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Rosetta finds comets carry more 'Star Trek' fuel than expected

Rosetta researchers think comets are less likely to be the source of Earth's water than previously thought, which also makes them a great source of fuel for fictional starship warp cores.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
2 min read

Don't let the Klingon marauders get hold of this gold mine! ESA

Data sent back from Rosetta's observations of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, published this week in the journal Science, suggest that Earth's oceans may have originated from collisions with water-bearing asteroids rather than comets.

CBS News has the full story on those findings, but what's gone unreported so far is the converse discovery that while comets might be a less likely source of our ocean water than previously thought, they contain higher than expected levels of a key component in the fuel for the U.S.S. Enterprise.

I'm talking about deuterium here folks, also known as "heavy hydrogen" -- a stable hydrogen isotope that's found in small amounts in our oceans. The thing is, the water that's hitching a ride on Rosetta's comet has about three times as much deuterium as water here on Earth. So, comet water is different enough from Earth water that it casts a little bit of doubt on to the popular hypothesis that cometary collisions with early Earth "seeded" our planet with the water we all take for granted.

That's the real science that's being debated by smart people right now. But let's get down to the real science fiction implications of this.

In the "Star Trek" universe, starships like the U.S.S. Enterprise-D carry around deuterium in tanks because it's a key component -- along with tritium -- in matter-antimatter reactions that help fling ships between galaxies.

At various points on the different series, we encounter oppressive Klingon marauders that run a deuterium mine, strange and dangerous life forms made up in part of the stuff, and at least one anomalous instance of deuterium scarcity that leads to conflict.

Perhaps we can avoid some of these future science fiction scenarios by starting to mine comets for deuterium right now.Take away the Klingon marauders' leverage while they're still technically just made up characters, I always say. Thanks, science!