Saturn Scientist Dishes on New Trek Film
A still from the 2009 film "Star Trek" .
Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The new movie ?Star Trek? may have launched into theaters to reveal the origins of Capt. James Kirk of the starship Enterprise, but director J. J. Abrams relied on a veteran planetary scientist to make sure the film?s strange, new worlds were more science than science fiction.

To add a touch of reality to the planets in ?Star Trek,? Abrams sought advice from Carolyn Porco, the imaging team leader for the Cassini spacecraft currently studying the ringed planet Saturn and its many moons.

?They were very sincere about trying to get things as right as possible,? Porco told, adding that it would be impossible to show Saturn?s true face since the sunlight there is 100 times dimmer than it is on Earth. ?With that in mind, I think they?ve done a very nice job here while still maintaining all the whiz bang and adventure of the Star Trek story.?

Porco joined the Star Trek team as a science consultant for planetary science and imagery after Abrams saw her presentation on Cassini?s Saturn science at the 2007 TED conference in Monterey, Calif. The new ?Star Trek? film, which updates the iconic television and film franchise, chronicles the first meeting of the U.S.S. Enterprise?s future Captain Kirk, science officer Spock and other crew as young Starfleet officers.

?It?s very action-packed. This is not a very slow-moving cosmic journey,? said Porco. ?It?s actually lovely to see the start of a story that all of us have known now for 40 years.??? ?

?At first blush, it looks incredibly realistic and they did a very excellent job with all the planetary scenes,? Porco said, adding that she was excited to see a prominent scene featuring Saturn and its cloud-covered moon Titan.

After months collaborating with the Trek film?s visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, Porco said she had only seen still photos of the Saturn and Titan scene until she watched the film.

?They did put a scene from Saturn in there that I?m very happy with,? Porco said. She also asked for a small addition to the film, but wanted to preserve the surprise for dedicated viewers who, like herself, plan to sift through the Trek movie frame-by-frame when the film is released on DVD, Porco added.

Porco heads the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., where images of from the international Cassini probe are received and processed. The center releases high-resolution views of Saturn and its rings via its Web site:

NASA launched Cassini in 1997 and the spacecraft arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004. The mission, an international effort by NASA and the European and Italian space agencies, is in the middle of its first extended phase. Cassini also carried the European Space Agency?s Huygens probe, which landed on Titan?s shrouded surface in 2004.

Porco is a frequent commentator on science, astronomy and space exploration and is no stranger to film production. She served as a consultant in the film "Contact,? based on astronomer Carl Sagan?s book, and as a science advisor and an animation director for ?Cosmic Journey,? a television special that marked the 25th anniversary of the Voyager mission to the outer planets.

Porco also played a prominent role on the Voyager mission and is also an imaging scientist on NASA's New Horizons mission, which is headed toward the distant world Pluto. She has a space rock named after her — Asteroid (7231) Porco — for her contributions to the exploration of the outer solar system.