On September 8, 1966, the very first episode of a new science fiction series called Star Trek was beamed into living rooms across the United States. Though the planet that Captain Kirk, Spock and other crew members explored that episode, called M-113, was fictional, not only this series, but future series drew on many real-life astronomical objects for inspiration. Those far-away destinations would fire the imaginations of countless viewers, says Andrew Fazekas, the author of Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe, in an interview with National Geographic.
“Scores of today’s scientists and engineers and physicists — as well as mathematicians, chemists, even astronauts — were inspired as children by Star Trek to pursue these fields professionally,” he says.
Unistellar Citizen Astronomer Tim Russ
Actor and musician Tim Russ, known for his role as Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager, is a Unistellar citizen astronomer! Earlier this year, he detected the Trojan asteroid known as Patroclus, one of the targets for NASA’s groundbreaking Lucy mission with his eVscope.
In honor of the iconic series, observe for yourself a few of the destinations the Enterprise and other Federation starships visited!
In the far-flung episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) titled “Where No One Has Gone Before,” the USS Enterprise-D surpasses the known capabilities of warp engines. After warp field tests performed by a being called the Traveler, the starship wound up over 2.7 million light years away, in the Triangulum Galaxy.
This nearby spiral galaxy, also known as M33, is the third-largest of the Local Group, and contains about a tenth as many stars as the Milky Way. It’s found in the constellation Triangulum.
In Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), the episode titled “By Any Other Name,” the Kelvans gain control of the Enterprise and attempt to return to their homeworld, which is located in the Andromeda Galaxy.
In another episode of TOS, “I, Mudd,” Captain Kirk and his team learn about androids built by an ancient humanoid species, destroyed by a supernova in the Andromeda Galaxy. The species attempted to survive on scattered outposts, but eventually left their androids on their own. One of these outposts was the planet Mudd, where Kirk meets the outlaw Harry Mudd once again.
Our galactic neighbor, Andromeda, also known as Messier 31, is only 2.5 million light-years away. Despite having the same mass as the Milky Way, Andromeda contains nearly twice as many stars.
While on a mission to catalog planets in the Pleiades, the USS Enterprise-D checked on a terraforming project on the planet Velara III. In this episode of TNG, “Home Soil,” the home environment of an intelligent silicon-based lifeform, known as the microbrain, was being unknowingly impacted by the terraforming station.
In Star Trek: Voyager: “Lifesigns”, the Doctor went on a date with Danara Pel at a holographic recreation of Mars. He noted the Pleiades as being one of the astronomical highlights seen from its surface.
While we haven’t found Velara III yet, there is evidence for possible planet formation around one of the Pleiades’ stars, HD 23514, which has similar characteristics to our Sun. Also called the Seven Sisters or M45, this open star cluster is the nearest Messier object to Earth. Find hot, blue stars and reflection nebulae as you look deeper into the Pleiades.
In the very first episode of TNG: “Encounter at Farpoint,” the USS Enterprise-D studies the mysterious Farpoint Station, orbiting the planet Deneb IV, whose host star is Deneb. Captain Picard meets a powerful entity called Q which sets up the series. Deneb and its planets are tied to a number of TOS episodes, such as “Where No Man Has Gone Before, “I, Mudd,” and “The Trouble with Tribbles.”Deneb, or Alpha Cygni, is a very bright supergiant star in the constellation Cygnus. It’s also a member of the Summer Triangle and Northern Cross asterisms.
Ties to Altair can be found all throughout the Star Trek series. It is referenced in the films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, as well as the episodes “Amok Time” in TOS, “Encounter at Farpoint” from TNG, and “Prophet Motive” from Deep Space Nine (DS9).
Another member of the Summer Triangle, Altair is the twelfth brightest star in the night sky. The A-type star is spinning so rapidly that it bulges out at the equator.
Having won awards and receiving widespread critical acclaim, many consider the TOS episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever” to be the best episode of Star Trek. Captain Kirk and Spock travel back in time to 1930 to correct the timeline. Along the way, Kirk meets Edith Keeler and tells her of a famous novelist from the future who comes from “a planet circling that far left star in Orion’s Belt.”
It turns out that Alnitak is not just one star, but a triple star system in Orion’s Belt. It’s composed of a blue supergiant-subgiant binary and another star.
We encourage you to share your observations and join the conversation through our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages using the hashtag #UnistellarChallenge!
If you’d like to send us your observations by email, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clear skies! 🔭