Science Saturday: Physicists On Warp & Photon Engines + Corrugated Rings + Einstein vs Hawking Rap + more

This week in Science Saturday, why warp drive is possible but photon engines aren’t, how comets can shape planetary rings, and scientists discover the secrets of the Nexus. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: RealSnailMail, e-mails sent via snail!



Lawrence Krauss Explains How Warp Drive is Possible (using a condom)
Lawrence Krauss, cosmologist and particle physicist at Arizona State University and author of best-selling book “The Physics of Star Trek” is known for giving great explanations of what parts of the Star Trek universe work and don’t work in real life. Below is an excellent video of Krauss explaining the real life theory behind how a warp drive could work, using a unique prop.

Why a Photon Engine Can’t Power the Enterprise
Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, professor, author, and popularizer of science, takes questions every Wednesday on his blog on Big Think. This week he talks about why photon propulsion is not such a practical idea (though, might I add, that this still doesn’t rule out Photon Torpedoes, since we don’t know their exact explosive mechanism!).

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Reveals Secrets of Saturn’s Rings
New research suggests that cometary impacts leave a signature in the form of spiral ripples within gas giants’ ring systems. This new discovery came in a comparison between Cassini images of ripples within Saturn’s rings and images taken of the Jovian rings by the Galileo spacecraft a few years after the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter. The comparison revealed that both ring systems show the same spiral ripples. With the new data, scientists can now use ripples within ring systems to pinpoint the precise time and amount of debris in a recent impact event. The results are published in the journal Science.

How Saturn’s rings can become corrugated

More info on this graphic at:

Bonus Video: Carolyn Porco & Mike Shara Discuss Saturn Cassini Mission

Carolyn Porco, lead imaging scientists for NASA’s Cassini Mission and science imagery advisor for JJ’s Star Trek sits down with Mike Shara to discuss the Cassini mission

Scientists Unlock Secrets of the Heliosphere “Energy Ribbon”
In a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, scientists from NASA’s IBEX mission uncover the secrets of… the Nexus? Yes, there is a mysterious “energy ribbon” in our heliosphere — the big bubble that surrounds and protects our solar system. The study, which captured the energy ribbon using ultra-sensitive cameras, overturns 40 years of theory relating to the structure of the heliosphere. Nathan Schwadron, lead scientist, says, “There are many theories about how the ribbon is created, and we don’t understand exactly what we’re seeing but it seems to be telling us something about how the local galactic magnetic field interacts with the heliosphere.” So, there you have it! We’ve discovered the location of the Nexus, and we’re all living in it!

The REAL Nexus

Video of the Week: Epic Rap Battles – Einstein vs Hawking

Watch two of the greatest minds in history put their freestyling skills to the test.

Image of the Week: First Image from Mercury Orbit
Last week we reported that NASA’s Messenger became the first spacecraft to achieve orbit around the planet Mercury. And this week NASA revealed the first image of Mercury from orbit. The picture of Mercury’s southern hemisphere, taken Tuesday morning, shows the big crater called Debussy along with new details of Mercury’s south pole.

Up close on Mercury

Gadget of the Week: Real Snail Mail Sent by Real Snails
RealSnailMailTM is the world’s first (and presumably only) e-mail delivery service to use ACTUAL snails. Here’s how it works. Simply go to and fill out an e-mail form. From there, your message will be placed in a queue where it will await pickup (this can take years, as the queues are super long and only 13 snail agents are operating). Once your email is at the top of the queue, it awaits an RFID-equipped snail to wander by the message pickup point. Your e-mail then sits inside the snail’s RFID chip until said snail agent decides to wander past the drop off point, some 50 cm away. DVICE’s Evan Ackerman sent an email using snail mail in 2008, and has now told the story of its recent delivery (I really recommend his article, it’s a great read!).

Go to to send your Real Snail Mail!

One of the 13 snail mail agents

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.


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Instead of Ward Drive they can call it the Condom Drive. Lol. Love the Pics of Mercury. Glad to know we are in a version of the Nexus. That would explain the Shat being here. He really is Capt Kirk and he is just playing at being William Shatner. Just waiting for Picard to show up here and talke him to Veridian 3.

Condom Drive powering what, the U.S.S. Trojan?

Guess we’d have to retire the ol’ “where no man has gone before” shtick!

LOL …..

Mr. Bob Orci has been very kind to us here … here is some interesting information about the film ” Cowboys & Aliens “… I am increasingly interested to see this…

Bridge to Engeneering. Mr Harry Ballz. Prepare for Condom Drive.

So, when weapons are out, and you decide to crash your own vessel into the enemy ship using only your Condom Drive, I guess a few of the bridge crew would probably grin when the captain yells, “RAMMING SPEED!”

With Condom Drive, once you hit warp speed, would you smell burning rubber?


Then when you fire the Phasers and Torpedoes it would be like. Well. I better not say it. But I think you get the idea. LOL!!!!

So, that’s why Kirk told Khan, “here it comes”?

I have not been able to see the first two videos. So I guess I’m still back in warp drive mode as it would load the condom drive, so therefore no latex to smell…

Edit: “it would NOT load the…”

..when the writers are talking about warp drive, it’s all nonsense….hahahahahahahahahahaaaa

Picture it…….the U.S.S. Trojan is defeated by an all-female enemy ship. The enemy announces they are going to pull the Trojan inside their much bigger ship. The Trojan crew pretends to have beamed down to the nearest planet, but, in reality, have hidden inside every Jeffries Tube they can find in their vessel. After the Trojan has been pulled inside the enemy ship, the enemy crew start to laser/slice through the hull of the Trojan, effectively ripping her open. Every member of the Trojan crew jump out from their hiding spots, spilling a great number of seamen into the belly of the enemy vessel. Immediately, every member of the enemy crew become pregnant, thereby ceasing all hostilities since the two races have now created a hybrid third race. They realize they must get along for the sake of the children.

This ploy will go down in Starfleet history as the Trojan Horseplay Maneuver!

OMG! … this is getting hilarious … LOL and +LOL

:-) :-)


Looks like I stared something. Lol. Long Live the Terran Spermpire!!!!!

Those who didn’t embrace the Condom Drive technology were known as the Bareback Brutes!

Their motto?


Hey, guys, this thread is supposed to be about science…LOL, although some of what has been written here does appear to have a bit of a (biological) scientific component to it…:) very slight, I have to say. Seamen in bellies won’t make a hybrid third race.

Harry Ballz also appears to have a problem with his spelling though…:)

Poetic licence, Keachick! I didn’t want to get TOO graphic and offend the kiddies!

All very interesting and fun posts.

I just watched this rap earlier today posted on They are all pretty funny but the Einstein, Palin, and Vader raps are my faves.

has trek used photon propulsion?

The only think I can think of is the use if high energy photons to re-crystallise dilithium. (Star Trek IV)

And after all these incredible scientific comments… what remains for us to recommend the new crew of the Enterprise… do not forget the condoms! LOL!

:-) :-)

Anyone who has read the TNG Tech Manual knows how the photon torpedo works. I know the writer very well. :)

@24: That was one of my very favourite books as a kid. I’d say that and Dune were my top 2. :P

Great report. Very fascinating.

No mention of the fact that the lady interviewing Krauss is DS9 guest star Faith Salie?

LOL! #26 i am in full agreement! Fascinating. [rises a Spock-like eyebrow]

Photon engines? When did Star Trek ever have those? I’ve only known the torpedoes.

@24 – Of course you do, you worked with him for a number of years


It’s really nice to actually put a face to the great articles from Carolyn Porco. They are some of my favorites on this great site. And, if I may slip into my long-lost geek teen years for a moment…if NASA ever comes out with a pin-up calendar…just saying. :-)

I always thought that Photon Torpedoes had a charge of antimatter in them.

I also thought that the idea behind warp drive was that in subspace, the universe is a whole lot smaller. The idea being the higher the subspace energy, the smaller the universe. Thus if one entered subspace, moved a small distance and then reentered normal space, one has actually moved a great distance.

Now, in reality, this may be utter nonsense (as Krauss said) but I don’t think that his explanation comes anywhere close to explaining the faster than light issue. It just explains how one might move around in subspace without using an impulse engine.

Snail Mail, while impractical, is awesome……love it.

32. “I always thought that Photon Torpedoes had a charge of antimatter in them.”

Indeed, this is the way I always understood it. Perhaps the detonation device is photonic, hence the name.

But I always thought the explosive material was anit-matter and another reason photon torpedoes pack a punch. And it also explains why you can’t have an unlimited number of them aboard.


I love Michio Kaku and i can’t believe that he actually got it all wrong.

Star Trek does not use photon propulsion. Ships in Star Trek are propelled by the means of the Impulse drive, which is a fusion reactor ionizing deuterium into a jet stream – it’s a rocket in almost classic sense. So what’s up with all that Warp engine stuff? The Warp reactor uses the power of a Matter/Anti-matter reaction, occurring inside dylithium crystals and controlled by containment field to ionize Electro-plasma (remember all those EPS conduits that Starfleet engineers mention non-stop) that transfers the energy to the Warp coils (pretty much like every other coil), which generate powerful electromagnetic field that warps space, allowing for faster than light travel (see condom drive for reference), but still the ship is propelled by the Impulse drive (more or less like a classic rocket).

The Photon torpedoes have a fancy name, but they again have a Warhead that uses Matter/Anti-matter reaction to create explosion.

But a trekkie should already know that.

Harry, Harry, Harry. What we want are scienitific comments. What we got is Jan Murray. By the way, it was funny. Brought back memories of that Woody Allen movie, where Allen is a sperm and Burt Reynolds is the commander of some kind of vessel.

Hold on. There really is a Nexus? What I thought was a contrived plot device really exists. Next the scientists will tell us is that it’s a place where time has no meaning.