Beyond Star Trek

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In the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek, the renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss took readers on an entertaining and eye-opening tour of the Star Trek universe. Now, responding to requests for more as well as to a number of recent exciting discoveries in physics and astronomy, Krauss takes a provocative look at how the laws of physics relate to notions from our popular culture—not only Star Trek, but other films, shows, and popular lore—from Independence Day to Star Wars to The X-Files.With his ...

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Overview

In the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek, the renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss took readers on an entertaining and eye-opening tour of the Star Trek universe. Now, responding to requests for more as well as to a number of recent exciting discoveries in physics and astronomy, Krauss takes a provocative look at how the laws of physics relate to notions from our popular culture—not only Star Trek, but other films, shows, and popular lore—from Independence Day to Star Wars to The X-Files.With his books and popular lectures, Krauss has been compared to the late Carl Sagan as one of the preeminent scientists writing with humor and clarity for the general public. Beyond Star Trek establishes him as today’s leading voice in the discussion of cutting-edge ideas that arise from our growing knowledge of the universe. Join him on a fun mind-bending journey through the nature of alien visitation, interstellar travel—including the very latest on warp-drive systems—time, consciousness, ESP, the probability of other life in the universe, and quantum reality.Once again Krauss has turned to his colleagues including the foremost theoretical physicists in the world, asking them about the greatest unsolved mysteries of the universe. The answers will surprise you.So buckle up and get ready for an exciting trip that takes the question ”Could this ever really happen?” to new heights and will give you new insights into your favorite science fiction and your favorite universe!

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Many scientists say that reading science fiction inspired them to launch their careers. Krauss concludes: Why not draw on sci-fi lore, exploits, and tales to teach hard science?

The author (Physics and Astronomy/Case Western Reserve Univ.) scored a bestseller with his previous book, The Physics of Star Trek (1995). Now he expands his scope to address other sci-fi hits, ranging from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey to TV's The X-Files. He also scrutinizes such newsworthy events as the chess match between world champion Gary Kasparov and an IBM computer. Krauss begins by examining the alien attack on Earth that was portrayed in the movie Independence Day. He uses basic Newtonian physics to show that the gravitational effects of the huge arriving alien ships would have caused floods and earthquakes sufficient to destroy our civilization before the invaders had even fired a shot. Next, the author assesses the supposed flight characteristics of UFOs, depicted as stopping on a dime and making sudden sharp turns at utterly unbelievable speeds. Krauss calculates that these maneuvers would create inertial G-forces greater than a close-range nuclear explosion; neither the pilots nor any conceivable construction material could withstand them. Another chapter examines the cost of mounting an interstellar expedition, a journey that would require many decades to complete and cost more than the moon. Later chapters apply the principle of general relativity to star travel, explore computer consciousness, and forecast the end of the world. The book concludes by affirming the author's belief that the universe is a place of boundless potential—and that we must fathom it.

Perhaps because Krauss shares the public's affection for the pop sources he consults, his book will entertain and instruct general readers without insulting the scientifically literate.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465006373
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/7/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 190
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Choose Your Poison

It's just that in most of my work, the laws of physics rarely seem to apply!
—Fox Mulder
A dark, ominous shadow descends over your house. The furniture starts to rattle, the walls and ceiling vibrate, and you hear a strange whistling in your ears. You rush to the window to see what's causing all the commotion. Only 5,000 feet off the ground, a huge black disk at least 15 miles across floats motionless in the sky, blotting out the sun, darkening the entire neighborhood. You run to the kitchen sink and splash cold water on your face. Surely this can't be happening! Back to the window once more, and the massive object is still there. You scurry out to the garage to get away, then you remember something. Hurrying back to the house, you pick up the phone to call your daughter's school, but the line is dead. You lose bladder control. The realization terrifies you. Aliens have arrived! As you begin to black out, your last thought is, I am about to become toast!

Hold on! While F14s or computer viruses or even H. G. Wells's microbes might not be able to protect us from the sheer terror generated by the attack of a 15-mile-wide floating saucer, Isaac Newton would—sort of. Newton's laws would ensure that you'd probably be dead before you had time to get terrified. Even 350 years after the fact, Hollywood still has to get past Newton before it can indulge in all the fancy stuff. Alas, the aliens piloting the Mother Ship in the blockbuster Independence Day seem to have skipped that semester back home. . . .
What instead might actually transpire if we were visited by the Mother Ship and her children reads more like ascenario for the Salem witch trials.

Death by Drowning
A Mother Ship full of aliens bent on ending life on Earth may not need to send out a squadron of huge flying saucers in order to destroy our major cities. Long before the first shadow fell on the Empire State Building or the Hollywood sign, New York might be underwater and Los Angeles could be leveled by earthquakes. Early in Independence Day, the telemetry tracking the approach of the Mother Ship reveals that it is almost 1/4 the mass of the Moon. Before it releases its squad of death saucers, the mammoth ship pulls into a geostationary orbit above the Earth—the same sort of orbit the U.S.S. Enterprise uses to visit a new planet. In such an orbit, a spacecraft or a satellite moves at the same rate as the planet rotates, so that it always stays directly above the same spot on the planetary surface. The large communication satellites that transmit our international messages, as well as the network of Global Positioning navigational satellites that guide our airplanes and well-equipped trekkers (the terrestrial wilderness type), sit in such orbits.
Newton's law of gravity determines how high such an orbit must be, regardless of the object's mass. It is one of the many miracles of the law of gravity that any object, no matter how heavy, must orbit at exactly the same speed as any other object at the same distance from Earth. (If that weren't the case, NASA would have to design a different trajectory for every space shuttle, depending upon the weight of the astronauts inside.) The distance from Earth for an object in geostationary orbit is about 22,500 miles, or almost 1/10 the distance from Earth to the Moon. At 22,500 miles up, the gravitational attraction on the Earth of an object the mass of the Moon would be 100 times stronger than the Moon's gravitational pull; since the Mother Ship is 1/4 the mass of the Moon, its gravitational pull on the Earth would be 25 times that of the Moon!
What would this do? Well, one effect might well be to close down Wall Street, because much of New York City would probably be awash. The tidal forces provoked by an object as massive as the Mother Ship would cause a catastrophic rise in sea level in various places on the Earth. At the same time, the unaccustomed tidal stresses on the Earth's crust would undoubtedly induce earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in sensitive areas around the globe. Moreover, the very motion of the Earth through space would be affected, producing unpredictable effects, including possible climatic variation. When an object as heavy as 1/4 the mass of the Moon is in close orbit above the Earth, it causes the Earth to move back and forth in response—once again, because of gravity. Adding a third massive body, with its additional gravity, to the Earth-Moon system would change the system's dynamics in possibly chaotic ways.
Indeed, if the evil aliens were particularly patient—and why shouldn't they be?—they might choose to orbit the Earth in the direction opposite to its present direction of rotation. The tidal pull of the Mother Ship would then slowly serve to brake the Earth's rotation rate, lengthening the day or getting rid of it all together! In just such a way, the length of the Earth's day has been slowing due to the Moon's pull. Eventually (on a cosmic timescale), the Earth's rotation period would precisely match the orbital period of the Moon, so that one Earth day would be almost a month long. Imagine how hungry you would get between lunch and dinner.
Whether or not its crew chooses the slow route or the fast one, the Mother Ship could wreak devastation on Earth by astute choice of orbit, without doing anything more than being there— much easier than risking battle with terrestrial aircraft and missiles.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2000

    Good book of science discussions

    This is an enjoyable, informative science book, wide-ranging from ESP(which he doubts) to quantum mechanics to the likelihood of ETs. All these things are common subjects of science fiction, yet unlike Krauss' earlier book The Physics of Star Trek, in here he seldom refers to specific sci-fi stories. The first chapter ridicules the lack of science behind the film 'Independence Day,' but afterward it is mostly a book of science essays. Krauss maintains a fairly erudite level of discussion, yet is accessible to us non-scientists.

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