Scientists weigh in on 'Dune: Part Two' : Short Wave The sci-fi film Dune: Part Two is out in theaters now. The movie takes place on the harsh desert planet, Arrakis, where water is scarce and giant, killer sandworms lurk just beneath the surface. But what do planetary scientists and biologists think about the science of these worms, Arrakis and our other favorite sci-fi planets?

Today on the show, Regina G. Barber talks to biologist (and Star Trek consultant!) Mohamed Noor and planetary scientist Michael Wong about Dune, habitable planets and how to make fantasy seem more realistic.

Want more of the science behind your favorite fictional worlds? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

Listen to Short Wave on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Could Dune really exist? What scientists think of our favorite sci-fi worlds

Could Dune really exist? What scientists think of our favorite sci-fi worlds

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A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures' action adventure "DUNE: PART TWO," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

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Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures' action adventure "DUNE: PART TWO," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The sci-fi film Dune: Part Two is out in theaters now.

The movie takes place on the desert planet, Arrakis, where water is scarce and giant, killer sandworms lurk beneath the surface. Arrakis is the only place a powerful – and rare – space travel good called spice exists. Dune: Part One follows Paul Atreides as he joins local Fremen, the people of Arrakis, and attempts to bring peace to the planet. He continues this journey in Dune: Part Two.

This immersive epic introduces us to a world so different from Earth that we wondered: What do planetary scientists and biologists have to say about the science behind Arrakis and our other favorite sci-fi planets?

One scientist, Mohamed Noor, has lots of experience trying to figure out how to make fantasy seem realistic. In addition to his work as a biologist, Noor is a science consultant for the Star Trek television franchise. And when it comes to Dune, he's asking the big questions about whether creatures like giant sandworms could really exist.

"What does this thing eat? How does it derive mass and how does it derive energy?" Noor says. "I'm assuming it doesn't have like some sort of atomic reactor inside its belly or something like that... but is there so much life down there underground that it can actually acquire that much mass?"

Still, Noor says the sandworms do have some familiar behaviors, including using vibrations to locate their prey like many species on Earth.

And when it comes to human life on a planet like Arrakis, astrobiologist and planetary scientist Michael Wong also has some reservations.

"There probably isn't very much plant life pumping oxygen into the air on such a desert world," Wong says.

While Wong says oxygen could, in theory, be generated through photochemistry – chemical reactions in response to light – it's unlikely.

Ultimately, Wong and Noor agree that lots of science fiction mirrors reality (or at least, parts of reality). In fact, Wong says, in the second season of Star Trek: Picard includes a Europa mission, much like the one NASA will launch later this year.

Want more of the science behind your favorite fictional worlds? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

Listen to Short Wave on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

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Today's episode was produced by Rachel Carlson. It was edited by Rebecca Ramirez and Amina Khan. Brit Hanson checked the facts, and Maggie Luthar was the audio engineer.