Sulfur, niter (saltpeter) and carbon, as coal and as crystalline diamond, save Captain Kirk’s life in the 1967 TOS episode “Arena.”
When a remote outpost of the Federation is attacked by an unknown enemy, the Enterprise pursues the fleeing vessel, inadvertently entering a sector of space controlled by the Metrons, a race with powerful psychic powers. Kirk, transported by the Metrons to a desolate planetoid, is forced into a battle against the captain of the Gorn ship – a reptile-like creature protected by an almost indestructible armored skin.
The planetoid displays a rich geologic diversity. Kirk mentions finding ruby corundum. He uses niter (saltpeter), sulfur, and coal he finds to make gunpowder for use in a primitive cannon, and diamonds as projectiles (here – judging from the crystal shape – likely quartz was used as film prop). After injuring the Gorn, Kirk spares his life to the surprise of the Metrons.
There are almost 5.000 known mineral species, yet the vast majority of rocks are formed from combinations of a few common minerals, like feldspars, quartz, amphiboles, micas, olivine, garnet, calcite, and pyroxenes. We still know little about other worlds. Over 300 minerals have been identified in meteorites, 130 minerals were discovered so far on Mars and 80 on Earth’s Moon.
By convention, the names of terrestrial minerals (a crystalline combination of one or various elements) end with the suffix -ite, the denominations of elements with the suffix – ium, -um, -on, -gen, or -ine. This nomenclature is not always applied in Star Trek.
De FOURESTIER, J. (2005): The Mineralogy of Star Trek. Axis, Vol.1(3): 1-24
» Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before! «
Encounter at Farpoint is the pilot episode of the American science-fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), which premiered on September 28, 1987. In the 79 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Seriesalmost 50 minerals are mentioned, and in TNG, successfully running from 1987 to 1994, also minerals play a role. 74 different mineral and mineral-like names are mentioned in the 178 produced episodes. Set almost 50 years after the original voyage of the first Enterprise, the new spaceship and new crew is again checking on mining colonies or retrieving minerals and ore from distant worlds.
The new captain of the Enterprise – Captain Jean-Luc Picard – has a passion for archaeological research, but also a general interest in the collection of natural curiosities. A large cross-section of an agate nodule and a malachite concretion are among the mineral specimens on display in the captain’s ready room on board the Enterprise.
Picard keeps also a small transparent crystal of unknown origin on his desk. He often plays with the crystal when he has to make an important decision, like seen in the episode Conspiracy, Where Silence Has Lease, Suddenly Human, A Matter of Time, The Masterpiece Society and more. His first officer, William T. Riker, also did so on occasion (Gambit, Part I).
In the first episode with the title Encounter at Farpoint the newest flagship of the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet’s USS Enterprise-D, travels to Deneb IV for its maiden voyage. Deneb IV (or Alpha Cygni IV) is a Class M planet according to the classification system adopted in the Star Trek universe. The classification system is based on size (gas giants or small, rocky worlds), composition (rock-metal core or gas), geological activity (inactive- active), atmosphere (from oxygen-rich to toxic) and comprises fourteen planet types. For example, planets suitable for humanoid life-forms, small, rocky worlds with some geological activity, and an oxygen-rich atmosphere, are classified as M after Minshara, the native name of Vulcan, homeworld of Commander Spock. Deneb IV is also tectonically active as the mention of geothermal energy suggests.
The natives of Deneb IV, the Bandi People, offer a highly advanced base on the planet’s surface – Farpoint Station – to be used by Starfleet. As the crew of the Enterprise visits the station, they soon discover that the entire building is actually an alien life-form, able to convert the geothermal energy into matter and structures of the station.
The transformation of energy into solid matter plays a role in the replicator units and holodeck – a highly evolved virtual reality engine – of the Enterprise. Even more important is the property of Radan to control the flux of energy. In the Star Trek universe, Radan is not only a rare and valued gemstone, but this mineral is used in its purest and crystalline form – dilithium – in the spaceship’s reactors. Curiously enough, quartz, one of the most common minerals on Earth, is almost never mentioned in Star Trek. Perhaps because quartz is often used as a prop for dilithium crystals in various episodes.
Its (supposedly) cubic crystal structure can somehow control the reaction between matter and antimatter, providing the energy for the warp-drive, making faster-than-light travel possible. This science-fiction property of the crystalline dilithium is loosely based on real science. Some crystals, such as calcite, can filter or distort certain wavelengths of light, a form of energy.
De FOURESTIER, J. (2005): The Mineralogy of Star Trek. Axis, Vol.1(3): 1-24
De FOURESTIER, J. (2016): The mineralogy of Star Trek: the next series. Axis, Vol.12(1): 1-24
De FOURESTIER, J. (2020): The mineralogy of Star Trek: Notitiae Novum. Axis, Vol.16(1): 1-25
NOOR, M.A.F. (2018): Live Long and Evolve – What Star Trek Can Teach Us about Evolution. Princeton University Press: 208
STEVENSON, D.S. (2018): Granite Skyscrapers – How Rocks Shaped Earth And Other Worlds. Springer: 386
In September 2018 astronomers announced the discovery of an exoplanet with 8.47 times Earth’s mass and twice Earth’s radius in the 40-Eridani star system, nearly 17 light years away from Earth.
In the Star Trek universe, Eridani is the star system where the planet Vulcan is located, the homeworld of Commander Spock.
In the episode “Amok Time”, first aired on September 15, 1967, the Enterprise visits the planet for the first time. As it orbits its sun on a very narrow orbit, surface temperatures are very high. The atmosphere is very thin, barely breathable, and non-Vulcans have a hard time adapting to the harsh environment. According to Star Trek lore, the desert-planet Vulcan orbits its sun together with the planet T´Khut, a geologically very active lava-planet.
The classification of planets in the Star Trek universe is based on size (gas giants or small, rocky worlds), composition (rock-metal core or gas), geological activity (inactive- active) and atmosphere (from oxygen-rich to toxic). For example, small, rocky worlds with some geological activity and an oxygen-rich atmosphere making them suitable for humanoid life-forms are classified as M after Minshara, the native name of Vulcan.
In the movie “Star Trek 2”, released in 1982, the star 40-Eridani-A is mentioned as Vulcan’s sun. In 1991, Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, published a brief article together with astrophysicists Baliunas, Donahue and Nassiopoulos, arguing that the constellation of Eridani would be the most fitting place for Spock’s homeworld.
The 40-Eridani system is a triple star system, with Eridani-A as the primary star accompanied by a red and a white dwarf star, named respectively Eridani-B and Eridani-C. Only Eridani-A is stable enough to host a hypothetical habitable planet. Eridani-B emits too much dangerous radiation and Eridani-C is prone to flares, sudden eruptions of energy and matter. As Eridani-A is smaller than our Sun, also the habitable zone where a planet could exist with liquid water is narrower. Unlike the fictional planet Vulcan, the real exoplanet seems to be a Super-Earth or a small gas giant. According to the published preliminary results, the planet orbits its star in just 39 to 40 Earth days, within the inner limit of the habitable zone.
Geology of strange, new worlds plays also a role in Vulcan society.
In the 1996 movie “Star Trek: First Contact” the geological survey ship T’PlanaHath approaches our solar system in the year 2063. Attracted by the Phoenix warp test – the first faster-than-light flight in human history – the Vulcan ship lands on Earth, making the first peaceful contact with humanity in Bozeman, Montana.
However, in the later Enterprise (2001–2005) episode “Carbon Creek” another survey ship crash-lands on 1950s Earth somewhere in Pennsylvania. Following the “First Directive”, the Vulcans keep their true alien identity a secret and work as geologists in the local coal industry.
In a parallel timeline, the first contact ends with the humans killing the Vulcan geologists and claiming the technologically advanced survey ship for humanity. This mirror universe, where the Federation is replaced by an evil Terran Empire, is first seen in the 1967 episode “Mirror, Mirror.” During negotiations for mining dilithium on the Halkan homeworld, a magnetic storm causes a transporter malfunction, sending Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura to the parallel Enterprise.
Famously Commander Spock is the science officer aboard the Enterprise, including some notions of geology.
In the episode “The Apple”, Spock immediately notes the lush vegetation of the planet Gamma Trianguli VI. He correctly deduces that soil-nutrients (and therefore geology) play a role in supporting this peculiar paradise-like ecosystem. With his sharp geological eye, Spock identifies also hornblende and quartz in a collected rock.
Interesting. Extremely low specific gravity, some uraninite, hornblende, quartz. Fragile, good cleavage. An analysis should prove interesting.