Doctor Who

Science Supplemental: Breathtaking Saturn Video From Real Cassini Photos + Why Carolyn Porco was a Great Trek Science Advisor

A new breathtaking video of the Jewel of the Solar System, Saturn, and her moons has been circulating the internet today. Saturn is gorgeous, we all know this. So what makes this video so special? It was made using ONLY NASA/JPL photos taken by the Cassini Spacecraft. No CGI, no 3D models. Just photographs.


New video of Saturn

5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

This is Why Carolyn Porco was Star Trek‘s Science Advisor
Carolyn Porco is lead imaging scientist for the NASA Cassini mission and was also the Science Advisor for JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, a role for which she has taken a lot of flack from some Trekkies. I have seen many nitpicking comments here on TrekMovie and other websites knocking Porco for the “bad science” in JJ’s film. As a scientist myself I am not about to back red matter or black hole time travel, no sir. But, if it’s really real science you want, direct your ire toward the writers (sorry, Bob & Alex!), not Porco.

Her job? Making sure scenes like the one pictured below came out gorgeous and realistic. The misdirected Trek-rage is partly the fault of the title given to her. “Science Advisor” is not quite accurate and should really be “Science Imagery Advisor”.

Stills from the scenes Porco helped to create

(click to embiggen)

In the words of JJ himself:

“Carolyn and her team have produced images that are simply stunning. I’m thrilled that she will help guide our production in creating an authentic vision of space, one that immerses our audience in a visual experience as awe-inspiring as what Carolyn’s cameras have captured.”

More praise for Porco’s work from Andre Bormanis, a previous science advisor for Star Trek:

“I have known Carolyn from many years, beginning when we were both at the University of Arizona. I think she’s a great choice for the movie. Not only is she one of the world’s top planetary scientists, but she has a wonderful artistic sensibility, which is rare among scientists but indispensable for the visually-powerful storytelling that’s always been a hallmark of Star Trek.”

For quite some time now, I have wanted to set the record straight on this issue. Seeing this video floating around the interwebs gave me a great opportunity to do so. In conclusion: great job, Carolyn! Keep up the good work! Stay up to date on the latest beautiful Cassini images at the imaging lab’s website

P.S. Bob and Alex, if you’re reading this, I know a GREAT scientist who would love to be the full-fledged science advisor for the sequel…


POLL: Science of Star Trek?

How well do you rate the science of JJ Abrams’ Trek?



Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
James Kerwin
March 15, 2011 1:54 pm


Brings to mind Bob and Alex’s classic interview in which they described the Multi-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics — a model which by its very nature can neither be verified, falsified, nor even tested — as “the most thoroughly tested scientific theory in history.”

Yikes. :)

March 15, 2011 2:03 pm

I still have some issues with the design of the new Enterprise, but that shot of it rising above Titan is glorious! Worth the price of admission alone.

Cobalt 1365
March 15, 2011 2:12 pm

Fantastic video, I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. The Trek supreme court couldn’t have picked a more talented individual for science imagery advisor.

I’m an engineering student, and I’m all about scientific accuracy in movies, but darn it if I didn’t almost applaud the Titan scene the first time I saw it in theatres. Well done one and all!

Ensign RedShirt
March 15, 2011 2:15 pm

I never blamed her-I knew where the fault lay….it may be the least scientifically accurate of all the Trek films.

Stunning Saturn animation! Thanks Kayla!

Commodore Mike of the Terran Empire
March 15, 2011 2:23 pm

That was one of the best scenes in Trek 09 when the Enterprise was rising above Titan. Beautiful. Now. Change the Engineering to be a real Engine room and not a Brewery.

Hat Rick
March 15, 2011 2:23 pm

Carolyn rocks! :-)

March 15, 2011 2:27 pm

Carolyn Porco was great because there was NO SCIENCE!!! in the movie!! Damn thats whats bad about this site. I feel like they have to kiss JJ Butt. I would like to see something that will point out some of the many bad parts of the movie, that will never happen on this site. They want more interviews from JJ and the rest of the cast when the next movie comes out!!

March 15, 2011 2:38 pm

As a physicist, I never go to a Star Trek movie for physics. I go to enjoy a story. However, it sure helps when a bit of accuracy can be thrown in without affecting the needs of the story.
Kayla, I think boborci knows there are a few of us out here who’d be more than glad to suggest “science adjustments” gladly. I’d just like them to have a throwaway type line, or background announcement here and there that would be realistic. Just some indication that food processing, waste reprocessing, raw materials, and most of all *water* are being handled somewhere on the ship and moved around and about…. um…. like exactly what might look a bit like a brewery with tanks and pipes and pumps! ;)

March 15, 2011 2:39 pm

I would like to add here that I had nothing to do with the video above and in fact do not think it’s worth the hoopla. Turn the music off and it’s not much better than what’s already been done.

Also, I was not asked about ANY of the science on Star Trek 2009. I was not even asked about how the signal from Enterprise might escape the enemy detectors: hence, that silliness about the magnetic fields of the rings! I was only responsible for suggesting, and commenting on the development of, the scene above.

If ppl are knocking my `science advisorship’, they don’t know the facts.

March 15, 2011 2:42 pm

Oh… and please let me add my many thanks to those who did appreciate what I contributed to the film. And yes, I would LOVE to have a cameo in the next one, and I’m so pleased that over 1000 folks would like that too, as evidenced by this wonderful petition begun by some of `my fans’.

March 15, 2011 2:42 pm

Oh, and the subtitle for the video reading:
…”5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation”
should read:
…”5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Composite Video
It’s certainly *not* an animation per se! :)
And sometime we should talk about how the event horizons of rotating black holes very much are events which open wormholes in spacetime that could theoretically allow travel to another time and place and still not violate the Einstein equations….

March 15, 2011 2:43 pm

#7 “I would like to see something that will point out some of the many bad parts of the movie, that will never happen on this site.”

I sure hope it never happens!

March 15, 2011 2:47 pm

this site, and i myself, have posted critiques of Star Trek 2009. And i am in fact working on another critical article for this weekend. JJ/Bob/Alex/etc are very open to critiques in fact.

March 15, 2011 2:48 pm

The real images of Saturn are stunning. They have me thinking of man’s place in the universe.

March 15, 2011 2:49 pm

@9&10 Carolyn Porco:

I just think the video does a good job of showing off your gorgeous pictures. I applaud the imagery and science behind it!

That said, it can’t hurt to throw a dramatic score behind something that is already great just to get the internet abuzz.

March 15, 2011 2:53 pm

Oh and great to see Carolyn Porco drop by

March 15, 2011 2:58 pm

You’re right Kayla, Michio Kaku would be a great science advisor for the sequel. I keeeed. Yeah, trading Antartica for sunny Los Angeles sounds great Kayla. Thanks for the cool stuff.

You did remember our warnings about not thawing out any aliens you might find in Antartica? Pass the message to the Norwegians. And keep flamethrowers handy. :-)

Battle-scarred Sciatica
March 15, 2011 3:00 pm

Barbers Adagio for Strings fits beautifully.

…”Space, the final frontier”….

Commodore Mike of the Terran Empire
March 15, 2011 3:02 pm

Hey Carolyn thanks for dropping by. Feel free to post with us crazy Trek fans any time ok. A great score can help to make a good Movie great and a great movie even better. Try watching tos with out any music and it won’t be as enjoyable. Most of the Tng Eps could have been better with a better score. Example. Tng. The Best of both Worlds had it all. A Great story and a great music score.

guess the position of science advisor is still open then. They need to fill it for the next go around.

“I would like to see something that will point out some of the many bad parts of the movie, that will never happen on this site.”

Like Carolyn Porco, Bob Orci never gets criticized on this web site.

And thanks for joining us Ms. Porco.

March 15, 2011 3:35 pm

Now if only nasa would stop photoshopping out monuments on mars, moon and huge alien ships and satelites near saturn, but hey at least there is no panic on earth and the prime directive is followed.

Hat Rick
March 15, 2011 3:40 pm

Speaking of that, 22, Art Bell has apparently disappeared off the face of the Earth. Even the host that replaced him doesn’t know what happened. Bell was supposed to do so some guest-hosting but that role has gone to someone else by now, apparently.

So, after several “retirements,” Bell may have really retired for good this time.

But where to?

Truly a mystery.

March 15, 2011 3:41 pm

17: “You’re right Kayla, Michio Kaku would be a great science advisor for the sequel.”


March 15, 2011 3:43 pm

wow. (in an epic way)

March 15, 2011 3:46 pm

Always, if there is the possibility of going the extra mile by rewriting a scene to make it more scientifically plausible, then I am for that. But realistically? Star Trek’s history with accurate science has ALWAYS been sensationalistic, so if fans want consistency, some of that consistency has to come from fans in what they expect Star Trek to be, which has NEVER been science first, everything else second.

March 15, 2011 3:49 pm

I had no idea Carolyn was getting backhanded for the scientific liberties in ST09. Very sad to hear this. It’s definitely undeserved–and I would say that even if ‘science advisor’ were the role many apparently believed it to be. Trek has never made apologies for its willingness to err on the side of drama vs. science–hence the title ‘advisor’ rather than ‘dictator.’

I’m just grateful for the role Carolyn *did* play! Great respect for her and her work!

March 15, 2011 3:50 pm

So, Dr. Porco,

Any opinions on the black hole destroying a planet, the supernova threatening the galaxy, or was it the universe? (I’m hoping Spock was fond of hyperbole) and Vulcan’s blue sky?

I’m still happy they left tachyons, chronometric particles, adjustable phase variance, rewritable DNA and the emit-whatever-you-need-it-to main deflector back on the whiteboard in the Voyager writers’ room.

ps. I’m one of the jerks who thought, how’d their NASA science advisor sign off on all this?

March 15, 2011 3:51 pm

I prefer james cameron or gr sci fi, who cares about sci advisors, if they want one get hawkings.

March 15, 2011 3:54 pm

ps. so how could the enterprise really not have been detected by the enemy? Er, if both were real.

March 15, 2011 3:56 pm

Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting. [1][2][3] It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”. [4] Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possibilities. [5] The settings for science fiction are often contrary to known reality but the majority of science fiction relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief, which is facilitated in the reader’s mind by potential scientific explanations or solutions to various fictional elements. These may include: A setting in the future, in alternative timelines, or in an historical past that contradicts known facts of history or the archaeological record A setting in outer space, on other worlds, or involving aliens [6] Stories that involve technology or scientific principles that contradict known laws of nature [7] Stories that involve discovery or application of new scientific principles, such as time travel or psionics, or new technology, such as nanotechnology, faster-than-light travel or robots, or of new and different political or social systems (e.g., a dystopia, or a situation where organized society has collapsed)

March 15, 2011 4:04 pm

“And sometime we should talk about how the event horizons of rotating black holes very much are events which open wormholes in spacetime that could theoretically allow travel to another time and place and still not violate the Einstein equations….”

heh. let’s talk about it now. so an extra line (even just the term event horizon) would have helped? in the countdown comics they clear it up a little, and it sounds better, but, as a not-science guy, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was just, essentially, gibberish. A very slightly altered mind meld scene would have helped, without, er, alienating the general public (and Spock wouldn’t have been dumbing it down for Kirk, although maybe the writers thought that Kirk wouldn’t need the details spelled out) Hindsight is great — the point is, it would be swell to have
some clarity in the next one, without it turning into a discovery channel show.

March 15, 2011 4:09 pm

31. somethoughts – March 15, 2011

But movie SF poses a unique problem in that its science is in many cases visually and aurally projected, unlike in literary SF. So you can SEE and HEAR violations that are not under the control of the writers because movies are a collaborative medium. Thus, you HEAR sounds in space, and you SEE slow moving phaser beams.

Other limitations of the medium were responsible for Star Trek’s sensational use of teleportation, because stories had to be told weekly with a set time frame for production and a budget that restricted possibilities.

March 15, 2011 4:10 pm

BTW, Enterprise rising up out of Titan was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Loved that.

March 15, 2011 4:21 pm
I meant talk about such things as cabbages and kings *here*, not in the next film’s dialogue! :) And, sure, there were really three types of phenomena in the movie lumped together as ‘black holes’: (1) The Hobus supernova remnant: that would have been a 5+stellar mass black hole, rotating, with an event horizon and space-time wormholes easily…. but sure, it was easy to say “black hole formed after the Hobus star went supernova”. (2) The compression of Vulcan into a planetary point mass. ‘Tain’t nothin’ I know of, however substellar mass black holes are certainly possible: the turbulence in real supernovas is thought to be one way to create such holes… you need some magic material, or, erm, in the real words “exotic matter” to create a freestanding wormhole: that’s in the famous Alcubierre paper on warping space-time to create something akin to Trek’s warp travel. If that be what ‘red matter’ is… something that has negative mass, and negative energy… which appears red in the visual spectrum because of some perverse redshifting… then so be it. Stick that in the middle of a planetary mass and ‘ignite’ it, and I’m sure something nasty happens. However, the angular momentum of a rotating Vulcan is nothing compared to a rotating star, like Hobus, or our Sun, so the resulting black hole won’t be enough to create a naked singularity and event horizon: thus no wormholes and no time travel. (3) And finally, opening a singularity in the middle of the… Read more »
March 15, 2011 4:34 pm

>Any opinions … Vulcan’s blue sky?

All skies are at the baseline blue due to Rayleigh scattering. To get a different color, you need either a gas that has a color: such as chlorine Cl2 which is green… or you need dust which causes a different scattering effect.

The butterscotch skies of Mars are due to the dust particles. But even on Mars at higher altitudes, or when the dust rarely subsides, the sky overhead is bluish.

Vulcan seems to have a lot in common with Mars geology-wise: so in Trek 2009, it was just a very clear day in ShiKahr. :)

March 15, 2011 5:04 pm

I loved Star Trek 09 but maybe it would be good idea to ask for Carolyn’s opinion on more than just the visuals this time around. After all Bob did make a big deal about saying the science would be realistic – ‘there will be no slingshotting around the sun on my watch’ sort of thing. To be fair though the last script was completed just before the writers strike so by then I guess it would have been too late to run it by an actual scientist.

March 15, 2011 5:04 pm

As one who has also wrangled planets and moons (in miniature form) for the PBS miniseries COSMOS, let me say that regardless of the level of accuracy (mainly geometry) of the final Saturn/Titan shot in Star Trek 2009, I applaud whatever measures Carolyn Porco brought to bear on the look of things. Getting the folks who make SF films to go with real science – or even consistent, well thought out future super-science – is sometimes a battle. We had a very good “battling average” on TNG/DS9/Voy, though there were instances where we compromised because of timing, drama, visual excitement, etc. In the art department we tried to pick our battles wisely.

As far as the specific Saturn/Titan shot is concerned, could it have been made as visually exciting with the correct geometry (and oblateness of Saturn)? Of course. This specific artistic vision won out, and the film is what it is. We do what we can.

March 15, 2011 5:05 pm

When I first saw that video a few weeks ago I was under the impression it was a series of time lapse photos taken from Cassini as it entered the Saturn system, however I quickly learned that wasnt the case and that took away the “awe”.

It’s basically one bloke making Saturn spin in after effects. Whoop de doo.

Also, the problem with Trek XI wasnt the dodgy science, it was the dodgy editing (How does a shuttle perform a 360 degree turn in a fraction of a second and appear a few hundred meters away from where it was?).

March 15, 2011 5:50 pm
33. The slow moving phaser beam was a massive pet peeve — but I wonder of it was sometimes written that way ex. TNG Conspiracy, where Picard slowly ducks (if I’d been tossing a nerf ball at him, I would have hit him) out of the way of a phaser beam and then a pyrotechnic thing goes off behind him. Okay maybe that’s more the carrying out. 35 and 36. Heh. Yep, thanks… I too want to talk about them here. But I guess I was also hoping for a little clarity in the next one (in its science, not the last one’s) so Roger Ebert isn’t screaming “preposterous!” and linking to bad astronomy. So it sounds like most of the Trek 09 science was actually sort of not entirely implausible, the black hole stuff at least, but just simplified (and I’m a fan of keeping the science simple, it would be bizarre to have a 40-second explanation each time something happens…. and now I’m slamming Voyager again, Sorry Rick). But, still,in Trek 09 it sounded like, “hey, if you go through a black hole you’ll go back in time!” and many went “huh? that’s not what we learned in the fourth grade.” I think it would have helped the flick to emphasize that Spock had intended it to be a suicide mission and hadn’t planned on getting caught in the event horizon and the time travel. But in fewer words than I just used. But really, who knows? I’m… Read more »
March 15, 2011 6:06 pm

#40 – I got frustrated, too. I was never one for overly wordy tech, so if you had an issue with anything like that, it wasn’t me. :) And agreed, the stuff didn’t have to 100% scientifically accurate (just going to warp violates all kinds of present-day principles), but we strove for internal consistency in the future concepts and tried to make sure -established- science wasn’t given the heave-ho in favor of some bit of cool fluff. Unfortunately, we never could prevent things like Paris and Janeway turning into salamanders or grown crew turning into kids (missing mass?) or the countless other DNA-rewrites-of-the-week. There are so many more great concepts in SF that nobody’s touched, not just Trek, so we end up with a lot of the same stuff over and over.

March 15, 2011 6:37 pm

But Rick, transporters “adjusting” the mass of objects goes all the way back to the first season of TOS with “Enemy Within”! Shouldn’t good Kirk have been really light in the loafers with half the mass? :)
I always like to think that the replicators and the transporters drew upon some raw material storage tanks…. Anyway, that only takes care of the tech transformations.
I don’t know how the heck you age people (TOS Deadly Years), turn them into spiders and cavemen (TNG), or salamanders (VOY) by simply ‘adjusting their DNA’. Then there’s that creepy VOY episode where they reanimate dead corpses as new members of their species…. that makes totally no sense at all.
Oh well… someday we’ll get a Science Fiction series that has rational tech (like BSG) *and* great characters (like TOS) *and* good science (like Cosmos) all in one. What a market for it there is….

March 15, 2011 7:16 pm

I swear that scene was the most beautiful one out of the whole movie

March 15, 2011 7:49 pm

gettin alittle picking. i thought visuals were great

March 15, 2011 8:12 pm

I never heard anyone was giving anyone any flack over the “science” of the new Trek film. Also, I can’t believe there are people so petty that with the limited, precious time we have here on Earth, anyone would spend one second of it nit-picking a science fiction movie. Is this what people go to the movies and spend their hard earned dollars for? Jesus!

I went to the theater with friends and had myself an good old fashion afternoon with a huge tub of popcorn and a soda and loved every second of it from start to finish. It’s entertainment, and better than most. The moment you start to question what’s going on or take yourself out of the “movie-moment” you stop having a good time. Why go then? If you can’t sit and enjoy it for what it is, you have bigger issues. Save your money, see a psychologist and figure out why you have trouble enjoying life.

The visuals were breathtaking, and the Cassini video shows how far they went to make sure everything looked right. Be grateful they worked so hard, it’s not like any of us are going there anytime soon. I’m grateful anyone cared enough about Trek to even make a movie for me to watch and enjoy. Thank you all!

March 15, 2011 10:22 pm

Anyone know the name of the music used, very beautiful.

March 16, 2011 1:37 am

“Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber

March 16, 2011 4:24 am

45. Green Blooded Bastard:
“The moment you start to question what’s going on or take yourself out of the ‘movie-moment’ you stop having a good time.”

I agree. But by the same token don’t you feel that when we are shown scenes such as the Enterprise being a mere 30 seconds behind the fleet, (due to Sulu’s “parking brake” mistake) only to arrive and see it already destroyed, that you are taken out of the movie by such a WTF moment?

I don’t like to nitpick the science, but I don’t expect to be treated like an idiot either. Audiences are a lot more up on real science than they were when Star Trek first came out in the 60’s. I can suspend my disbelief for things like warp drive as being plausible. But don’t expect me to believe that a super nova can “threaten the galaxy”! Sheesh!

March 16, 2011 5:38 am


LOL@the petition

I can’t hate though, because if I were in your position, I’d shamelessly lobby until I could lobby no more to get into the next Trek. :)

Good Luck!

I tell you what, at the rate they’re going with all these people who want to be in Trek, at least any large crowd scenes won’t need CGI filler.

As for the work done, Saturn was stunning and you contributed to my favorite scene in the movie for me, hands down.

But yeah, Orci and co. do need to fully utilize their science advisor(s) this go round.

Might I suggest, Dr. Michio Kaku?

March 16, 2011 5:57 am

…And I’d still love to see more alienness in general.

I could see a creature using it’s own excretions and a giant foot like a snail to get around, for example or floating around using it’s own mixture of gases, and just faceless, as we know it, with crazy colors, and shapes.

I dug Keenser, Madeline, and that four-eyed snitch from Rura Penthe, but I’d like to see more crazy imaginative creatures among the humanoids, who aren’t necessarily bipeds in silicone prostheses.

Take cues from the oddest of our earthbound creatures to create them.

We’ve seen too many humanoids and not enough creatures like the Horta in Trek, IMO.

I’ve always felt Star Trek was lacking in diversity and proliferation of realistic indigenous alien life populating it’s planets…especially when you look at the crazy creatures we have just on Earth.