Star Trek Cloaking Devices.. Are They Possible?
Evading low-level law infractions or dodging unwanted attention aside, what about the science itself? Is it possible to render an object invisible using technology? The answer may depend on who is being asked.
Could It Work?A cynic would likely reply that crude cloaking methods exist already that will block a portion of the visible spectrum of light through the use of an external material layered on the object. This statement is technically true and can be verified pretty quickly with an internet search. This statement will also smother all conversation at a dinner party in a minimum of 30 seconds.
Nature, too, has already tackled invisibility, albeit in restricted settings. Bioluminescence is common in deep ocean organisms that employs light refraction to allow the creature to "hide in plain sight." However, bioluminescence is a natural defense, invoked by either reflexive or reactive action of the organism. Goumtuu, the sentient vessel from Star Trek: TNG's "Tin "Man" for example, appears to be a one-off, and no authority has yet claimed that Romulan and Klingon ships are living creatures that can harness a bioluminescent physical response on command.
The more passive method of light spectrum-blocking requires the prior physical intervention of an external source, i.e. the application of a blocking layer of material. It is difficult to imagine Klingons in a Space Dock swabbing Visible Light Spectrum Sunscreen onto the hulls of their ships. And how would you turn it off to reveal your Bird of Prey at the crucial moment? Not what we were after.
What the Experts Say
MetaMaterialsNASA has referenced the successful use of electronic MetaMaterials to hide very small objects under a limited range of colors. The science is nascent, so it could be fair to argue that, by Common Era 2063 (First Contact) or 2161 (The Original Series), talented engineers from around the world may well have developed exponentially upon this technique.
PlasmaPlasma has also been successfully tested by industrial trials and is hypothesized to block visibility by absorbing specific broadband waves. Scientists have theorized that a plasma gel sandwiched between two membranes could be used to wrap larger objects. A patent was filed in 1991 for just such a device.
Bending LightMost (ALL!) reputable scientific experts agree that achieving the desired result of "cloaking" an object (rendering it unseen) inherently depends on the manipulation of light.
But light is not the only, or necessarily most prevalent method of detection in the spatial universe. There could well be life forms that "taste" their surroundings in a way consistent with reptiles or those that use echolocation or other non-visual detection. No technology identified today, however, can inclusively block all light, sound, and physical sampling by particulate analysis.
Star Trek: First Contact, Introduction of the UnknownWho is to say that Vulcan ship in the movie didn't have a cargo hold full of the equivalent of "Bigger Universe" ironic, cliche souvenirs, like baby-warp drives, communicators, and double-membrane, plasma-gel layered cloaking devices: things literally bartered for "Words" or other oddities in some backwater system in the same way one might purchase an 8-Track tape deck at a Swapmeet right now?
What Do the Original Scripts Say?Much of the science that was the basis for the Star Trek Universe was based on the separate work of Albert Einstein and Max Planck during the 1930s. Their theories had more truth than fantasy and are deserving of a separate article.
Where Star Trek Was Right and Critics Were Wrong
Data, the Too-Real AndroidMany critics of Star Trek: TNG could not suspend disbelief when it came to such a "realistic" artificial human. Perhaps it seemed too much of a fantasy; perhaps the idea was unnerving. These people though,clearly have extremely restricted knowledge of the current robotic advances in Japan.
CommunicatorsUbiquitous throughout Star Trek: The Original Series is "the Communicator." Used by team members to speak at a distance both on and away from the ship, what are Communicators but the ultimate in BlueTooth tech?
PhasersStar Trek: The Original Series writers created a weapon based on existing Laser technology, positing that the laser could be "phased" to allow a level of control that would allow the laser to be used as a weapon. The name they used? PHASed Energy Rectification. The US army acknowledges the use of a weapon of this type that targets combatants' skin.
SensorsWe already have radar, sonar, laser ranging, vibration, gravimeters, energetic-particle detectors, and light-wavelength detectors. And they are on right now.
From medical technology to advances in physics, biology, and computers, Star Trek has pre-envisioned much of what we would recognize as MRIs, Micro-Surgery, Text Messaging, and on and on.
It would seem that the writers of The Original Series have gotten it right far more than wrong. By looking at the highly experimental real science of the 1930s through the 1960s, Star Trek: The Original Series writers had an exciting evidential, hard data sample set to expand upon. There are few writers that would shy away from such rich material.
What Do the Fans Say?Most of those who love all things Star Trek would agree that it is unfair to dismiss definitively any of the science as represented on Star Trek. When the modern commercial world recognizes a technology curve that is essentially vertical, and has been for at least fifty years, how can anyone with an open mind conclusively declare that a future thing cannot "be"?
That taken as a given, there are things that are less likely. A Universal Translator would be too mechanically complex to build right now; the existence of such a tool relies on completely theoretical, and therefore unprovable, technology and/or the use of resources as yet unidentified.
Is a Cloaking Device Possible, Given What Is Known Today?
Again, the cynic would reply that we already have the technology. It is in no way unreasonable to believe that, within the next 200 years, "accepted science," building on knowledge currently circulating on college campuses, will include as-yet-unknown technology. The possibility of a future non-human source of information is a variable that renders the equation too complex to solve. No one can say for certain that a Vulcan ship isn't just a few light-years away at any given time. (Fingers crossed!)
More importantly, there is nothing yet discovered by any recognized scientific authority, at NASA, at universities and colleges, or at independent research facilities, that adequately or completely refute the day-to-day science of the Star Trek Universe.
Questions about possible future technology deserve more than a flippant "Anything Is Possible" reply. Yes, anything IS possible. That is the beauty of all truly great Alternate Universes. When looked at scientifically, analytically, even clinically, there is more reason to believe that we are a mere few decades from the technical knowledge to hide in plain sight than to believe that any technology or device is "impossible."
What do you think?? Let me know in the comments below!!