The good, the bad, and the definitely interesting! Today, let’s take a deep
look into one of the most popular sci-fi movies of the decade, Interstellar.
Everyone loves a good sci-fi movie, right?
But if you’re someone like me, what makes these kinds of movies interesting
is the soundness and accuracy of the science that was demonstrated in it!
For instance, The Martian has definitely set up the bar in terms of scientific accuracy,
as a lot of scientists agree that the events that took place in the movie
might actually be how one will go about living on Mars.
There are other great examples such as 2001: A Space Odyssey,
Minority Report, and Deep Impact. But today, we are going to talk about
Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed blockbuster, 2014’s Interstellar!
In case you forgot how the movie went, here’s a really, really, brief recall!
The movie was set in a dystopian Earth, where there is a massive blight slowly causing a lot
of crops to become extinct. Now, obviously it is easy to see how this would be a problem, right?
So, NASA, which is now a secret government project, spends all their time and energy in
finding our next home. A pilot stumbles upon the coordinates of this secret agency, travels to this
place, and gets recruited to be the designated driver for mankind’s search for its next home.
That’s basically the plot of it:
scientists looking for a way to salvage the rest of us by looking for Earth number 2.
With a lot of extra elements to it of course. It’s a sci-fi movie after all.
If you’re a fan of science, surely the movie must have been an absolute
delight due to the buffet of information to ponder upon:
what caused the blight in the first place, can there possibly be wormholes out there,
does gravitational lensing really work as depicted around the black hole, does time
really go faster around a more massive object, the manipulation of gravity…I could go on,
but for the sake of the video, let’s pick a few of these and describe the science behind the events!
Before I go on ahead explaining, I think it’s appropriate to place a spoiler alert here. I know,
I know, the movie was almost 6 years old, and to be honest, I would be very surprised if you
hadn’t seen it yet. But hey, wouldn’t hurt to have a bit of courtesy, right?
First, let’s talk about the highway that the Endurance went through
to get to the other side of the universe: wormholes.
In the movie, one challenge that NASA faced was bringing a spacecraft to a galaxy where
there is an abundance of viable planets. As if God himself watched over this mission,
a wormhole opened near Saturn and instantly connected the crew into the other galaxy,
where three possible new Earths are within reach.
Romilly explained wormholes to Cooper this way. Well, okay, I wouldn’t credit Rom for this since
it’s how wormholes are generally explained to folks who are not that strongly science-inclined.
Drawing in a piece of paper, Romilly drew two exes at the top and the bottom.
The closest point between these two points is a straight line, but if you can fold the paper in
such a way that the two points instantly touch, then you practically saved time.
Now, on paper, that doesn’t sound like a lot of savings, but if it were in space? In the vast
outer space? Imagine years of travels that can be compressed to just months! Or even hours!
If you don’t yet get the gravity of how fast that travel can be,
it’s basically faster than the universe’s speed limit,
the speed of light. Even though you can say that it’s some kind of cheating, in a way.
Unfortunately, the concept of wormholes are nothing but theory,
as this is what general relativity suggests, due to the distortion of space-time due to gravity.
However, the movie did great justice in presenting how this expressway might look like in case we
actually ever find one: a sphere suspended in space that seems to be a blurry mirror.
And of course, if we ever get to finding one in the future,
you’ll be sure that we will feature this here on this channel!
So next, the Endurance spacecraft travels through this wormhole and
arrives at a new stellar system. And it’s not just any ordinary system,
it’s one that is awfully close to a blackhole. To which two planets are orbiting around.
The first planet that the crew decided to land on, Miller’s planet, has a lot of shallow waters.
At this point, there are two very important and interesting events that are going on.
Let’s talk about the first one.
As the movie progressed, the crew on the surface saw something which they
thought were mountains. Later on, this was revealed to actually be a gigantic tidal wave!
Take note of the word usage here: it’s not a tsunami, but a tidal wave. Why is that?
Well, try to recall how tsunamis are generated.
Remember they are a consequence of some kind of geological activity in the ocean, right?
Either an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, or some kind of underwater explosion.
And since none of these was shown in the movie, we couldn’t really call it a tsunami right?
Okay, now, let’s discuss how waves are formed. They are a product of the
Moon’s tugging of the water from Earth due to the gravity, right?
Remember what’s extremely close to this planet in the movie?
A massive blackhole. And what do blackholes have plenty of? Gravity, of course!
Now, with that extremely strong pull of gravity,
most of the water in the planet is pulled to a height to form a gigantic tidal wave!
Of course, in reality, the wave should just be a blob, but hey, we need to give the creatives
some room to create drama, right? If there was a boring blob instead of a tidal wave,
then our lead characters wouldn’t have that much consequence to their actions, wouldn’t they?
Okay, I know I’ve been doing all the talk here, but how about you guys tell me what you think at
this point? Leave a like if you think the show’s great! And if you don’t think we’re doing great,
a dislike would be as valuable! It helps us develop better content in the future.
Moving forward, let’s talk about the second important point about Miller’s planet:
If you can remember the movie, the Endurance crew carefully deliberated before landing
on the planet due to one unexpected resource depletion: they’re gonna lose a lot of time.
Moreover, this point is highlighted when they realized that Miller hasn’t been
actually transmitting data for several years:
it’s actually a lag in the transmission due to the time difference!
After the events on the planet and returning to Endurance, the protagonists came to a realization
that more than 23 years had actually passed despite having seemed to
have only spent a few hours on the planet.
Now, you may think this is a crazy concept, but Einstein’s
theory of relativity would disagree with you.
In general relativity, it was explained that objects with
huge mass messes up a lot with the fabric of spacetime.
Specifically, the closer you are to an abnormally massive object, spacetime stretches more.
Think of having a stretchy kind of ruler.
At normal conditions, a centimeter to that unstretched ruler is still a centimeter, right?
But if you put a heavy object at the end of that ruler,
obviously the units of measurement stretches, and a centimeter in the ruler isn’t the same anymore.
The same thing happened to our protagonists on Miller’s planet. Due to the presence of a
blackhole, spacetime is stretched a lot so much that time passes slower there.
If you’re hoping to be immortal, at least to Earth’s standards, this is one cheat you can use.
Assuming you can find some place similar to Miller’s planet, of course.
Now, I know you’re thinking whether this is purely theory
or can we actually observe it in our daily lives? Well, the answer is not that far away, my friend.
GPS satellites experience a faster time, since they are farther away from the center
of Earth’s gravity. Scientists knew this long before so they took this to account
and setup compensation measures to guarantee accurate transmission of data.
If you have made it this far into the video, I know you’ve been waiting for me to talk about the
most interesting and definitely most talked about part of interstellar: the blackhole.
The fastest thing anybody would notice with Gargantua was that the disc at the other side
seems to appear on top and at the bottom of the blackhole.
This is due to an effect which, again, Einstein predicted called gravitational lensing.
To understand this better, let’s recall how lenses work.
In its most basic function, lenses practically refract light so that its focus changes, right?
It changes the direction of the light that’s coming through our eyes
so that we could focus on it better.
Now, if you could recall, general relativity predicts that massive objects curve spacetime.
If that’s true, since light travels through space, it will have no choice but to similarly bend
in the presence of a really strong gravity. This is what we call gravitational lensing.
This phenomenon results in the beautiful horizontal and vertical rings that we saw
in the movie: the vertical one being the result of extreme lensing due to the mass of the black hole,
and the horizontal one as the black hole’s accretion disc teeming with energy!
And again, this is not purely theoretical as this has been observed several times already ever since
Einstein’s publication of general relativity. And have I mentioned he already hypothesized this
phenomenon to be possible long before he published his paper? Talk about an absolute genius!
Another thing that’s been highlighted about blackholes in the movie was the protagonist,
Cooper’s, brave sacrifice to get sucked into Gargantua in order to propel his colleague
into the final planet that might just be the next Earth that they are looking for, Edmund’s planet.
Now, if you’re a fan of astrophysics, I’m guessing you went mad when Cooper went in,
travelled straight into the event horizon, and got into another place in one piece. Well,
my dear friend, I want you to calm down a bit so I can offer you a few explanations to that.
As explained in the movie, Gargantua is what’s considered a gentle singularity.
For the purposes of the film, what that actually means is that there’s a chance you might survive
the event horizon, once you attempt to travel into it. Now, what happens when you get across,
that’s what’s gonna be the surprise inside the box. A new universe?
The same wormhole they travelled in? No way of knowing at that point.
Although, that is not to say that you wouldn’t meet your demise.
As soon as you jump into the event horizon, there’s no way but to go
deeper. It’s just that in the movie, there was an artificial placement of
what they called a tesseract by some “bulk beings”. More on this later.
Neil de Grasse Tyson took a stab on the possibility of survival when falling into a black
hole. According to an interview he did in 2014, he explained that if you are going to beeline
straight into the event horizon, your destiny is inevitable: you’ll be spaghettified faster
than you can say pasta. However, if you followed a certain trajectory curve-balling your way in,
then you just might survive. Take note of the “just might” there as you know, all of these
are purely theoretical of course, and physicists are trying to narrow down the specifics of that.
And the buffet of cosmological knowledge doesn’t end there! Upon jumping into the blackhole,
Cooper, and the AI TARS, ended up in a place which they called the tesseract. A crazy,
out of this world place where Cooper could see his past selves as if they were books on a bookshelf,
free to access the events of his life before leaving for the mission.
What they realized here is that they are in a place where time is a physical object
they can have access to anytime. In our universe, we perceive things to have three dimensions:
some height, width, and then length. However, in the tesseract,
being a four dimensional space, they are free to influence the fourth dimension: time.
Let’s make a parallel analogy to understand this better. Say for example, you are a 2D person. All
you have is length and height, and you live in a piece of paper. Say I, a 3D being, place a mug on
that paper. In your world, you would perceive this to be nothing but a line, but to me, it’s a mug.
And when I change the position of that mug,
you’d be amazed by how that line suddenly disappears and reappears in your space
as if it’s magic. Credits to Edwin Abbott who wrote Flatlands for this analogy by the way.
Now, this is what was portrayed as bulk beings in the movie.
From their perspective, time is the mug that they can freely move about anywhere they like.
But to us, it’s a magical thing that’s beyond our understanding and control!
This is what Cooper and TARS experienced in the last few moments of the movie.
They finally found out the secret to manipulating spacetime,
and relayed it to a time in the past using a watch that he gave to his daughter,
Murph.Which of course, led to the salvation of mankind, and a loopy space station near Saturn.
There’s still a lot more to talk about, like is it possible to loop space as demonstrated
in the space stations, the moving mechanism of the Endurance mission, the Blight and the abundance of
dust bowls in the Earth, but I’m afraid those are going to be topics for another episode.
Leave a like if you’d love to see that episode!
Are there any other movies that you think are worthy of reviewing the science of?
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