Star Trek by the Minute 054: Atmospheric Resistance

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This segment continues the 30 second vacuum freefall of Kirk, Sulu, and Redshirt along the Romulan drill, which gives us some time to review some first year physics regarding acceleration, and speculate on planetary dynamics. In films and TV, Vulcan gravity is shown as about the same as earth, although canon states it is "considerably" stronger with an atmosphere that is less dense.

We would normally expect planets with strong gravitational fields to collect proportionally more atmosphere, probably mitigated by the stellar wind which could strip gas away from the upper atmosphere unless the wind was deflected by a magnetic field, such as what the earth possesses. I thought this would explain why the Martian atmosphere is so thin, but then we look at Venus and see a super dense atmosphere. Since stellar wind paradoxically increases speed as it moves away from the sun, perhaps the higher density and slower speed at Venus' orbital radius is the determining factor. Are the presence of gas giants indicative of a zone favoring large mass for atmospheric accretion? If only there were enough time to get all the interesting degrees…

Back on Vulcan however, the jump seems to go as quickly as the rescue armada's trip from Earth to Vulcan. Let's assume the Enterprise, Shuttle, and Narada are at about 100km from the drill, at what we call "the edge of space" just outside the bulk of the atmosphere and where earth's aurora occurs. If we accelerate at 10m/s2 and ignore inverse-square reduction of g, orbital speed components and air density, how long would it be until we reach a plausibly breathable drill altitude with no drag? If 100,000m = .5 x 10m/s x time2, then our time to reach the drill will be about 140 seconds, pretty long – not to mention that we will be travelling at about 1400 meters per second at that point…more than 3100 miles per hour. Clearly, if a person could survive such a speed, they would not want to pull a parachute. Even these outlandish numbers are not enough for the film, as we see in a cut to the Bridge, onscreen readouts that the team is still more than 102km, and Chekov's reports "aVEH teme ees enterEENG zee atmusFEER, Soor. TVENTay TOUzand MAYtoors."

This sensor scan brings up another couple of points: Why has the Enterprise not been getting any detailed sensor data on the enemy, it's ship, technology, crew? The only reading they'd made of any note in this encounter was that the drill was the source of their transporters and communications being disabled. This is an unusual kind of jamming: it blocks every emergency transmission from an entire planet, but ship to ship, and personal transmissions for moving the plot along work fine? That's really sloppy writing. The second point is why is the Narada's entire crew, at least on alert if not battle stations, this crew completely misses something going on in full view. A person sitting at a window on the Narada could watch this raid taking place. The Romulans also completely miss the transmissions ordering destruction of the drill, restoring enemy transporters, recovering assault personnel? Then they miss the calls between the attacking Starfleet squad-members when they previously scanned the rescue armada from many lightyears away? This does not seem like the same crew.

Following the drop team, there is a slight buildup of wind noise, and then a sudden blast as the team hits "the real atmosphere". This is a common misconception since this layer does not really exist. Air gets progressively thinner the higher you go, but even in space we find traces of gas. In the "edge of space" article linked above, the word "edge" is generally acknowledged as something of a meaningless misnomer, subjective and artificial. It's very much like drawing a line between "different species" in biology. A difference could be unique to an individual, a group trait, a defining feature of a variety, or a constraint establishing a different species – depending on the definition of our terms. Defining a precise atmosphere's edge or an exact species boundary is generally acknowledged to be impossible, as different definitions work better for different types of science.

In another external CGI shot, we see the shuttle approaching the Narada with Pike looking with concern at the size of his enemy's vessel, before cutting back to the drop team, then Chekov. (I'll translate…) "Approaching the platform at fifty-eight-hundred meters." "Kirk to Enterprise, distance to target 5000 meters." Chekov: "Forty-six-hundred meters from the platform." A series of countdowns continues until Sulu says "Pull the chute!" We see Kirk and Sulu safely deploy, but Olsen continues his dive. Kirk looks down and broadcasts "C'mon… Pull your chute, Olsen!"

Try to guess what happens to Olsen, the guy in the red shirt before reading our next episode of Star Trek by the Minute 055: Olsen is Gone, Sir.

No women speak in this segment, or are seen on screen.


muser said…
Another missing or broken link at the bottom...
BurntSynapse said…
I stopped doing that, but I may go through and re-add them for the convenience of people who want to take the full tour as you seem to be doing.

Thanks for your feedback and improvements, I appreciate it!
muser said…
Thank you in turn for taking the time to do this minute by minute analysis. I hope that you will find the time to continue as I've reached minute 96 and eagerly await more.
BurntSynapse said…
Will do, despite a new NSF consulting gig.

There appears a "Subscribe to Post Comments (Atom)" on the bottom of my screen which may be what we discussed earlier.
Flashman85 said…
I reached the end of the post and panicked for a moment without the hyperlink! I've forgotten how to do anything for myself...

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