The big mystery behind the fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery is unknown species 10-C, the extra-galactic makers of the dangerous Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA). We got our first hints about the nature of 10-C in the latest episode, “Rosetta,” and we see indications that 10-C may be inspired by an idea from famed scientist Carl Sagan.
The 10-C are giants
In “Rosetta,” Captain Burnham leads a landing party to an unknown alien planet, believed to be the original homeworld of Species 10-C. The dead planet was described as the solid core of a former gas giant, which had been destroyed by a series of massive asteroids, burning away the atmosphere a millennia before. They only find ruins along with some massive bones.
Of the bones, Dr. Culber says:
It looks like the bone structure is of unusually low density. Before it was fossilized, it would’ve been flexible, almost like cartilage. Their physiology was perfectly adapted for floating in gas layers.
Exploring the planet revealed that 10-C had an unusual form of communication using a variety of hydrocarbon gasses, also known as “organic molecules.” The Discovery crew found a total of 16 different unique hydrocarbons that conveyed different emotional states.
The sole remaining structure on the surface was a nursery, and within that were husks of a number of floating objects. These are possibly the fossilized remains of more of the 10-C.
Something new in Star Trek
All indications from “Rosetta” is that Species 10-C is not tied to previous canon. Gas giant creatures that communicate via organic molecules is something different for Star Trek, which is what executive producer Michelle Paradise said was their goal in a Twitter Spaces discussion last month:
It was very interesting for us in the [writers’] room to create a species somewhat unlike any we’d seen and to build mystery around the species… It’s unlike anything we’ve done on the show before. And it’s unlike a species we’ve seen before.
Today Paramount+ posted about the mysterious nature of 10-C in a new social media post, emphasizing the floating objects.
— Star Trek on Paramount+ (@StarTrekOnPPlus) March 6, 2022
While new to Star Trek, the concept of creatures that could live in gas giant planets like Jupiter has been proposed before. In 1976, three years after Pioneer 10 did a flyby of Jupiter revealing details of the gas giant’s atmosphere, astrophysicist and astrobiologist Carl Sagan and physicist Edwin Salpeter published a paper titled “Particles, Environments and Possible Ecologies in the Jovian Atmosphere,” which proposed a scientific basis for the possibility of life on Jupiter.
The paper outlined three types of life, dubbed hunters, floaters, and sinkers. The floaters resembled massive jellyfish described as “living balloons” that could grow to be the size of cities, which sounds a bit like what Dr. Culber described after assessing the fossils on the 10-C homeworld. In 1978, as Sagan was preparing his landmark series Cosmos, he commissioned artist Adolph Schaller to paint some of these concepts.
In 1980 Sagan outlined the potential gas giant ecosystem in the second episode of Cosmos, “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue.” Here he lays out what life can be like, which includes his concept of floaters:
Vast living balloons could stay buoyant by pumping heavy gases from their interiors or by keeping their insides warm. They might eat the organic molecules in the air or make their own with sunlight. We call these creatures floaters. We imagine floaters kilometers across enormously larger than the greatest whale that ever was…beings the size of cities.
You can watch the segment below.
Actually, before Cosmos, legendary science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke explored the idea of life in the clouds of Jupiter in his Nebula Award-winning novella A Meeting with Medusa, which first appeared in Playboy Magazine in 1971. Clark returned to the idea in his 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two with primitive balloon creatures called Jovians who lived in Jupiter’s atmosphere and could communicate instinctually via radio.
Say hello to 10-C?
While the Discovery team has strived to come up with something new for mysterious species at the heart of season four, it’s possible they were at least inspired by the great scientific visionary Carl Sagan, and possibly Arthur C Clarke as well. However, there is much more to the mystery of 10-C, like their motivation and their history. Communicating with these floating creatures will likely prove to be a challenge, but the crew of the USS Discovery still has two more episodes in which to figure that out.
If Discovery was inspired by Sagan, it wouldn’t be the first time; in fact, there was another connection on the other Star Trek episode that debuted the same day as “Rosetta.” The USS Stargazer from Star Trek: Picard’s “The Star Gazer” is a Sagan-class ship. And two decades ago, the Enterprise episode “Terra Prime” featured a monument to Sagan on Mars.
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