June 12, 2024


Science It Works

Why DEBRIS’ Science Fiction Is More Real Than You Think

NBC’s Debris pulls from many genres, but its core is sci-fi. Pieces from a destroyed, highly-advanced alien ship are falling to Earth. No one knows if the spacecraft arrived here by chance or if something sent it. But each fragment is capable of unfathomable powers that can defy the laws of physics. One section can instantly transport buses full of people across the world. Another can terraform whole cities. While yet another dangerous fragment can create alternate timelines and realities. It all sounds impossible. And yet the show’s science might not be as fictional as it first seems. Not only do both the government and scientists think aliens might already be here, we’re not far from unlocking the secrets of the show’s technology ourselves.

Riann Steele in a red hazmat suit holds a young woman in an open green field as people stand in the far back and a piece of alien spaceship sits in the foreground on Debris


One of the weirdest things about 2020 (which is really saying something) is that the US government kept trying to tell us alien ships could be flying around Earth right now. Under normal circumstances that might have been the definitive story of the year. Instead it received a general shrug from the populace, since we all had more immediate terrestrial issues to deal with.

But the evidence has been mounting for quite some time. These are just some Nerdist headlines since 2019 about possible alien contact. Which somehow involves a member of Blink-182:

9/19/19: Navy Says Tom DeLonge’s UFO Videos Are Authentic
4/28/20: Pentagon Says Videos of Unidentified Aircraft Are Authentic
7/24/20: Pentagon Physicist Says Identified UFOs Can’t Be Man-Made
8/14/20: Pentagon Launching Official Task Force to Investigate UFOs
12/9/20: Leaked Government Image from 2018 Features “Cube-Like” UFO
1/18/2021: Thousands of Pages of UFO-Related CIA Documents Released

The word “Pentagon” sure does stand out. Forget the Men in Black, Bryan and Finola’s not-so-secret jobs on Debris might really exist in some form eventually. (If they don’t already.) And if the world’s most powerful military takes UFOs seriously, we probably should at least be aware of the possibility they exist. Scientists certainly are. Aliens and first contact are not taboo topics among experts. Some of the most brilliant scientific minds in the world think extraterrestrials are actually out there.

Jonathan Tucker in an astronaut suit without his helmet talks to Riann Steele's Finola in a farm warehouse on Debris


In 2018 one of the working theories about the first-ever interstellar object to pass through our solar system was that it was, in fact, an alien spacecraft. Possibly a probe. It almost certainly wasn’t, but many scientists believe the universe is full of other intelligent life. They might be found on Earth-like planets, or as completely different lifeforms. Or, as one NASA scientist wrote, they might have already visited us.

Of course, Debris isn’t an exploration about alien visitors. It’s about the potential effects on our world from advanced technology. The ship’s fragments can seemingly do the impossible by defying the known rules of time and space. But those only seem impossible right now. Almost every power the alien ship has granted is based on real technology or ideas raised by theoretical physicists.

In the first episode, a piece of the ships manifests emotion into a being that can transmit memories from one person to another. Scientists can already plant false memories in people and then take them out. Just like it’s already seemingly possible to clone humans, which happened in the show’s second episode. And the following week, which involved people being transported through time via portals, is rooted in String Theory. When Finola said her father believed there might be 11 dimensions, that was a reference to M-Theory, an offshoot of String Theory. M-Theory is so complex and all-encompassing it’s also known as the “Theory Of Everything.”

Even George Jones’ resurrection might be a reality someday. In 2019 scientists brought pig brains back to life four hours after death. And all of those alternate realities and timelines Bryan kept living through? Academics have long discussed the possibility of parallel universes and infinite dimensions. Somewhere in the multiverse you might be starring on the show with Jonathan Tucker or Riann Steele. Or maybe you wrote this sentence instead of me. In some parallel universe I might be too busy figuring out how to terraform other planets like the debris did. That could be a possible one day in this dimension.

Then maybe we can all get on an interstellar bus to visit those worlds via worm holes. All with a much smoother arrival than the one those poor travelers on Debris experienced. If an easy landing isn’t possible, maybe we’ll have to travel there in suspended animation like those unfortunate farmers were on the show. That possibility isn’t even that far off either. Scientists have already put humans into suspended animation.

Bryan and Finola in spacesuits standing in a wheat field on Debris


Debris might be a sci-fi show, with its big ideas about aliens, the multiverse, and unseen dimensions of time and space. But it’s rooted in real science that might one day not be so mysterious.

Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.