Watch: Stephen Colbert and Neil DeGrasse Tyson Debate Science Of Star Trek 2009′s Red Matter | TrekMovie.com
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Watch: Stephen Colbert and Neil DeGrasse Tyson Debate Science Of Star Trek 2009′s Red Matter December 2, 2011

by TrekMovie.com Staff , Filed under: Science/Technology,Star Trek (2009 film),Viral Video/Mashup/Images , trackback

On his Comedy Central show Stephen Colbert often makes Star Trek references so it isn’t a surprise that when he sat down for a chat about science with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson the subject turned to Trek. See below for a video where Tyson and Colbert opine on the scientific accuracy of the "red matter" from the 2009 Star Trek movie.

 

Colbert and DeGrasse Tyson Talk Star Trek Red Matter

Last week at the Kimberley Academy in Montclair, New Jersey, Stephen Colbert and astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson held a "discussion about science, society, and the universe" and the subject of the Star Trek movie came up. Colbert asked Tyson if he had any issues with sci-fi movies and Tyson brought up the black hole-creating "red matter" from the 2009 Star Trek movie. Colbert showed his Trek cred by questioning how such a thing could be contained on the ship, but Tyson’s problem was more on why they needed to use a drill to turn Vulcan into a black hole. Tyson went on to say he actually had a bigger problem with Titanic. Watch the exchange below. [NOTE: Video should jump to Star Trek bit at 33:41]

This is not the first time Colbert has ventured into the realm of Star Trek. His show often makes references to Trek and when he interviewed Star Trek director JJ Abrams in 2009 he made a surprise appearance as a Romulan. Watch it.

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Thanks to OlympedeGouges on Twitter for tip.

Comments

1. VZX - December 2, 2011

Tyson is the man. He is this generation’s Carl Sagan.

2. Lyle Kinney - December 2, 2011

Nice but do yourself a favor and skip to about 6min, 15 seconds. The opening emcees are terrible.

3. CmdrR - December 2, 2011

Note to self: do not give DeGrasse Tyson the wrong sky. Yikes.
That’s great. It’s so good to see science presented in a popular forum.
More!

4. Basement Blogger - December 2, 2011

Love Stephen Colbert, the master of satire. Yes, he often demonstrates his Trek chops by refering to it. In this video interview with physicist Brian Greene from The Colbert Report, Stephen and Greene talks about parallel universes. Colbert channels TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror.” Funny and fascinating.

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/372476/january-27-2011/brian-greene

5. MikeTen - December 2, 2011

I can’t believe I sat here and watched the entire hour plus of Cobert and DeGrasse Tyson and was totally sucked in to it and entertained.

Thank You for putting this on Trekmovie.

6. Cygnus-X1 - December 2, 2011

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is great. And this interview is great. I get Tyson’s feed on my FB and he posted this earlier in the week. It gladdened my heart that Stephen had the same problem with Red Matter that I did, but surprised that Tyson took no issue with it. There was, after all, no explanation offered as to how it works and why it didn’t swallow the ship that was carrying it.

7. Jeff - December 3, 2011

The Red Matter was perfectly believable to me. For example maybe it was like anti-matter in that they had to suspend it in a vacuum using a magnetic field or other force field. Anti-matter would also annihilate a ship of not suspended in a vacuum, why not Red Matter?

Perhaps to collapse a planet it required use of the planets heat or gravity only available at it’s center. If dropped on the surface maybe it would have spread out and been diluted rather than being compressed from all sides and starting an unstoppable chain reaction. You know or some hypothetical speculation like that.

8. Jeff - December 3, 2011

The Red Matter is made up of the bloody pulp of thousands of Star Wars fans who thought that the “Phantom Menace” was a good movie.

9. Cygnus-X1 - December 3, 2011

7. Jeff – December 3, 2011

—-Anti-matter would also annihilate a ship of not suspended in a vacuum, why not Red Matter—-

Because Red Matter was put forth as a catalyst for a black hole, which is a phenomenon of extremely strong gravity, which would swallow a ship regardless of any vacuum.

10. Sebastian S. - December 3, 2011

I had no issue with ‘red matter’ either; really, it’s no more implausible than a warp field that changes relativistic physics at will, or a Genesis device that turns a rocky moon into a garden of Eden in six minutes…

As long as the ‘pseudo-science’ is not just a guy snapping his fingers and having fantastic s**t happen at will (Oops! My mistake. That’d be Q….). With even a half-glossed attempt to cover it? I’m generally OK with it, as long as it’s not too ridiculous, like say, NASA astronauts reaching Mars in a couple of days or a person or persons (“The Hulk”) growing into a giant in a few seconds (blatantly violating laws of conservation of matter and energy). Those are the kinds of things that irk me just a bit….

11. rogue_alice - December 3, 2011

Hilarious.

12. Ctrl-Opt-Del - December 3, 2011

Like a Boss.

13. Phil - December 3, 2011

The anti-black hole apparatus!! That’s great!!

14. Dean R. - December 3, 2011

If you notice in the final “battle” scene, the Red-Matter was “detonated” by the impact of Spock’s ship against the Nirada. So we can surmise that some kind of detonator must be used to set off Red-Matter rather than Red-Matter alone. Otherwise, why wouldn’t the Red-Matter go off when they sucked it into the hypo? Or was the hypo a “mini-anti-black hole apparatus”?

15. steve - December 3, 2011

I do not get the DeGrasse Tyson love here at all. I credit both him and his colleague, Michio Kaku, as having done a great disservice to the promotion of pure science in this country. Remember the days of intelligent science documentaries on TV? If you’re old enough to remember that, you’ll recall that you could actually LEARN something then, and that they were generally written at a post-secondary education level. Not anymore. Every time I flip on a documentary nowadays, all I see are Tyson and Kaku, dumbing down everything to a 6th grade level, accomplishing nothing in terms of educating or inspiring viewers. They just strike me as guys looking for another paycheck. Neither holds a candle to what a guy like Sagan did to advance the cause of educating the public in the sciences.

16. PEB - December 3, 2011

eh…most of Star Trek has always been pseudo science simply because the writers were not astrophysicists but usually had univeristy correspondants to check with when they needed to ask the serious science questions. Besides, it’s supposed to be the 23rd and 24th century right? (presuming the Narada, with its red matter, came from so far into the future) There’s a lot of Trek Tech thats um…well far fetched. But it’s entertainment first and foremost, so I can live with it. Okay well except for Q, I need a little more explanation into those beings.

17. Rusty0918 - December 3, 2011

I never had a problem with Red Matter. Though was it necessary to drill through the planet to do what they were doing?

18. Cygnus-X1 - December 3, 2011

17. Rusty0918 – December 3, 2011

—-I never had a problem with Red Matter. Though was it necessary to drill through the planet to do what they were doing?—-

No, it wasn’t necessary. That’s actually the one thing that Tyson did mention bugged him a little bit. The planet would’ve been sucked into the black hole regardless of where the point of entry was. But then, there would have been no reason to have that thrilling action/fight sequence on the drill platform.

19. Hat Rick - December 3, 2011

It’s a MacGuffin. The objection, that is. The red matter clearly needs a relatively equal distribution of mass all around it in order to work.

Simply dropping it on the surface of a planet would not work since 99.999999… percent of the mass of the planet would be unevenly distributed relative to the red matter.

You can also see that even the entirety of the red matter — the whole mass — almost fails to explode in the absence of an even distribution when it was distributed unevenly around Nero’s ship. It was actually an accident of fate that it did.

Trust me. I learned this from a secret alien observer who told me that red matter is real. You have been forewarned.

20. MJ - December 3, 2011

@19. No, it would work, it would just take a lot longer for the black hole to collect mass and eat up the planet.

21. Captain Ransom - December 3, 2011

The red matter was totally absurd and nothing more than a plot convenience. Good to hear a real physicist blast its credibility.

22. I am not Herbert - December 3, 2011

red matter = stupid

=(

23. Gary Makin - December 3, 2011

Funny, there was no fuss over “protomatter” in Star Trek lll.

24. MJ - December 3, 2011

@21 “The red matter was totally absurd and nothing more than a plot convenience. Good to hear a real physicist blast its credibility.”

You obviously didn’t watch the physicist’s clip then, because he liked the Red Matter and associated black hole device.

I would recommend you do you homework next time before you take one or your so obvious pre-planned slams against the movie.

25. dmduncan - December 3, 2011

While Tyson is right about not needing the black hole at the center of Vulcan to destroy it, I don’t agree with him that drilling the hole in Vulcan was not necessary. I mean, from a scientific standpoint, he’s right, but that’s not the relevant context.

Nero had a ship that could drill that deep into planets, and he was also nuts. So you can’t impute that level of rationality to someone bent on the destruction of an entire planet to do the most practical thing.

Even though it would have been easier to create the black hole that way, Nero wasn’t interested in “easy,” he wanted to SCREW Vulcan in the most humiliating way. He wanted to drill it like a worthless planet for mining and then use the black hole to destroy it from within, perhaps as poetic vengeance at what he perceived as his people’s trust of Spock and Spock’s betrayal of that trust.

Nero wanted Spock to see the destruction of Vulcan as Nero had witnessed the destruction of Romulus, so maybe Nero wanted to destroy Vulcan “from within” as he felt Spock had destroyed Romulus the same way.

26. Keachick - rose pinenut - December 4, 2011

I thought that red matter needed heat, a lot of heat, in order to detonate.

When prime Spock first used the red matter, he sent it into the centre of the supernova, which was probably even hotter than the Vulcan core and it detonated, causing the supernova to implode. Because the Narada and the Jellyfish were not inside the supernova, but close enough, they got sucked into the event horizon that was created when a black hole is created. The Narada and Jellyfish were pushed through into another time and space created by this event.

Nero drilled into the core of Vulcan, the hottest part of the planet and dropped the red matter into that core, which caused the red matter to detonate and implode the planet. Both the Enterprise and the Narada had to get out fast, lest they be caught in the event horizon…

At the end of the movie, when Nero wanted to go after the Jellyfish and ordered that it be fired upon, one of his crew told him that he couldn’t fire on the Jellyfish because it would IGNITE the red matter. Nero ignored the warning. That was also the warning the Jellyfish’s onboard computer gave nuSpock. When Spock had got far away from the earth and within firing range of the Enterprise, he turned around and headed straight for the Narada, prepared to die in the resulting implosion brought about by the red matter being ignited by the Enterprise photon torpedos, except that Scotty managed to beam him, Kirk and Pike out in the nick of time…That is why Kirk gave the order to fire everything they had at the Narada, after he had first of all offered Nero and what remained of his crew rescue and the offer was refused. More ignition fuel/heat, the better.

http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/K/Kerr_black_hole.html

http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/041130a.html

On another site, where this has been discussed, some believe that the writers most likely used these theories to form the basis of the events shown in Star Trek 09. What red matter is, who knows. We just see its effects.

27. XT - December 4, 2011

I just assumed it needed to be placed at the center of a gravitational field with relatively equal pressure on all sides to function. The Red Matter was never an issue for me. A ship escaping the gravitational field of a black hole with no warp core on the other hand…

28. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

26, 27, excellent points.

I believe Trek brings out the best in scientific speculation in all of us, even if it’s just fictional science, and purely for fun.

Having to rationalize the behavior of fictional properties is akin to exercising your mind in a way somewhat close to the process by which hypotheses are formed.

Besides, “thought experiments” are a legitimate way of proceeding toward knowledge even in the processes of real science.

Good show!

Hat Rick

29. Keachick - rose pinenut - December 4, 2011

#27 – “A ship escaping the gravitational field of a black hole with no warp core on the other hand…”

Yes, that’s the bit I don’t quite understand. Someone did try to explain Scotty’s logic behind ejecting the warp cores into a black hole in the process of forming and how that action helped the Enterprise to break free, but I was still confused. Luckily, for the Enterprise and its lovely acting captain Kirk and crew, Scotty’s theory worked! :)

With ideas like Kerr’s black holes being the scientific basis of this story, I find it so hard to fathom how some people think Star Trek had been “dumbed down for the masses”. The film was not dumb – OK, the big ice-planet monster was a bit dumb, buy hey – you have to let the director have a little go at doing silliness and having fun whilst making a movie…:)

30. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

The formation of a black hole does not mean that everything around it is inevitably sucked in. It means that at its core, nothing can escape — not even light.

The point at which light no longer possesses the ability to escape is equivalently referred to as the event horizon.

The Enterprise was not within the event horizon nor, apparently, close enough to it not to escape.

A black hole is not a particularly strong source of gravity beyond a certain point. Contrary to public opinion, a singularity possesses its greatest, and least explicable, gravitational effect beyond the event horizon.

A black hole the size of our Sun would not exert a greater gravitational pull than the Sun at the Earth’s mean distance from Sol, for instance.

Certainly the Enterprise was close enough to the singularity formed within the Narada to be in grave peril, but it was not so close that it could not possibly escape. One reason might be that the Narada’s total mass was not comparable to that of a planet. Despite what some think, the total gravitational pull of a black hole does depend on what its initial mass was, although clearly that latter can increase over time, and quickly.

31. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

Erratum:

“A black hole is not a particularly strong source of gravity as it is appraoched unless beyond a certain point. Contrary to public opinion, a singularity possesses its greatest, and least explicable, gravitational effect on such a trajectory only beyond the event horizon.”

As corrected.

32. dmduncan - December 4, 2011

26: “At the end of the movie, when Nero wanted to go after the Jellyfish and ordered that it be fired upon, one of his crew told him that he couldn’t fire on the Jellyfish because it would IGNITE the red matter.”

Yes but firing on the Jellyfish would have destroyed the ship and broken the containment vessel, which is what happened when the Jellyfish crashed. I thought the RM ignited when containment was breached, not because it got “lit.” Certainly during the closeups in the end just before the black hole opens up to swallow the Narada, we don’t see all those blobs of RM on fire — they condense, it implodes, and a black hole happens.

33. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

My speculation is that it is the presence of matter around it that essentially causes “critical mass.” The “red matter” is possibly a form of anti-matter that is enclosed in a matter “jacket,” which accounts for its reaction to the hypo when it is accessed.

“Red matter” could plausibly be deemed a controlled form of antimatter in between matter and anti-matter that detonates primarily in the presence of an equally distributed gravitational field generated from matter. However, the matter “jacket” around it is innately volatile and under limited circumstances can admit randomly generated antiprotons or protons (either one is sufficient given a pairing) sufficient to cause a singularity. The properties of “red matter” in both its matter and anti-matter form allow it to fuse with any nearby matter (or antimatter) to create an extremely dense form of itself, colloquially called “supermatter,” that under certain conditions collapses into a dense enough electron/anti-electron “soup” sufficient to cause a singularity.

Because of the nature of the substance, the greater the number of anti-matter particles within the matter “jacket” surrounding each molecule of antimatter, the greater the chances of detonation from the random radiation of antiparticles in the surrounding mass. A planetary mass has virtually a 100% chance of causing a singularity from the random emissions of emission of matter or weakly interacting neutrinos passing through the planet. Obviously so does a supernova.

The Narada was not innately susceptible to singularity but for the fact that so much antimatter was aboard the Jellyfish. Any random interaction between the above-specified matter and anti-matter being sufficient to cause critical mass, however, the odds increased exponentially that singularity would take place. “Detonation” would strip away any protective matter and exponentially expose the antimatter within to critical reaction and subject the full mass of the red matter to interaction with exterior particles, as, ultimately, it did.

34. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

Erratum:

“Red matter” could plausibly be deemed a controlled form of antimatter in between matter and anti-matter that achieves critical mass primarily in the presence of an equally distributed gravitational field generated from matter. [The surrounding matter allows maximum exposure to bombardment of the enclosed antimatter sufficient to intentionally defeat the protective function of the molecular jacket, which is essentially attuned to a specific frequency and near-simultaneity of random particle emissions not present in asymmetrical distribution. (An asymmetrical distribution results in the deterioration of the antimatter; essentially, it never achieves critical mass. because of the near-impossibility of near-exact annhilation.]

This accounts for the spherical shape of the red matter aboard the Jellyfish, which is its naturally preferred shape (and not a result of intentional manipulation).

As corrected and extended.

35. Jerry Modene - December 4, 2011

Well, as long as we’re on the subject… how does a supernova manage to maintain its strength over several light years? Wouldn’t it dissipate after only a few A.U.’s? Or was the supernova, in fact, the Romulan star?

36. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

We really don’t know how big the supernova was.

There is a certain range of stars that can go nova, and a certain range, we think, above that (mass-wise) that would go supernova. I’m not sure if we know what the upper range of supernova-capables stars are.

The idea that a supernova can threaten a galaxy is intriguing. In Real Science, many are of the belief that there are supermassive black holes in the centers of certain galaxies. The origins of these supermassive black holes appear to be associated with their physical place within the galaxy — i.e., its core. I have never heard of a supermassive black hole, with mass of millions of stars, postulated anywhere outside of the core of galaxy.

Thus, within a galaxy, it is possible that the astrophysics of the density of stellar within the core would allow a form of serial propagation of supernovae effects. That is, an exploding star could cause nearby stars to go supernova, causing a chain reaction. If you consider that even in our Galactic outskirts, the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is “only” about 4.22 LY from the Sun, then one could get a sense that within a galactic core, the distances could be might closer — possibly a matter of light-months or even light-days and not light-years. That would allow a sense of the heightened dangers of a star going thermonuclear right next door.

37. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

Erratum:

“There is a certain range of stars that can go nova, and a certain range, we think, above that (mass-wise) that would go supernova. I’m not sure if we know what the upper range of supernova-capable stars are, although I do think that we do believe we know that certain star masses would not be capable of existence as a star to begin with.”

As corrected.

38. Hat Rick - December 4, 2011

These are my final (second) corrections to the original post, I promise:

I stated that “[t[his would allow a sense of the heightened dangers of a star going thermonuclear right next door.” Since a star is by definition a thermonuclear entity, that sentence was unfortunately stated. What I meant to say was that the dangers of a star’s exploding right next door might be heightened.

I also should have stated, in the counterpart sentence, “the distances could be much closer,” not “might closer.”

The effects of a star’s supernova explosion could be devastating even in the relatively “rural” distances of our Galactic position in the Milky Way. If Proxima Centauri went nova or supernova right this instant, and somehow we superluminally knew about it, I believe we could predict the end of life on Earth with a high degree of accuracy.

If, some clear Christmas (or other) evening, we detected signs of a stellar explosion nearby — and the news does has Real Science information relevant to this in that we think we’ve seen signs of same in a faraway (not nearby) star — then there could be significant consequences to all readers of this site and all other members of life on Earth, to be conveyed with more certainty after we had replaced all the electrical infrastructure and electronic equipment fried beyond repair by the event.

39. Sean4000 - December 5, 2011

18. Cygnus-X1

Nailed it.

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