I live in New York City, so the only stars we see here are framed behind the register at Lindy's Deli. However, I recently took a trip down to North Carolina and was amazed, night after night, by these sparkly lights in the sky. Who's paying the electric bill!
I quickly downloaded the Night Sky app for my iPhone and discovered that the two most-striking celestial bodies were, in fact, Venus and Jupiter. Neat! (They'd been doing a dual residency for all of March.)
Once I figured out how to play around with the program (and crank up the “Hearts of Space”-esque music”) I had something of an epiphanic (and slightly embarrassing) moment. So many of the destinations and missions from the various iterations of Star Trek are. . . REAL PLACES!?!!?!
You'll need an extra-strong telescope to check out Vulcan or Cardassia Prime, but here are five real life star systems you can see with the naked eye if you get your butt out of a light-polluting city.
First in the alphabet and, as fate would have it, the first I saw when down south. “I drink whiskey from there!” I shouted, pointing to the heavens. (“Sounds like he drinks whiskey from everywhere,” the passersby mumbled.)
65 light years away, Aldebaran (in the Taurus constellation) gets its name from Arabic meaning “the Follower,” as it appears to be following the Pleiades cluster.
We never actually saw any of the planets in the Aldebaran system, but we know that there was a colony on Aldebaran III. That is where Elizabeth Dehner was stationed before joining Kirk's Enterprise, where Janice and Theodore Wallace performed botany experiments before moving to Gamma Hydra IV and where Grand Nagus Zek was detained by Federation authorities. It's also probably where the Aldebaran Music Academy is located (where Chief O'Brien almost studied), but, let's face it, it is the green spirit beverage that gets all the attention. Scotty and Picard sharing a glass on the holodeck's NCC-1701 reproduction always brings a tear to my eye.
Also known as Alpha Aquila, this jewel in the sky is part of the “summer triangle.” One of this star's quirks is that its curious rotation makes its poles hotter than its equator. Stars! They do such crazy things.
The Altair system's position between warring empires meant that it saw many battles during the early days of the Federation. (Think of it like Space Yugoslavia.) Indeed, the inauguration of a new leader on Altair VI was what Kirk blew off in order to return Spock to Vulcan in “Amok Time.”
One of the brightest things in the sky, Rigel is around 800 light years away. (How it is still brighter than Aldebaran, which is only 65 light years away, is something I'd love explained to me.) Rigel gets its name from the Arabic term for “left foot” because of where is sits as part of the Orion constellation.
The numerous planets in the Rigel system have been represented dozens of times in Star Trek. Rigel X is the first colony Captain Archer visits in the NX-01. The beastly Kalar warriors that attack Captain Pike in “The Cage” were from (or at least visiting) Rigel VIII. But most importantly, Dr. McCoy knows of a cabaret on Rigel II with beautiful chorus girls. (You can catch a glimpse of them in the episode “Shore Leave.”)
This one is a mere 18.8 light years away. That's good, because if someone steals your brain you don't want to have to travel too far to get it back.
Yes, the Morgs and Eymorgs of Sigma Draconis VI are the represented in the notorious TOS episode “Spock's Brain,” which is, I swear, the most fun episode to watch with friends and a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey.
Vega is one of the brightest stars in the sky, pretty darn close, and was the first (other than Sol, our sun) to be photographed. In 12,000 BC it, and not Polaris, was our northern pole star and will be again in around 11,000 years. I'll check back at time and let you know.
The Vega Colony was one of the earliest colonies in Earth's spaceward expansion. Indeed, “space boomer” Travis Mayweather was born en route. (An alternate timeline showed the place destroyed by the Xindi.)
In the Mirror Universe, young evil Kirk of the ISS Enterprise killed thousands of colonists on Vega IX as one of his early acts of butchery.
Unrelated but also awesome, the radio transmission in Carl Sagan's “Contact” is sent (or at least repeated) from somewhere in the Vega system.
This really, really just scratches the surface. I mean, Ceti Alpha V might actually be a real place. (It'd be called Alpha Ceti V, but that's close enough for me.) Are there any Trek locations you've noticed in actual star charts? Let me know in the comments. And remember to watch the skies!!!
Jordan Hoffman is a freelance writer, critic and independent film producer living in New York City. He fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy. Click HERE to follow him on Twitter.