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Star Trek Picard premiere: solving plot holes, supernovae and our Sun’s fate © Getty Images

Star Trek Picard premiere: solving plot holes, supernovae and our Sun’s fate

Published: 24th January, 2020 at 17:24
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The show’s new science consultant, Dr Erin Macdonald, talks to production assistant Holly Spanner about the science of supernovae.

Trekkies all over the world have been eagerly anticipating the new series of Star Trek: Picard. The first episode, Remembrance, hit our screens today, and it addresses one of the big, lingering questions since the 2009 reboot film, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy. Why did Spock have to save the planet Romulus on his own after a nearby star went supernova? This enormous stellar explosion is pivotal to events in the premiere, effectively becoming the prologue to Picard.


But what exactly is a supernova? Well, a supernova is essentially the biggest explosion that we have ever seen. But for a star to go supernova in this way, it requires a mass of at least five times that of our Sun, so it’s unlikely that Earth will suffer the same fate as Romulus and Remus. So, what exactly will become of us?

We spoke to Dr Erin Macdonald, Science Consultant for the Star Trek franchise, to find out.

“Our Sun works by fusing hydrogen and helium. Because it has a dense centre, where the hydrogen particles are so close together, they fuse and become helium. This releases energy that we see as sunlight”, explains Dr Erin Macdonald, Science Consultant for the Star Trek franchise.

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Over time, this reaction will use up all the hydrogen in the centre of the Sun, and the residual helium will start to fuse into carbon. The Sun will grow in size, it will get dimmer, redder and start to cool down, becoming what is known as a Red Giant.

“Our Sun will start to swell until its radius is about where Earth is now, so it will almost consume the Earth”, she says. “When it swells to this size, our whole Solar System is going to change, and actually somewhere like Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, is not going to be the worst place to live. Our biggest concern will be that we won’t be receiving radiation from the Sun any more. Earth, by this point, will be long gone.”

“All of the material around the Sun will be returned to space in the form of base elements in a cloud, a nebula. Then, billions of years down the line, stars will start to form from this cloud. It’s a great cycle, and as Carl Sagan said decades ago, We are all stardust.”


Episode one is available now via CBS All Access subscription in the US or Amazon Prime in the UK.


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