Interstellar: the science behind the movie

Posted by er134 at Nov 11, 2014 05:05 PM |
Leicester astronomer Professor Martin Barstow dispels movie myths

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi blockbuster 'Interstellar', starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, opened at the UK and Ireland box office last week and grossed £5.3m in its first three days.

The film centres on a group of space explorers who travel through a wormhole in search for a new habitable planet.

While the highly-anticipated space epic boasts impressive special effects and a glittering cast, some space experts have been inspecting the real science behind the movie.

In an article on the Mail Online, Professor Martin Barstow (pictured), President of the Royal Astronomical Society and Professor of Astrophysics at the University revealed how scientifically accurate the film actually is. Warning: This article may contain spoilers.

Professor Barstow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of our College of Science and Engineering, said of worm holes: “I don’t think they really exist. Explaining how one might work is really in the realm of science fiction. There’s no direct evidence such things exist in the universe.

Artist concept of matter swirling around a black hole. (NASA/Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital)

“We know about black holes, but the idea of something connecting different parts of space is very much an idea in its infancy.”

On surviving in a black hole …

“The gravitational field is extremely intense and changes very quickly. The idea is that anything that falls into it becomes like spaghetti, stretched out by gravity.

“So there’s no chance that anything or anybody could survive in a black hole. Communicating out of one is also impossible."

On orbiting a black hole …

“You can orbit one as long as you don’t get too close.

“In astronomy we see lots of systems in orbit around a black hole, usually a system with a star.

“You can certainly see those systems but once you get inside the event horizon [of the black hole] dramatic physics happen, and you spiral in and are consumed.”

On whether planets could exist around a black hole and if they would be habitable …
Artist concept of planets and bodies in our solar system. Image credit: NASA/JPL

“There's no reason why they couldn’t [orbit a black hole], although nobody’s ever detected one.

“The problem would be how stable a system is. I don’t know enough about the calculations on that.

“So it’s a bit hard to say for sure if you could have it. But provided anything in orbit is outside the safety limit, it’s perfectly possible. What’s more likely is a star orbiting, and a planetary system around that star. Any planetary system associated just with a black hole would probably be consumed.”

On whether there is such a thing as a 'gentle singularity' as far as we know …

“What’s important is that you can have black holes with different masses.

“So the singularity is essentially the central point, but there’s this concept that all black holes are finite mass that don’t just disappear into space, and that’s how we detect black holes because mass influences material around them.

“In a simplistic view of physics, the masses collapse down and depending on how much mass is there, they must occupy different volumes of space.”

Interstellar_film_poster.jpgOn the way the astronauts age in the film due to time dilation …

“That’s pretty much established.

“That comes from special relativity, which is the theory proposed by Einstein, the idea that bodies travelling at different speeds experience time differently.

“For example, the astronauts that went to the moon that travelled faster than any human being would have aged a tiny bit more slowly than anybody else on Earth, but not enough to notice.

“But once you get up to near the speed of light, and that’s quite a hard thing to do, you would notice these effects. And we see them going on when we observe fast moving objects in the universe.”


Read the full article via Mail Online

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