Tag Archives: Star Trek

108 – Wow!: Radio Telescopes, Dyson Spheres, And The Search For Aliens

We’ve discussed SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) before when we talked about that Russian billionaire that gave a hundred million dollars to the quest to find aliens, but this past week had a huge announcement for those of us who keep our eyes on the skies.

We’re talking about the signal that was reported by a Russian radio telescope in May of 2015 but for some reason has only entered the public sphere starting last week and was especially exciting because it was all over the mainstream news sources. Usually when this kind of news happens, it gets relegated to UFO or conspiracy blogs. It’s easily weekly that I have to trudge through various reports that a UFO was seen on the live feed from the International Space Station and NASA quickly turned off the cameras.

So when it gets announced to the regular world that an amazing signal was detected from space, it’s big news for us and we wanted to talk about it. I hate to disappoint everyone but it’s already being disavowed. CNN is already saying that scientists are saying it’s probably of terrestrial origin, some kind of disturbance or weird reflection off an old Soviet satellite, just Cold War spy technology coming back to spoil our fun.

But how do we know that this isn’t just the cover-up? Once the world governments realized what was going on, they decided to shut it down before the truth got out?! Well, that certainly is a possibility and we know that the government loves to keep things from us but even though I’d love for this to be some kind of cover-up of an actual alien transmission, it’s probably not. And for a couple of reasons:

  • August is a slow news month. Donald Trump’s act isn’t as entertaining to journalists as it was a year ago and Hillary is playing it as safe as possible so she doesn’t blow her current lead in the polls. Most people are on vacation and news organizations don’t know what to write about. Aliens get clicks, every time.
  • This happened in May of 2015 and we’re just hearing about it now. If it was the smoking gun that we’re all waiting for, well, in this day and age, stories don’t take a year and a half to get told.
Im Not Saying It Was Aliens...
I’m Not Saying It Was Aliens…

Back in college, when we all ran SETI@Home on our computers instead of a normal screen saver (You still can, just check it out right here!) most of the signals that we were processing came from the radio telescope at Arecibo in Puerto Rico. The largest telescope actually has just finished construction in China and is scheduled to be operational this month(!)

Mike at Arecibo
Mike at Arecibo

So a quick primer on radio telescopes in case you’re wondering. It is a radio antenna like the one on your car, but while the one on your car can maybe pick up a signal from 80 miles away if it’s in AM mode, the radio telescope is big enough to pick up radio waves in space. And scientists can take those radio waves and use them to find out things about the objects that the telescope is pointed at.

Radio telescopes can collect data from further distances than visual telescopes. So, when the signal was announced last week that seemed to come from somewhere near the constellation Hercules, one of the exciting aspects of that was it seemed to be purposeful and for the signal we received to make it here from that distance would require the energy of a Kardeshev Type 2 civilization.

Huh? Okay, Kardeshev was a Soviet astronomer who developed a scale for the technological advancement of civilizations based on the amount of power that they could harness.

  • Type 1 was the ability to harness all of the energy of your own planet (we’re not there yet but here’s what it would be like if we were).
  • Type 2 is the ability to harness the power of a star. This is the Dyson Sphere that people talk about. A Dyson Sphere is an enormous structure built around a star that can use all of the energy that that star creates (like in the Star Trek: TNG episode with Scotty, “Relics” or the Hyperion book series by Dan Simmons.)
  • Type 3 means that you can manipulate the power of a galaxy. Everyone’s favorite Coast To Coast AM astrophysicist, Michio Kaku, thinks that we might be there in ONE MILLION years.

And oh man, that Next Gen episode was so sad, wasn’t it? RIP James Doohan, we still love ya!

But here’s something cool, in the past couple of years, we’ve had two strange readings from stars where their brightness has changed inexplicably. We expect up to one percent of the brightness to dip when a planet passes in front of them, but these dips are more like twenty-two to forty-five percent. So that means that something gigantic is getting between us and the star, something like a Dyson Sphere!

Of course, scientists always have an alternate explanation, but thinking that it’s extraterrestrials building a megastructure designed to harness the power of an alien sun is a lot more fun, and I’m sticking with that for today.

Wow!
Wow!

But on August 15th, 1977 there was a signal detected at the Big Ear Radio Telescope at Ohio State that was dozens of times stronger than the background noise of space. Lasting just seventy-two seconds, astronomer Dr. Jerry Ehman circled it on the printout and wrote down “Wow!” by it (hence the nickname of the signal.)

Why was it such a big deal? First, the signal was heard near a “protected frequency” that other earthbound transmitters aren’t allowed to broadcast on so it probably wasn’t a terrestrial source. Second, the signal rose and fell during the 72 seconds, meaning that it got more intense as the Earth’s rotation brought the radio telescope’s “beam” closer to the signal and less intense as it rotated out. That means it’s probably not some kind of interference which would have acted differently.

It’s the closest thing to an extraterrestrial radio source that we’ve ever seen, but it only lasted that minute and twelve seconds. Several attempts have been made to detect another signal coming at that intensity from that area of the cosmos and we haven’t heard anything yet.

Now, Professor Antonio Paris (c’mon, that’s an awesome name!) at St. Petersburg College in Florida (Note about this part of the podcast – I totally mixed up St. Petersburg and St. Augustine while we were discussing this) has come up with a plausible theory is that the intense signal might have been coming from some comets that as of 1977 were undiscovered. He’s hoping to test it in the next couple of years when the comets make another trip nearby Earth.

 

Stephen Colbert actually made a response to the Wow! Signal on his Comedy Central show a few years back…

So, we haven’t found that undeniable evidence that’s going to convince the straights that E.T. is out there, but that doesn’t mean radio telescopes haven’t been inspiration for our sci-fi over the past few decades. Great places to see radio telescopes in science fiction:

  • The Arrival – this is one of Charlie Sheen’s best roles and an under appreciated 1990s alien invasion flick. It had the bad luck of coming out the same year as Independence Day and let’s face it, as fun as Charlie Sheen can be, the late 90s was the Willennium.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOc01_Ty1eQ
  • Goldeneye – you saw it in the theater or you played it on your Nintendo 64 but you remember the big finish takes place at the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico where Pierce Brosnan chases Sean Bean around.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MH2qnn4D0kY
  • The X-Files – “Little Green Men”. Mulder goes down to Puerto Rico in his quest for the truth and it’s the first appearance of aliens on the show.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYEpvHDbT4Y
  • The Dish – The Parkes Observatory in the middle of the Australian Outback has to help out with the Apollo moon landing in 1969.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc4MSie-P0k
  • Doctor Who – Tom Baker saves the universe from entropy but loses a regeneration in the process by falling from a radio telescope designed to contact alien intelligences.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xYOM70sbyA
  • The Arrival – Not Charlie Sheen this time, but Amy Adams. And it hasn’t come out yet, but the preview screenings have got me all excited about it. It’s supposed to be not so much of an alien invasion, but a What If? we actually met aliens who didn’t want to eat us, but wanted to make contact. This is the film that might be preparing us for full disclosure (keep your fingers crossed!)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hQkrCtfUP0

At the end of the episode, we also introduce our friend, Tobias Wayland, from The Singular Fortean Society. He is a Madison-based blogger and paranormal researcher, working with artist and fellow researcher Emily Bartos. They recently attended the Art of Darkness event in Minneapolis and he wrote up the event at their website.

This week’s Sunspot song is a simple track about calling out into night sky and only having one word to say when it answers you back. Wow!

Just how long can you stare?
At the emptiness inside a prayer,
An ear peeled to every band,
to hear a loneliness that just expands.

All the space between us is so black,
Patience just a virtue that I lack,
Until the void finally calls back,
I’ll scream into the night alone.

Wow, I heard you.
How, where’d you go?
Now, I’ll follow,
so please phone home.

Now the long wait can begin,
(I heard you),
when will you show yourself again
(where’d you go?)
It’s funny how just one time,
(I’ll follow),
Can forever alter  your life,
(please phone home).

All the space between us is so black
Patience just a virtue that I lack
Until the void finally calls back
I’ll scream into the night alone

Wow, I heard you.
How, where’d you go?
Now, I’ll follow,
so please phone home.
Wow.

 

101 – Star Trek: Beyond The Psychic Powers Of The Final Frontier

We saw on Facebook the other day that every Ghostbusters film has come out in the same month as a Star Trek film. Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock came out a week before the first Ghostbusters and Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier came our a week before Ghostbusters 2. Unfortunately, Star Trek 3 and 5 are known as the kinda bad ones so we don’t know what that means for Star Trek Beyond, but since it’s opening a week after the Ghostbusters reboot, well, we just had to do back-to-back episodes ourselves!

And it’s not like we’ve never talked about Star Trek before, our Leonard Nimoy tribute episode covered a good deal of our Trekker-related tendencies, but we decided to devote our first full episode to the big daddy of space exploration series and how they used psychic powers within the show.  And even though Star Trek Into Darkness had some pretty weak sauce, we’re hoping that with a script written by supergeek Simon Pegg (alternate-universe Scotty, himself) Star Trek Beyond is the film we’ve been hoping for.

star trek beyond gary mitchell
Hey, it’s Sally Kellerman, one day she would grow up to be the completely unbelievable love interest for Rodney Dangerfield in Back To School!

Psychic powers are baked into the Star Trek formula, in fact, when the pilot episode of the original Star Trek was rejected by NBC and they asked for a new story, psychic powers were the plotline! The extremely evil-sounding Gary Mitchell(!) portrayed a villain who was warped by his access to God-like telepathy and mind control.

star trek beyond vulcan mind meld

The most famous Star Trek psychic move of course is the Vulcan Mind Meld. That’s where a Vulcan touches the head of another person and they can transfer memories, emotions, and in the case of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), even the personality and soul of the Vulcan. Spock mind melds with Kirk, McCoy, and even a silicon-based giant pizza monster called the Horta in the classic episode, “Devil In The Dark”.

spock horta pizza star trek beyond
I can feel how much you hate anchovies…

Star Trek: The Next Generation brought psychic powers to the bridge in the form of Counselor Deanna Troi, the half-human half Betazoid empath who would advise Captain Picard on what the aliens they were talking to were feeling.

counselor deanna troi star trek beyond
Glamour Shots from the future!

In the writer’s guide for Star Trek: The Next Generation they said that they wanted to keep the stories scientifically plausible  and that:

2. We do not do stories about psi-forces or mysterious psychic powers

No matter how fantastic the events in a story, the explanation must be extrapolated from a generally accepted science theory. (We have accepted the telepathy of Counselor Deanna Troi because many reputable scientists have acknowledged the possibility of such abilities, but you will note that we have limited Troi to “reading” only emotions.)

When it comes to science fiction, half of the battle is keeping a consistent set of physics in the universe where technological hurdles have been leapt that we currently haven’t foggiest of how to fathom (like warp speed or time travel), so when it comes to psychic powers, Star Trek had a physical medium through which psychic powers could travel. Here’s how they said telepathy worked on an old site about Star Trek: Voyager:

Star Trek science consultant and writer André Bormanis has revealed that telepathy within the Star Trek universe works via the “psionic field.” According to Bormanis, a psionic field is the “medium” through which unspoken thoughts and feelings are communicated through space. Some humanoids can tap into this field through a kind of sense organ located in the brain (e.g. the paracortex). In the same manner that Human eyes can sense portions of the electromagnetic field, telepaths can sense portions of the psionic field.

star trek beyond telepathic pitcher plant
The giant psychic space organism that almost ate the Voyager.

This week, we’re trying out our first See You On The Other Side psi experiment. We made a little 5-minute meditation track inspired by Star Trek‘s various themes to help  your mind into the Alpha state – which is the state that some people believe can enhance telepathy – so we want to see if we can help you get results.

  • Find a friend to listen to this YouTube video through headphones at the exact same time as you and have one person be a sender and one person be the receiver.

  • As the sender, pick a one-word message to send. It could be any word you like. Listen to the track and focus on that message and images behind its meaning.

  • The receiver will then write down a paragraph of what they felt and what their thoughts were during the five minutes.

  •  Send the one-word message and the paragraph to us over email or Twitter the results on a future podcast. Feel free to send us an audio file too, we’d love to be able to hear your voice!

We know it’s not hard science, but we thought that Episode 101 and Star Trek Beyond was the perfect time to inaugurate some psychic research of our own!

28 – Peace and Long Life: A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy

FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS!

  • Our band Sunspot will release a brand new EP on 3/17/2015, featuring three of the songs we wrote just for this podcast. We’re in the studio now working on it and pretty excited to finish up and get the final versions out for you to hear!
  • On our way to the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festiveal, we’ll be making two stops for the first ever SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE live broadcasts! We’ll be interviewing fascinating people and then playing a live set of acoustic songs for everyone.
  • Podcast reviews- WE MET OUR FEBRUARY GOAL! Thanks to everyone who went into iTunes, clicked the 5 stars, and made nice comments for us. In a future episode, your reviews will be, as Mike says, “autotuned” into a special song just for you.
  • Welcome to the new listeners!
  • Since we’re heading to Texas in a couple of weeks, Mike and Wendy take a quick detour from announcements to recall the time Sunspot visited the famous haunted tracks there.

AND NOW, THE SAD NEWS…
The world lost a great man, and one of our personal heroes, when Leonard Nimoy passed away on Friday, February 27, 2015.  With such an incredibly legacy and prolific career, Mike and Wendy had quite a bit to talk about as they reflect on the “Mr. Spock” and his legacy:

  • His shared identity with Mr. Spock, as he talked about in his two autobiographies, I Am Not Spock (1975) and I Am Spock (1995).
  • The Vulcan salute was Nimoy’s idea, based on the hand formation Jewish priests use while performing blessings.
  • Many characters from Star Trek, such as William Shatner , continued to use their characters in ridiculous ways following the series, but Leonard Nimoy had a presence that was less joke-like and more serious.  He embraced the character of Spock and brought it into his other projects.
  • Nimoy continued on  as Spock in the Star Trek animated series, and then in six of the movies
  • Of particular interest and inspiration to us, he hosted the show In Search Of, a pioneering program about the paranormal featuring tales of ghosts, ancient aliens, etc. In the show, Nimoy questioned the “unexplained phenomena” of the unknown, which at the time was very unique and uncommon programming for television.
  • The Vulcan nerve pinch was an idea provided by Nimoy
  • The Episode Mirror Mirror featured an evil version of Mr. Spock, who was Nimoy but with a goatee. The practice of using the same actor, but with a goatee, to represent an “evil twin” has become popular in many other shows and movies since then.
  • Many people provided special tributes to Nimoy when the news broke of his passing.
  • Nimoy directed the movie Three Men and a Baby, which also has a legendary ghostly figure in one of the scenes that caused quite a stir when the movie came out on video. However, it was later found that the “ghostly child” was a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson (cue the sad trombone).
  • So many of the people we know were affected by Nimoy/Spock and his multitude of creative projects, and it was clear on the day of his passing through all of the social media comments everywhere.  This was the perfect example of the power that a really good artist can have on the world and human experience.

Let us know if you have any special memories or tributes for Leonard Nimoy!

Featured Song: Sha Ka Ree

Being young ain’t always fun,
and growing up ain’t easy,
when you’re just a little different,
and your best friend is your TV.
You might never be a hero,
or get along with your peers,
but you could learn to be a human from,
a dude with pointy ears, well.

The bad guys were always wrong,
and the good guys always won and,
we learned how to play the game.
But now my favorite shows,
are full of anti-heroes and,
reruns just ain’t the same.

In a world a little sick,
we could use some more logic.

Who taught you,
the needs of the many,
are greater than the needs of the one?
And who taught you,
that just wearing a goatee,
Makes you an evil son of a gun?

The only one who tried to talk,
to the Devil in the Dark.
Cuz you were bred from different stock,
like those of us who missed the mark,
See you in Sha Ka Ree, my Mister.

Mr. Spock stopped the jocks,
taking over in Space Seed,
and he always kept his cool,
when Bones would call him a halfbreed.
And we all tried the nerve pinch,
on other kids on the playground,
Till fourteen at least I still believed,
that move could knock you out, damn.

In Search Of was the show,
that made it cool for UFOs,
it weirded out my little mind.
Embarrassing as it could get,
you sang a song about the Hobbit,
somebody must have been high,

Those of us that can’t quite fit,
could use some more of your logic.

Who taught you,
the needs of the many,
are greater then the needs of the one?
Who taught you,
that just wearing a goatee,
makes you an evil son of a gun?

From Captain Kirk’s superego,
into the dark mind of Van Gogh,
so much of what I know,
came from your heart.
We’ll see you in Sha Ka Ree, my Mister.

22 – Writing for Star Trek: Interview with Mark O’Connell – Part 1

This episode features an interview with screenwriter for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Mark O’Connell. In the interview they cover growing up in the same small town, and how Mark developed his interest in science fiction, how Ray Bradbury gave him his first writing encouragement, and how he broke into writing for Star Trek. We go into the process and a little behind the scenes on one of the greatest science fiction franchises in history. Mark is also a UFO investigator and we cover that in the second part of the interview, forthcoming.

Links:

Mark Gehred-O’Connell’s Entry at Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki

YouTube trailer for “Second Sight” episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

High Strangeness UFO – Mark’s blog

Playboy’s Article Ranking Every Episode of Star Trek ever (mentioned in the podcast)

Featured Song – Final Frontier by Sunspot

It’s 7 and it’s time to check in,
but now it’s 8 and now it’s 10.
It’s time for Tang and vitamins,
let’s conduct experiments.

We’ve been out here since I don’t when,
We’re up in space just like John Glenn,
Say hi on earth to all our friends,
Sure would like to see some aliens.

Don’t beam me down,
or splashdown,
You know I like it above the atmosphere,
Sea of Tranquility,
low gravity,
I’m gonna grab a star as a souvenir.
on the Final Frontier.

The view is positively heavenly,
we’re studying cosmology,
Just like the pioneering chimpanzees,
My bones just lost some density.

Don’t beam me down,
or splashdown,
You know I like it above the atmosphere,
Sea of Tranquility,
low gravity,
My God, it’s full of stars.
Don’t beam me down,
or splashdown,
You know I like it above the atmosphere,
Sea of Tranquility,
low gravity,
I’m gonna grab a star as a souvenir.
on the Final Frontier.