“The Twilight Zone” reboot, helmed by Jordan Peele, present-day master of satirical, socially critical horror, has everyone abuzz. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of “The Twilight Zone” — the seminal science-fiction series created by Rod Serling that ran from 1959 to 1964 — you can probably hear its iconic, unsettling theme song in your head. You can probably picture Serling in his trademark suit, cigarette in hand. And you probably know that “the twilight zone” is shorthand for a situation where the line between fantasy and reality blurs and things start to seem … not wrong, exactly, but not quite right either.
“The Twilight Zone” is widely hailed as one of the best sci-fi shows while also being years, if not decades, ahead of its time. Incorporating sci-fi elements and touching on themes of racism, nuclear destruction, space exploration and general societal anxiety, it seems just as relevant today as ever. Let’s take a look back at some of the original episodes and consider how likely humanity is to make these particular stops in the Twilight Zone.
(This article contains *spoilers* for the original series.)
Stop the Earth, I Want to Get Off
Between environmental issues, political tensions and social problems, the impulse to leave Earth, find a new planet and start over is understandable. It was equally understandable in 1960, when “The Twilight Zone” episode “Third from the Sun” aired for the first time.
The episode follows a man named William who knows nuclear annihilation is imminent. Desperate to save his family, he hatches a plan to steal an experimental spacecraft his company has been building and get off the planet. He enlists a friend to help, and both men eventually make it past security and onto the craft, families in tow. When William’s daughter asks where they’re going, he explains their destination is a world not unlike the one they’re leaving, located third from the sun in its solar system … a place called Earth.
Today, when we think about setting up shop on other planets, we tend to look close to home — specifically, at Mars. NASA cautions, however, that colonizing Mars would be complicated. Even if humans managed to get there safely, Mars doesn’t have an ozone layer, and we don’t know how much ultraviolet radiation makes it to the planet’s surface. Then there’s the matter of building infrastructure. Rather than transporting the necessary materials to Mars from Earth, it’s likely that 3D printing would play a major role in colonization. And, even if we resolved these issues, there’s currently no legally binding way to buy land on Mars.
Still, it’s compelling to consider. According to Megan Ray Nichols of Astronomy.com, figuring out how to thrive on Mars could make it “easier to expand out into the asteroid belt and beyond.”
Is It Hot In Here, or Are We Getting Closer to the Sun?
When we consider ways the world could end, a top contender is the sun turning into a red giant. According to Scientific American, if this happened, it wouldn’t be for billions of years. But what if a sun-related catastrophe caused the end of life as we know it much, much sooner? Say, in a matter of days?
That’s the premise behind Twilight Zone episode “The Midnight Sun,” which aired in November 1961. The Earth’s orbit has been altered and, as a result, the planet is drawing ever closer to the sun. As the temperature rises, Norma and her landlady, Mrs. Bronson, watch their building’s inhabitants leave for cooler climates. Eventually, just the two of them are left. Mrs. Bronson begins to show signs of emotional strain, begging Norma, an artist, to “paint something cool.” She does, but when she shows it to Mrs. Bronson, the paint begins to melt, and Norma collapses. The scene shifts to show Norma sleeping on a couch as snow falls outside the window. Mrs. Bronson is talking to a doctor about how Norma’s fever has finally broken. They then begin to discuss the news of the day: Earth’s orbit has shifted and the planet is moving farther away from the sun, which will eventually lead to its destruction by freezing.
How likely is either of these scenarios to occur? According to Christopher Springob, a research assistant professor at the University of Western Australia, Earth is, in fact, moving very slowly away from the sun. However, the distance by which it’s moving is tiny — roughly a micrometer, or one ten-thousandth of a centimeter, per year.
A Parallel Universe, Right in Your Own Bedroom
Perhaps one of the most influential episodes of the original “The Twilight Zone” series was “Little Girl Lost,” in which six-year-old Tina somehow becomes trapped in another dimension. Her parents and dog can hear her calling for help, but they can’t see her. Tina’s father, Chris, calls his friend Bill, a physicist, for help. They look around the house and eventually find an opening to what Bill explains is a fourth dimension. (By now, the family dog has fallen into it as well.) Chris goes in after Tina and the dog, and Bill pulls them out through the opening and back into reality as we know it.
The concept of interdimensional travel has turned out to be a pop culture favorite. The Simpsons paid homage to “Little Girl Lost” in “Homer3,” a segment of its 1995 Halloween episode. More recently, Netflix smash hit “Stranger Things” has revitalized interest in multiverse theory.
But is there really such a thing as a fourth dimension? (It’s worth noting that, rightly or wrongly, time is often considered the fourth dimension of space.) According to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, string theory implies that there might actually be six additional spatial dimensions; however, they may be “curled up so tiny that we have never realized their existence.” Smithsonian.com concurs, citing recent research showing that if other dimensions exist, they must be smaller than 16 nanometers. For reference, a nanometer is one billionth — that’s billion with a “b” — of a meter, meaning you won’t be falling into one of those dimensions anytime soon.
Although early reviews of “The Twilight Zone” reboot are mixed, there’s no question that the legacy of the original, one of the best sci-fi shows of all time, has endured. To borrow Serling’s words, as long as we can imagine the unimaginable, we’ll continue to explore “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition” … also known as the Twilight Zone.
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