The Real Phenomena Behind STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS’ Opening Credits - Nerdist
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The Real Phenomena Behind STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS’ Opening Credits

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is here. There’s a lot to love about the series so far, including its retro-cool opening credits sequence. It’s a tribute to the original series while also updating it with wildly more interesting astronomical phenomena. This is thanks in part to images of deep space scientists capture with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope. Since its first stunning photos in 1990, science fiction franchises have used its real-life discoveries as inspiration.

Nerdist talked to astrophysicist and life-long Star Trek fan Dr. Lisa Will about the strange new worlds shown in the credits. “A lot of my job is showing images and helping people understand them,” she says. “So my brain was already going there when I was watching the credits.” Many of the shots have a basis in reality, showing the influence of Star Trek‘s science consultant. And with more advanced space telescopes in the works, it’s only a matter of time before we have more stunning images to inspire sci-fi creatives.

Rosette Nebula

The first amazing shot in the Strange New Worlds opening credits is the ship warping through a nebula (below, on the left) with a remarkably similar shape to the Rosette Nebula (on the right). The Hubble Space Telescope has multiple filters, which photograph elements as different colors. The photo is a compilation image showing oxygen as green, sulfur as blue, and hydrogen as red. 

The nebula in the Strange New Worlds opening credits looks very similar to the rosette nebula photographed by the Hubble space telescope
Paramount Plus/T. A. Rector, B. Wolpa, M. Hanna (AURA/NOAO/NSF)

“So you’re not just seeing pretty, you’re seeing physics,” says Dr. Will. “And you’re getting more information. But most of those pretty nebulae are just red to the naked eye because they’re over 90% hydrogen.” Scientists and artists alike tinker with the images. She can spot these when they’re used and says many sci-fi properties include color-shifted Hubble photos.  

Planetary Nebula

The pink cloud the Enterprise dramatically flies through is one of the most stunning images of Strange New Worlds’ opening credits. This reminded Dr. Will of a planetary nebula of a dying white dwarf star. This may be what our own sun looks like in 5 billion years, shedding gas before going supernova.

The pink cloud in the Strange New Worlds opening credits looks like a planetary nebula
Paramount Plus/NASA/R. Ciardullo (PSU)/H. Bond (STScI)

As for the pink color, “There’s red, there’s blue, there’s dark nebula,” says Dr. Will. “That could be a combination of getting some blue scattered light with some red glowing light from some of the stuff heating it up from within. We can see these colors in combination.” 

Crab Pulsar

Near the end of the sequence, the Enterprise comes upon a swirling cloud with an axis of light in the center. The Crab Pulsar is a neutron star inside the Crab Nebula that looks very similar. The light and surrounding cloud are remnants of an exploded star. 

A swirling cloud from the Strange New Worlds opening credits looks similar to the crab nebula
Paramount Plus/J. Hester (ASU) et al., CXC, HST, NASA
Other Astronomical Wonders

The Enterprise navigates through both icy and rocky debris near a planet. These could be rings, which are generally icy in our own solar system, though Saturn’s ice particles are more the size of snowballs than starships. Our rocky asteroid belt is farther from Jupiter than the planet shown and asteroids are much farther apart from each other. But these could both also be depicting collisions. Or even hazards that the Enterprise crew has neutralized. 

The rotating sphere bound in light is perhaps the wildest part of the opening sequence (bottom left of the photo below). This did not remind Dr. Will of anything real. Instead, she speculates that it is alien-made or some sort of confinement field. Though other recent shows like Picard and Discovery reveal plot points in the opening credit artwork, we’re not sure if any of these cool sites will make it into episodes. Even if not, we’ll enjoy looking at them every week! 

A collage of screenshots from the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds opening credits, showing an asteroid field, green planet, and the Enterprise flying near stars
Paramount Plus

As for the phenomena Dr. Will couldn’t quite explain, that’s why it’s called science fiction! And who knows, maybe some of these gorgeous images will match up to discoveries made between now and 2258, when Strange New Worlds takes place. We also don’t have photos from inside nebula or close to planets and other heavenly bodies, so artistic license leads to some three dimensional shots astronomers can only dream of.

The green reminds Dr. Will of aurora. But it looks like it comes up from under the planet’s surface rather than the atmosphere. The video below shows the aurora borealis here on Earth from space.  

We know that Anson Mount was excited to record the iconic voiceover for the Strange New Worlds opening credits. And we love him for that. Many actors on the show grew up loving Star Trek. As did many astrophysicists and astronomers. Some of them even became scientists as a direct result of their fandom. 

Thanks to Dr. Lisa Will for her insights! If you want to learn more from her, she hosts planetarium shows at the Fleet Science Center in San Diego, some of which are virtual

Featured Image: Paramount Plus

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. Her favorite opening credits are Star Trek: Lower Decks. Melissa also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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