Jul 23, 2021
This week on Episode 517 of Priority One: The virtual becomes reality on the set of Discovery Season 4, meanwhile the Disco captains reflect on their past and future in the center seat on the bridge. In gaming news, Pahvo is under attack on the ground and orbit in the third Event Eampaign installment in Star Trek Online, and Dr. Robert Hurt shares the importance of the Hubble Telescope’s return!
When that other “Star” franchise debuted their own serialized, live-action TV series on Disney+, critics not only raved about its story, but also about its cinematography. The Mandalorian, which started streaming in 2019, showcased a new style of filmmaking that was absolutely breathtaking. You see, instead of having to find locations where to shoot, the production used a 360-degree LED wall to project–in real time–all the landscapes and effects needed for the scene. The end result: a creative and astonishing backdrop that really helped build that world.
Now, everyone wants in! Not only does this technology save the time and resources it takes to shoot on location but, combined with the Unreal Engine, actors can actually see and react to visual effect environments in real time. Now we can visit Strange New Worlds with much more ease, as Noah Kadner explains in his article for American Cinematographer. According to Kadner, Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 and the first season of Strange New Worlds have been filming with a 270-degree horseshoe-shaped LED wall by a company called Pixomondo–which can be fed real-time animations using Unreal Engine.
Star Trek’s Lead Visual Effects Supervisor Jason Zimmerman told Kadner “getting something in-camera on the day is so much better than greenscreen in many ways. One major difference [in terms of workflow] is that the production-design and art departments are a lot more involved much earlier in the process, because they have to get assets ready to be photographed instead of waiting until after the shoot.” But the away teams from Strange New Worlds will be beaming down to realistic landscapes–the New Mexico Film Office announced this week that the television series is using New Mexico landscapes for the show’s visual effects.
Michael Burnam meets Bugs Bunny–is this a crossover episode? No, Sonequa Martin-Green plays Lebron James' wife in the Space Jam sequel, and right now Martin-Green is on the promo circuit talking about the animated adventure. But the good folks at Collider and Gizmodo couldn't help but ask some questions about Discovery Season 4 and what the future holds for Captain Burnham.
According to Martin-Green, filming for Season 4 is almost complete with only a little bit left to shoot. She emphasized the importance of cementing her new position as Captain, particularly the importance of having a black woman in the role. But she was tight lipped on what’s to come, telling Gizmodo it’s going to be about finding out who she is as Captain Michael Burnham, “[b]ecause there’s always been this question of who am I in this moment? Who am I in this role? And now I’m going to have to answer those questions for myself as Captain because everything is different now. And we’ve got a huge threat coming our way.”
Meanwhile, Doug Jones reflected on Captain Saru and his journey through Season 3 of Discovery. Jones sat in the Captain’s chair for almost its entirety, something Jones believes was a dream of the character but not necessarily the actor–it meant a lot more time in the makeup chair. “I was on more days on Season 3 than ever before. But the honor and the gravity of it was not lost on me that put me in a very small handful of actors who have played Captains in Star Trek. And even a bigger honor that I was the first non-human alien creature to take a Captaincy of a title ship. That was a really a big deal for me, especially as a geeky boy who has played a lot of rubber animals and creatures over these years.”
Jones goes on to talk about adding new cast members to the series, particularly his joy at working with Bill Irwin who played Su’Kal, as each actor has been a fan of the other for a long time. Season 4 of discovery was filmed under COVID restrictions, and thanks to a few stops and starts has taken a few extra months to film than previous seasons. However Jones doesn’t see the measures as restrictive. “I think that’s what Star Trek helps us realize, that the situation can be different if you perceive it differently. So you can look at it as restrictions, or you can look at it as enablement. I’m going to look at this as it’s enabling us to get the job done, and to stay employed, and to keep the production running.”
We will finally get to see LeVar Burton take his turn in the guest host role on Jeopardy! next week. And, many of his friends, including Brent Spiner and Gates McFadden have continued lobbying efforts to get him that full-time gig. McFadden told showbizjunkies.com, “I think he would be superb. I think he is born to do it. He’s perfect.” Spiner added, “I can’t think of anyone more qualified than he is. LeVar has proven himself as a host, an educator, a personality, and this and that. He’s a very smart guy with a really great personality, which I think is key for the job. He’s got all of the qualities.”
You definitely should Trek out the full article because it recaps both of their careers. They tell us their favorite TNG director and give us an update on their latest ventures. As we previously reported on this very podcast, McFadden is currently hosting the podcast Gates McFadden InvestiGates: Who Do You Think You Are?, while Spiner, who we will see in the second season of Picard–has written a novel called Fan-Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events. Don’t forget to watch Jeopardy! next week!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is coming to Blu-Ray with several special features and StarTrek.com showcased one last week. Dedicated to Kenneth Mitchell, the featurette showcases Mitchell’s various roles on these latest iterations of Trek and of course, addresses his ALS diagnosis. It is an incredibly moving segment with commentary from his fellow actors and crewmates.
Just earlier today, Star Trek Online released details on the third installment of the Event Campaign, where players can participate in a series of campaigns to earn the grand prize. The Defense of Pahvo Event starts July 27th on PC and will run for 3 weeks before concluding. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players will be able to participate starting in September. Once the Campaign starts, players will be able to earn their Daily Progress once every 20 hours by completing either the ground TFO “Pahvo Dissension,” or its space-based counterpart, “Peril Over Pahvo." As with previous Events, players can still use their old Event tokens to apply toward this Event.
A few minor adjustments have been made to each TFO:
For this specific event, once you earn a total of 14 days’ worth of Daily Progress, you can claim the Crystal Prism Universal Console for your entire account. This unique console features a charge-driven design, allowing for rapid creation of multiple energy-conductive prisms in space. This console emulates the popular Kit Module of the same name, allowing players to build networks of damage-dealing crystal prisms in formations of their own choosing.Everyone thought Skynet would turn against us, when it was really Starlink. Image: Cryptic Studios.
Each Prism that is placed in space will automatically attack nearby enemy starships, inflicting Psychic damage upon their crews, and tearing apart their hulls with telekinetic energies. The damage inflicted by each Prism in a connected group is increased based on the number of other networked Prisms, allowing for an incredibly high ceiling on such a cluster’s overall potential for rending into their foes.
Other rewards include the now-standard 25,000 dilithium ore and three Featured TFO Reward Boxes (choice of 1x Specialization Point or an Enhanced Universal Tech Upgrade) for a single character.
By Dr. Robert Hurt
For this week's Astrometrics Report, we will stare into the heart of a swirling beam of energy generated by a supermassive hole in the nearby galaxy. But first, I had to mention the good news---that NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has been successfully resuscitated, after a system failure back on June 13th. The issues arose due to a connection fault between its power control unit and payload computer. Finding a way to bypass the malfunctioning system was not trivial. While on Star Trek, that usually takes about two strained metaphors and three minutes of typing, for NASA that required over four weeks of painstakingly careful labor (but fortunately no problematic metaphors). Hubble jumped back into its science program on July 17th, and released some of its post-recovery data this week of some beautifully-twisted galaxies. High fives all around!
Of course, Hubble is only one of a fleet of critical telescopes that operate both in space and on the ground. This week we got to see three different views into the heart of a nearby galaxy: one only possible with a planetary-scale telescope array. I speak of the Event Horizon Telescope (or EHT for short) an international collaboration combines the power of many radio telescopes scattered across the planet. Synchronizing their data collection, they can create some of the highest-resolution images ever made of the universe. You probably have already seen the historic image of the black hole at the heart of the M87 galaxy---or at least the materials swirling around its Solar System-scale event horizon.
This week, the collaboration has released a new radio image of the center of another galaxy: Centaurus A. This time, the focus is not on the black hole, but the incredible jets of high-energy particles that are being flung away at nearly the speed of light from the region around the black hole. We've known about the powerful jets emanating from the hearts of some galaxies for decades. In fact, these jets provided some of the early evidence that supermassive black holes lie at the centers of galaxies. As material collects into a disk around the black hole, it rotates really quickly and gets heated to incredible temperatures. We expect that much of this material flows into the black hole over time, adding to its mass.[...yeah, I got nothing.---Ed.] Image: Radboud Univ. Nijmegen; CSIRO/ATNF/I. Feain et al., R. Morganti et al., N. Junkes et al.; ESO/WFI; MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A. Weiß et al.; NASA/CXC/CfA/R. Kraft et al.; TANAMI/C. Müller et al.; EHT/M. Janßen et al..
But some of these hot electrons and protons get swept up along spiraling magnetic fields, get ejected from the disk before reaching the black hole. Think of these like beads on a string: as you whip the string back and forth, the beads can accelerate and pop off the end, moving at high velocities. The exact mechanisms behind these high-energy, near-light speed jets of accelerated plasma are not well understood. That is, in part, in due to the fact that we have never been able to see these jets up close in enough detail to unravel their structure.
That is, until now. The new EHT image unveils the structure of this jet all the way down to its base, revealing a tube-like shape that lights up brightest along the outer edges. It shows details down to scales of a few light-hours across, essentially resolving features as small as our Solar System---but from a distance of over 10 million light-years away. The black hole at the base of this jet is about 55 million times as massive as our sun, which makes it a bit smaller than the one imaged in M87---which is a few billion times the sun's mass---but still much larger than the one at the heart of our Milky Way, which is only a few million solar masses.
Image: Janssen, M., Falcke, H., Kadler, M. et al. Event Horizon Telescope observations of the jet launching and collimation in Centaurus A. Nat Astron (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-021-01417-w
Make sure to check out the groundbreaking image of the Centaurus A jet---but even better, I wanted to let you know about a fun chance to try your hand at making your own astronomical image by participating in NASA's Astrophoto Challenges. The Summer 2021 event will be running through August 16th, and the subject is the M87 Galaxy. You can pick between real datasets from telescopes in space and on the ground, or even have a robotic observatory take a picture just for you. (Full disclosure: I am part of the team that develops these challenges, so I'd be thankful if you'd check it out. Just Google NASA's Astrophoto Challenges, or look for our Ask the Astronomers episode about it on YouTube.)