I was thinking about radio waves, Star Trek, and relativity, the other day. Yes, my mind does work that way. I used to be disturbed by this fact. Now I just embrace my inner nerd, and roll with it.
Our radio signals have been going along their merry way for over a hundred years now. Maybe alien life would detect our radio transmissions and come out for a visit. This may be a bit awkward due to the distances involved, their information would be way out of date. But that is a thought experiment for another post. A more interesting thought is what would it be like if we ran across our own radio signals?
I am pretty optimistic and see that our future may not look too different from the Star Trek universe. Maybe in two hundred years or so we may have faster than light (Warp) drives and go gallivanting around the galaxy. Gallivanting is normally a learned skill, only Kirk was born with it. I am not going to quibble over the hard science of light speed since a lot of what is commonplace now was scientifically impossible only 100 years ago. Anyway, I was wondering if future space adventures, while traveling away from Earth, would run across our old radio waves. Sure they would be faint, but if we accept the possibility of a warp drive, we could also buy into ultra-sensitive radio reception. So here goes….
I imagine a warp drive space craft flying around our galaxy. The further this hypothetical space ship got away from earth, the older the radio programs would become. They would actually fly through the newest programs and go backwards in apparent time. It would be like re-winding the tape as it were. At some point the space craft would actually run across first run Star Trek episodes. Of course, in order to receive these episodes “live” they would have to come to a stop relative to earth, which may be impossible or impractical, but maybe they could record the show backwards then play it back forward. I imagine this would be very entertaining for the crew.
If they did stop to listen to the program in “real time” would it be considered live? All the actors, producers, cameramen, etc. would be long dead, but the program wasn’t stored or rebroadcast. This makes me wonder if any broadcast is really live when you’re not watching it in person. The difference between our example space crew watching Star Trek live, and me watching the Olympics live, is simply the length of time until the broadcast reached my ears. For me it is milliseconds, for them it would be 260 some odd years, but the theory is the same.
I also imagine that traveling to distant solar systems and over hearing old broadcasts would be valuable for historians. A lot of history is lost or misinterpreted over time, records degrade, and stuff is lost to fire or carelessness. But once a radio signal leaves the planet it just keeps going. Yes it grows fainter with the square of the distance, but still it is there. Space travelers in the future may be able to warp to a given distance and relive a snapshot of history and record it for posterity. Or at least record it to debunk some stupid dispute over what happened during particularly controversial event. These would make up some rather dull Star Trek episodes. “Captain Kirk and crew travels great distance going insanely fast, to settle a dispute over the 1964 World Series second basemen’s nickname”
I also imagine that if the spacecraft broadcasts a message back to earth they could literally beat the signal to its receiver. Of course in the Star Trek universe they have subspace radio, but let’s say the ship is capable of going faster than their radio. It would be a lot like a person in present day putting a letter in the US mail in New York, addressed to yourself in San Francisco. You could literally, get on a plane and arrive in San Francisco, and spend a day or two living it up in the city before your letter arrives.
Then you have all the relativity mind-fucks that may happen with two faster than light ships approach each other. Like what would happen if two star ships were heading towards each other at warp speed, they each send a message to each other to turn and avoid the collision. Once the collision was avoided, ether by chance or excellent driving, the ship would drop out of warp. After a while they would receive their own transmission telling them to turn to avoid a collision. The other ship would get a similar message from their own captain.
This would actually work well for Captain Kirk. He could go to some far off mission, get into all sorts of trouble, and violate the prime directive, all while giving careful updates to the federation using traditional radio. Then on the way back he would overtake his own signals and broadcast whatever the hell he wants to cover up screwing green Andorran women and “violating the prime directive” – if you know what I mean-. Uhura would simply jam and scramble the BS that Kirk said during their “Mission”. It’s a conspiracy captain!