspective.

Bird’s Eye View

Enjoy!

Check out other free wallpapers at: http://www.orbitalmaneuvers.com/Wallpapers.html

Till next time,

RC Davison

Blue Sunset

The sky is alive with colors all during the day and the clouds that decorate the sky just make it more interesting.

Typically we think of red with a sunset, but it depends on just when you see it and other factors like the amount of dust and smog in the atmosphere as well as clouds.  This picture was inspired by a beautiful picture taken by P-M Hedén and can be seen, along with other beautiful images at Clearskies in the Noctilucent Clouds Gallery. (Noctilucent clouds are clouds at very high altitude made of ice crystals that can be seen late into the twilight hours.)

Blue Sunset

As usual, you can check out  more wallpapers at the gallery page.

Enjoy!

Till next time,

RC Davison

 

“Exoplanet”

“Exoplanet”, the latest wallpaper to be added to the gallery on the website depicts a binary planetary system around a distant star hosting a living ecosystem.  This image has taken forever to produce thanks to some quirks with the Vue-Esprit software that was used to create it.  Hope you enjoy it!

Wallpaper - Exoplanet

Exoplanet

Check out the other Orbital Maneuvers’ wallpapers in the gallery.

Till next time,

RC Davison

Globular Clusters – Abode for Life?

The cosmos holds many wondrous things to capture our attention, but to me, the site of a globular cluster is just mesmerizing. These bejeweled orbs can contain tens of thousands to millions of stars in a sphere that can be about 100 light-years (ly) across. (Compare this with our Milky Way spiral galaxy that is approximately 100,000 ly across and contains on the order of 300 billion stars.) There are close to 150 globular clusters orbiting our galaxy, which is not unique; other galaxies have thousands or more in orbit about them.

The globular cluster Omega Centauri, visible from the Southern Hemisphere

Image credit: Joaquin Polleri & Ezequiel Etcheverry (Observatorio Panameño en San Pedro de Atacama)

Globular clusters are made up of very old stars, on the order of 10-13 billion years old. Note that the current estimate for the age of the Universe is about 13.8 billion years old, so these stars are ancient, especially when you compare them to our Sun, which is around 4.5 billion years old. The stars that comprise a cluster are typically smaller, cooler dwarf stars designated as M-class that burn their fuel very slowly giving them their longer lifetime. The larger, hotter stars burned themselves out long ago in brilliant supernovae, peppering the cluster with heavier elements necessary for rocky planet formation. Because these stars are so old, planets that may form in their habitable zones have a greater chance of developing life. But, being in a globular cluster brings its own hazards, which would be a detriment to the evolution of advanced life.  Check out the article by astronomers William Harris and Jeremy Webb, “Life Inside a Globular Cluster“, which discusses some of the potential hazards of living in a globular cluster. (The link will download a pdf of the article.)

The very nature of the cluster, with its large number of stars so close together presents the opportunity for neighboring stars to disrupt the formation of planets or even steal planets from each other. Planets may also be ejected from a stable system by the gravitational influence of a passing star and follow their own path through the cluster. This is not to say that there would not be planets in stable orbits around stars in the cluster, although to date, no planets have been located in a globular cluster. The cluster itself makes it very difficult for us to detect planets orbiting its stars. Take a look at a previous post “Stars in Motion” which has a video showing the somewhat chaotic motion of stars in a globular cluster. It’s not the well ordered system one might intuitively expect from a gigantic ball of stars.

To get a perspective on how dense a cluster is, consider that our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 ly from us. If you were to map out a sphere at the center of a globular cluster with a radius of 4.2 ly it would contain on the order of 10,000 stars instead of two! These stars would be less than a light-year apart.

A paper was recently published, “Globular Clusters as Cradles of Live and Advanced Civilizations” by Dr. R. DiStefano et al, which discusses the possibilities of planets forming around stars in a globular cluster and surviving long enough for life to form and flourish. But, this is conditional on the planets forming around stars that are located in a “sweet spot” in the cluster; that is, far enough apart that they don’t interfere with each other. Planets that form in the habitable zones of these cooler stars would be less prone to having their orbits disrupted by a passing star because these zones are close to these less massive, cooler stars.

Ringed gas giant with habitable moon on the periphery of a globular cluster. (Click for a larger image.)

A benefit of the stars being in such close proximity is that it makes the possibility of traveling to or communicating with another civilization so much more practical and if advanced life formed, probable.  Also, the high concentration of stars means that planets that have been ejected and not captured by another star may still receive enough light continue to nurture life, especially if the planets retain or generate enough heat to keep water liquid, even if under a layer of ice.

All of this makes me wonder what it would be like to view the cosmos from inside a cluster or just outside of a cluster. The image below represents a possible view of a planet inside the cluster, some distance from the center. The ambient light from all the stars would make nighttime about as bright as dusk/dawn on our planet. Consequently, the beings populating this planet might have a great understanding of the stars around them, but their view of the universe outside of the cluster would be greatly hampered by this collection of stars.

View from inside a globular cluster. (Click for a larger image.)

Check out the very interesting short story by Issac Asimov, “Nightfall”, which is about a civilization that evolved in a globular cluster on a planet with the six suns. They experience constant daylight except once every two thousand and forty-nine years when five of the stars align on one side of the planet and the sixth is eclipsed by a moon unveiling nighttime and all the wonders of the night sky, which they are very unprepared for.

Whether globular clusters are abodes for life or not will not be answered soon. It’s just one more challenge for astronomers to unravel as they sharpen their skills in exploring our amazing cosmos.

Till next time,

RC Davison

“Troubled Waters”

A new wallpaper is up called “Troubled Waters” is available on the wallpaper page.  The planet Earth will outlast us all, it is we that swim in troubled waters. The only place in the cosmos that we know is hospitable to human life; we should be more careful in how we treat it and its inhabitants.

Troubled Waters

Till next time,

RC Davison

“Water Hole” – New Wallpaper Available

Check out the latest wallpaper, Water Hole, now up on the website.

Water Hole

Stop by the gallery and browse the other wallpapers that are available.

Till next time,

RC Davison

 

A Comet, a Moon and a Planet – a Tale of Two Tails

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Comet Catalina by Greg Hogan

Sometimes a picture captures just the right moment in space and time and shows us more than the obvious when we take a closer look. The great picture above, taken by Greg Hogan shows the comet Catalina visiting the morning sky with the crescent Moon and blazingly bright planet Venus. Focusing in on the wispy comet just left of center at the bottom of the image, one will notice that it looks more like a clock captured at five minutes before four. This image shows very nicely the two distinct tails that a comet can form as it dives into the inner solar system to swing around the Sun and back out again. The two tails accompanying a comet are distinctly different: one being a dust tail and the other an ion tail.

The coma or cloud around the head or nucleus of a comet, along with its tails start to form out around the orbit of Mars as the comet warms with the increasing amount of energy it’s receiving from the Sun. The comet is composed of ice (frozen gases, and water), dust, dirt and rock and is sometimes referred to as a “dirty snowball”. As it moves closer to the Sun it continues to heat up, and the ices begin to sublime or convert directly to a gas without going through a liquid phase. This release of gas carries dust particles with it, which destabilizes the comet’s surface allowing larger particles to be released, all of which contributes to the coma and tails. Intense jets of gas, can push even more material away from the comet. It is this debris trail that becomes the source for an annual meteor shower if and when the Earth crosses the path of the comet, such as the Perseids we see in the middle of August every year, which is from Comet Swift-Tuttle.

The dust tail reflects the sunlight and appears white in color similar to the coma. The dust is launched from the comet’s surface and slowly moves away from its host. These particles will begin orbiting the Sun on their own trajectory as they escape the gravitational influence of the comet. They are also pushed away from the comet by the radiation pressure from the Sun. This radiation pressure is due to the transfer of momentum from a light particle (photon) to the dust particle when they collide. This is exactly how a solar sail works. The dust tail will flow behind the comet and as the comet rounds the Sun the tail can become curved as the particles of dust are pushed by the light, as can be seen in the image below of comet McNaught.

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Comet McNaught’s dust tail – Image by Robert H. McNaught

The gas particles that are released by the comet will form the ion tail It is typically bluish/greenish in color and occurs because these gas particles liberated from the comet become “ionized” or charged by the high energy ultraviolet light emitted by the Sun. Once the atoms and molecules of gas become charged they will now be influenced by the magnetic field associated with the solar wind that comes from the Sun. The solar wind is a collection of high energy particles that the Sun radiates and entrained with this stream of particles is a magnetic field pointing away from the Sun. So the ion tail will point directly away from the Sun while the dust tail indicates the path the comet has taken. The ion tail can exhibit knots and twists due to the magnetic field as can be seen below.

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Comet Catalina’s twisted ion tail. Image courtesy of CometwatchUK

The  amazing image below shows comet Encke being buffeted by a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun. The comet’s tail detaches as the mass of solar particles sweeps by and then quickly reforms. This is believed to be caused by the magnetic field retained in the CME interacting with the ion tail’s field. The video is from NASA’s STEREO solar mission.

Comet Encke’s interaction with a CME

If you look in Greg’s picture at the Moon you will see that it is illuminated on lower right hand side by the Sun, which is out of frame in the lower right. Now look closely at comet Catalina and at the “minute hand” of the clock – the ion tail; it’s pointing directly away from the Sun, while the “hour hand” – the dust tail is pointing more towards the Sun indicating that the comet is moving away from the Sun and heading back out of the solar system.  Catalina passed closest to the Sun on November 15, 2015 and will be closest to Earth on January 12, 2016.

Comet Catalina will make only a one-time appearance, as it has gained enough energy on its dive through the inner solar system that it will be jettisoned into interstellar space, never to return. On its journey it will pass through two large reservoirs of comets and other leftover debris from the early solar system that orbit our star, the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud.

Comets originating in the Kuiper Belt, about 30 – 55 times the distance the Earth is from the Sun are known as short period comets, and have periods less than 200 years. Halley’s comet is a well known short period comet, having a period of about 76 years. Note that the Kuiper belt starts at the orbit of the planet Neptune. (Yes, Pluto is a Kuiper Belt object!) (The average Earth-Sun distance is 93 million miles or 150 million km and has been established as a standard unit of distance in astronomy known as an Astronomical Unit or “AU”.)

Long period comets originate from a much more distant region of the solar system, the Oort Cloud. This cloud of frozen debris extends from 5,000 AU to 100,000 AU. Way out there! These comets can have periods as long as 30 million years to complete an orbit around the Sun. Comet Catalina most likely originated from here.

Catch a glimpse of comet Catalina if you can in January, as it will be on the edge of naked-eye visibility, so under the right conditions you won’t need binoculars or a telescope, but they will make for much better viewing. Comets are relics of the early solar system and the more we can study them, the more we learn about how our place in space has formed.

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Jets on comet 67P from OSIRIS Imager on Rosetta – Image courtesy of the European Space Agency

Check out the European Space Agency’s site for amazing pictures and details on comet 67P (Churyumov-Gerasimenko) that their probe Rosetta has been flying in formation with for the last year.

Till next time,

RC Davison

References:

http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/145944main_Kuiper.Belt.Lithograph.pdf

https://ase.tufts.edu/cosmos/view_chapter.asp?id=12&page=5

http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/C/cometary+dust+tail

http://secchi.nrl.navy.mil/Publications/Vourlidas_encke_07.pdf