Even if you’re not a Trekkie, there’s no getting away from the hullabaloo surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of the very first Star Trek episode, which aired on September 8, 1966. We thought it would be fun to join in and direct our typically modern-day musings about energy and power to the year 2260.
At this point, some of the forces behind Star Trek’s futuristic science wizardry are becoming fact instead of fiction, but do you know which ones? Trekkie or not, we hope you enjoy this little trip to the future and back. By the way—resistance is futile.
Which of these fictional elements from the Star Trek universe are closer to fact than fiction?
Dilithium: A major power source and a frequent focal point of interstellar conflict, Star Trek’s dilithium was a hard crystalline mineral that occurs naturally on some planets. Similar in many ways to oil, dilithium was used for interstellar travel. Although it was introduced into the series as being quite rare, Captain Spock and engineer Montgomery Scott later discovered that decaying dilithium could be re-crystallized, making it somewhat less contentious but still highly sought after.
Fact or fiction? Dilithium is technically fiction, because in reality it isn’t its own element. However, a team of researchers has been working on the fusion of deuterium and lithium-6, which they call “dilithium.” The energy that is released as a result of this process isn’t yet a viable fuel source, but it’s possible that we’re not too far off from our own version of dilithium-powered space travel. The academic journal Nature Physics has also noted the attraction of this particular fusion as a power source, and believes that we are close to making it a reality. Thanks to the abundant supply of deuterium and lithium-6, fusion could potentially supply Earth with energy for millions of years.
Antimatter: A general term to describe a state of matter that’s different from another state of matter, antimatter was often fused with matter in a reaction chamber to create an explosive reaction that could be used in a multitude of ways. In the show, it was often used to create a kind of anti-gravitational “bubble” to power warp engine technology; sometimes, the incredible amount of energy it produced simply served as a weapon of destruction.
Fact or fiction? Although it isn’t used for faster-than-the-speed-of-light travel, antimatter is a reality. Every particle we know of has an antimatter companion that’s virtually identical to itself, but with the opposite charge. So when a particle and its antiparticle come together, they have an explosive reaction that destroys both particles, causing them to disappear—and create energy. There is evidence that antimatter is produced by thunderstorms, and small amounts of antimatter are in the cosmic rays that constantly hit Earth’s atmosphere. So far it’s been difficult to create even small amounts of antimatter in a laboratory setting; it’s also very expensive to produce. However, some physicists say we’re actually getting close to the creation of an antimatter-driven spacecraft prototype, which could be tested within a decade. That means travel time to the outer solar system would no longer take almost 10 percent of the average lifetime—just long enough to pack a really big suitcase.
Force fields: A kind of energy barrier, force fields were frequently used to prevent matter of any kind from entering or exiting an area; for example, they could contain prisoners during transport, seal off the hull in the event of a breach, or protect against unstable scientific experiments and potential assailants. With varying degrees of strength (ranging from 1 to 10), force fields prevented most things from passing through, with the general exception of the Borg.
Fact or fiction? Force fields are factual, though in different forms than the Star Trek version. The aircraft and defense company Boeing received a patent for a “shockwave attenuation system,” similar to a force field, which is designed to protect a building or a vehicle from the damaging effects of high-energy shockwaves as the result of an explosive impact nearby. NASA, too, has announced its intention to invest in the development of a force field, called Magnetoshell, which would serve as a kind of braking system for aircraft landing on planets and moons. Even the Earth has one of its own: Scientists have discovered the existence of a mysterious force field surrounding Earth that prevents harmful cosmic radiation from entering our planet’s atmosphere. The internal heat of the planet supplies the energy needed to keep the force field in place, and will hopefully continue to do so for the next few hundred years at least.
Though the creative contrivances of Star Trek may never fully materialize, new sources of energy are continually being developed that will help us all to live long and prosper. To find out more about your energy supply choices today, contact ConEdison Solutions.