The entire Universe — or at least parts of it — as interpreted through the brain of Phil Plait: astronomer, science communicator, and goat herder.

BAN #79: Trek cruise wrap up, Noble Chase

January 14, 2019 Issue #79

Subscribers are the qengwI’ of my own Alpha Quadrant.

Personal Stuff

Yeah, but not too personal

Last Thursday I got back from the Star Trek Cruise, which was a lot of fun. There are panels with actors, science talks, episode viewings (some with commentary by the actors), a few shows/productions done by the actors that aren’t Trek related, trivia contests, themed karaoke nights, and various game shows with the actors.

The latter was my favorite, I think. There were two showings of Jeopardy! (the Stardust Theater on board can only seat about half the passengers, so they’re split into two groups), with contestants Wil Wheaton and Jason Isaacs doing both shows, and Jonathan Frakes and Robert Picardo doing one each. The questions weren’t Trek related, but had some themes running through them (for example, the “Potent Potables” category the show usually had was replaced with “Quark’s Bar”). Wil, I am happy to note, won both shows.

But it was the comments and asides that were so much fun. The actors obviously like each other, and the gentle fun-poking and needling were very funny. It’s really very nice, as a fan, to see them interacting and playing with each other. Many meals were shared, and it was fun to watch the TNG folks talking about their recent work, politics, and just life. The behind-the-scenes comments during the panels were really engaging and interesting, too.

[You never know who you’ll run into when Star Trek is involved. Qapla’!]

Speaking of which, I want to give special notice to Mary Chieffo, who plays the Klingon L’Rell in Discovery. Why? Because she’s terrific. She wasn’t a Trek fan to start with — it’s not that she didn’t like it, just that she didn’t watch. When she got the role she flung herself into it, watching all the shows’ Klingon episodes, learning the lore, and basically just grooving on it. Now, she’s all in. I mean it. She knows how it all works, and several fans gave her gifts — two friends of mine on the cruise (Hi Mo and Mo!) 3D printed a communicator Delta badge with a Bat’leth under it, and gave it to her. She was overwhelmed, and wore it many times during the cruise.

I also got to hang out a bit with Rekha Sharma, who played the short-lived security officer Ellen Landry on Discovery (and was on Battlestar as well), and she is also warm and fun. I was also delighted to meet Erin Gray — Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers! — and found her to be super nice and everything you hope actors are really like but sometimes don’t find. She’s an agent now, representing a few folks I know, so it was cool to be able to spend some time with her.

So yeah, duh, I’m a fan, and being able to meet the actors is cool, but it’s the other fans on board that make the cruise. Everyone is so nice, so open, so friendly, so supportive — it’s like being in another world where so many of our differences fade to unimportance, and what bonds us comes to the forefront. I’m pretty low level when it comes to the guests on board, but everywhere I went I had people talking to me about science, asking questions, genuinely and openly curious and wanting to know more. I saw the same thing with the other science guest (astrophysicist Erin Macdonald), too. I love seeing more science at scifi events! I think the fans do, too.

[A fan made Trek-themed cruise poker chips! Amazing.]

The next cruise is in March 2020, and will be a Voyager reunion, which should be a ton of fun. They’re still booking celebs, and it’ll be a while before the science and music guests are booked. I’d be thrilled to do it again. It reminds me that many, even most people are basically good, that diversity is strength, and that stories are more than just fun distractions — they bind us together, give us hope and inspiration, and sharing them makes us more human.

Follow o’ the Letter

Someone you should follow on social media

Speaking of which…

If you’re a Star Trek fan then you may know the name Chase Masterson. She played the “Dabo girl” Leeta on Deep Space Nine, a role that started out as a minor one, but was expanded in large part due to Chase herself.

I met Chase at a WorldCon in LA many years ago, and at first was charmed just to be able to talk to an actor from Trek, but very quickly realized that she was quite simply a terrific person. Warm, big-hearted, quick-witted, and really a lovely human being.

[Chase Masterson and me at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention in 2017. She’s holding a balloon phaser with an LED in it — yes, seriously — that someone was giving out at the con. Credit: Phil Plait]

She also puts her time and energy into righting a lot of social wrongs. She is the founder of Pop Culture Hero, a group dedicated to stop bullying and social injustices. She’s a mentor at Homeboy Industries, helping gang members (!) break free of that life and get back on their feet.

One of her projects right now is creating comic books for hospitalized kids to help support mental health. It looks great, and there’s a Kickstarter to fund it. They’ve already made their goal, but could always use more money to distribute them more widely. This is really important, so please kick in what you can.

[The cover art for the comic book.]

Chase is also a singer, does voice work (she plays Vienna Salvatori in an audio Doctor Who spinoff series), and is just an all-around great person. It makes me happy just knowing she exists, and your life will be better if you follow her on social media like Twitter, her website, and her fan group on Facebook, too.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

Monday Jan. 7, 2019: Why do some impact craters have rays?

Tuesday Jan. 8, 2019: Overlapping galaxies

Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019: Astronomers pew-pew their way to super-sharp images

Thursday Jan. 10, 2019: The feathery, dusty, and spectacular tail of Comet McNaught

Friday Jan. 11, 2019: Pale, dusty dots

Et alia

You can email me at (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!

BAN #77: Cruising Trek, Owl be seeing you, Next time I’ll try Moscato

January 7, 2018 Issue #77

Subscribers give a hoot.

Upcoming Appearances/Shameless Self-Promotion

Where I’ll be doing things you can watch and listen to or read about

As you read this I am displacing my own weight in Caribbean waters as part of Star Trek: The Cruise III. I’ll be posting pictures as often as I can, so check out Instagram and Twitter for terrible puns and warp speed nerdery.


Because my home state is pretty

I was out and about recently in Boulder county around sunset, and just minding my own business, when I perchance saw something pretty remarkable. I was really glad I happened to take my camera with me when I left the house earlier that day:

[Credit: Phil Plait]

We have a few great horned owls in the area — I’ve posted pix of a few on social media — but they are almost always alone. Sometimes in our yard we can hear one hooting, and another one far off hooting in reply, but to happen upon two of them so close to each other was surprising. I don’t know if they were a mated pair or what, since I’m not really up on my raptor territorial habits knowledge, but these two were just sitting in these trees, letting the wind ruffle their feathers. They didn’t make any noise, and didn’t appear to be looking for food. They also didn’t care about me either, though I was careful not to spook them.

Pretty cool. All the summer birds are long gone — I haven’t seen an egret or a pelican in weeks (though I did spot a bald eagle sitting on the power pole at the edge of my property the other day; unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me and by the time I was done feeding the goats it was gone) — so it’s nice to still see some big ones sticking around… even if the one that likes to sit in the spruce tree next to my bedroom window wakes me up every morning at 5:00. Grrrr… but still cool.

Subscribe now

Life Hacks

Not what you might expect from an astronomer, but in my defense I am alive

Way back in Issue #8 I wrote about replacing window cleaners with a homemade DIY mix that a) is way cheaper and 2) works way better. Since that was a paid-subscriber-only issue, here’s the meaty bit:

We used Windex and other ammonia-based spray cleaners for a long time, but then my wife found a neat little trick. Mix distilled water 50/50 with isopropyl alcohol (we keep both around the house; the first for various appliances like steam cleaners, and the second for first aid), loaded it into a spray bottle, and boom. Glass cleaner.

So why bring it up again? Well, living in the countryside of Colorado, I can safely say that every summer we suffer through a plague of houseflies. I don’t like using insecticides, and a fly swatter is gross and generally ineffective because Musca domesticae will land on just about anything, especially things that don’t work as backboards for a swatter.

You may imagine where I’m going with this. Out of curiosity, I grabbed my alcohol spray and waited for a fly to land on a windowpane. I squirted it (the spray was set to a medium wide diffusion) and the fly suddenly stopped moving. It was stunned, and I was easily able to get it with a paper towel.

To my surprise, this works every time. So there you go. But a warning: The spray can damage some surfaces, so have a care using it. I don’t use it on wood or anything like that. Just glass and such. And flies.

P.S. Did you know there is only one official constellation in the sky named after an insect? And yup: It’s Musca, the fly. Scorpions are arachnids, so Scorpius doesn’t count.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

Monday Dec. 31, 2018: Get ready for humanity’s most distant encounter: Tonight’s the night for 2014 MU69!

Tuesday Jan. 1, 2019: Happy New Year 2019! … but what exactly is a “year”?

Wednesday Jan. 2, 2019: The hour-by-hour phases of the Moon for all of 2019

Thursday Jan. 3, 2019: What caused this griddle-and-pancake-batter feature on the Moon?

Friday Jan. 4, 2019: A distant box of jewels

Et alia

You can email me at (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!

Loading more posts…