The Geology of Star Trek’s Strange New Worlds (Part III)

Star Trek aired before the first man ever stepped foot on the moon. 

The first episode of Star Trek aired September 8, 1966, three years prior to the 1st manned Moon landing and practically nothing was known about the geology of other planets or moons. Yet, the writers of Star Trek got several things right. Little ice moons are real common and the Jupiter moon is also physically very active, with a surface shielded in sulfuric lava. 

In the episode “The Naked Time,” the Enterprise is circling Psi 2000 to study the disintegration of the planet. The doomed world is totally covered in snow and ice. Geological evidence implies that almost 600 million years ago our planet also briefly became a “snowball Earth.” 

How this occurrence is unknown. The discharge of gases by volcanoes possibly saved the planet and its 1st terrestrial life forms, as the planet warmed because of the greenhouse effect. Way before becoming a snowball, Earth was a lava planet just like in the 3rd season episode “The Savage Curtain.” 


In the Hadean, the young planet was still predominantly molten, and the surface enclosed in oceans of lava. As the Earth cooled and a crust developed, the planet’s geological activity got weaker but never totally ceased. The outer crust isn’t a rigid shell, but a mystery of sliding continents and subducting oceanic plates. Plate tectonics is one of Earth’s essential characteristics.

It is important to note that chief medical officer McCoy finds unknown organic molecules in the ice of Psi 2000. Some sort of geological activity is thought to be necessary to accommodate complex life. Hot springs can offer energy and nourishment to simple life forms and tectonic activity, such as mountain building, can aid evolution, as the life forms has to adjust to the changing environment.

Could life really exist on such planets?  

It’s not known yet. One of the top achievements of Star Trek has been to present both intriguing scientific and ethical questions. With any luck, any questions will be answered by the future generations.


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