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The Science Behind “Interstellar”

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Christopher Nolan is undeniably one of the finest filmmakers of this generation. Known for his large-format film photography and materialistic perspectives, his films have collectively amassed 34 Oscar nominations and 10 wins. With this much credibility within the film industry, it is important for him to deliver an original film with no bogus science. That brings us to “Interstellar”. I wouldn’t call this movie 100% scientifically accurate, but it’s far better than those which defy the fundamental laws of Physics.

Dr Kip Thorne

The reason as to why “Interstellar” stayed true to the world of physics is because of Dr Kip Thorne. As an executive producer and the scientific consultant for the movie, he worked closely with Nolan to write the majority of the plot. In addition to that, he is a theoretical physicist with a demonstrated history working on Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Furthermore, he is a Nobel laureate, bagging the award for his contributions in the observation of gravitational waves. Therefore, with two prominent people, experts on their respective fields, you couldn’t expect for loopholes within the plot.

Earth 2.0

If you haven’t seen the movie, here is how the plot goes. Set in 2067, mankind is not expected to withstand a series of crop blights and dust storms. In short, scientists have already planned for an Earth 2.0. Their quest, however, started 48 years ago wherein they had sent a group of volunteers to survey the potential, habitable planets. These habitable planets are located near a black hole. Furthermore, to get there, scientists use an artificial wormhole(we will get there) near Saturn.

Now to discuss the authenticity. Earth 2.0 is definitely not fiction. There are a group of researchers working on potential candidates for the same. However, thankfully, we don’t have to go through a wormhole and find ourselves near a black hole. Kepler-452b is the one that makes the cut. It lies well within the habitable zone(just about 1,402 light-years). To clarify, it is no way near to a black hole. But it’s obvious. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much drama involved in the movie.

Gravitational propulsion theory

If we are looking for a mass evacuation to save mankind, a traditional rocket system wouldn’t help. Given the fact that there isn’t enough fuel on Earth to travel thousands of light-years, it was important for an alternative. In the movie “Interstellar”, a gravity-driven propulsion system is proposed. In the sense, a system that is capable of decreasing the effect of Earth’s gravitational pull. Although this is quite ambitious, towards the end of the movie, it was shown that a character had cracked it. She found a way to develop this system and take mankind to a different planet.

Needless to say, this is a bit far-fetched. If there’s something that bothered me, and a bunch of others, it would be this “Plan A”. I’m no physicist, but it would have been better if the movie had proposed nuclear propulsion instead of this gravity-defying system. Nuclear propulsion, or “Project Orion”, was a field that promised space travel. However, it was abandoned due to the partial test ban treaty. But, they didn’t abandon it from using it in movies.

Wormhole

As said before, the protagonist along with a group of scientists embark on a mission to find habitable planets. However, in order to reach there, instead of taking a trip across space, the movie proposes the use of an artificial wormhole found near Saturn. This would significantly save time. But, is it possible? Before getting there, it is important to know what a Wormhole. Not to be confused with a black hole, a wormhole is akin to a tunnel that joins distant points in space.

Even though theoretical constructs derived from general relativity support the concept of a wormhole, experimental evidence is still pending. If it is to exist, it would be critically unstable. An unstable system of such magnitude wouldn’t persist for long. As any reaction with the environment would cause it to disintegrate. At the same time, it is not possible to completely dismiss the idea of a wormhole.

Panthalassic planet

Remember the set of habitable planets that the scientist in the movie had discovered? One of them was a panthalassic planet, or “Miller’s planet”. The planet that sees a monster wave periodically. Surprisingly, this wave doesn’t change the water level. Questionable science? This is where “Interstellar” excelled. It is a scientific phenomenon. From Kip Throne’s book, it was clearly mentioned that this wave is a tidal wave, not a Tsunami.

A tidal wave is a bulge in the planet. This bulge is created by strong tidal forces from the outside. “Miller’s planet” orbited around a black hole. What happens is, this solid planet rotates in and out of the wave. Therefore, it would look as if the wave is coming towards you, but you’re the one being rotated towards it. Hence, it is safe to claim “Interstellar” aced the concept of Panthalassic planets.

Relativistic time dilation

Time dilation is a daunting concept. Hence it is obvious for people to not get it right for the first time. In “Interstellar”, 1 hour on “Miller’s planet” is 7 years on Earth. This is relativistic time dilation. To clarify, relativistic time dilation is true.

If you’re on a planet orbiting around a black hole, then you’re deep into its gravitational well. The deeper you are in it, the slower your time ticks relative to everybody else. Hence you get this time dilation effect. Concretely, what “Interstellar” showed us was accurate. Relativistic time dilation is a thing, and it could be traced back to Einstein’s special theory of relativity!

Surviving a black hole

We still don’t know what is inside a black hole. In fact, it is one of the many scientific phenomena that are yet to be solved. However, in “Interstellar” we are given a vivid image as to what to expect. Towards the end of the movie, you can see the protagonist entering into the black hole. Above all, he returns back in one piece. This little stunt bothered many people, including the scientists. There is no way that a person could survive a black hole. The gravitational pull is severe enough to rip you apart in two pieces. That’s not all. Since the space-time forms a funnel, as you are bifurcated incrementally, you will be extruded out of this funnel, like a toothpaste.

But, Neil DeGrasse Tyson believes, one might survive a black hole if they don’t go through the centre. In the sense, if you have a trajectory that doesn’t go through the centre, you will be catapulted out of the black hole in one piece. Scientists are currently working on finding formulations for this trajectory. Furthermore, Stephen Hawking said it is possible to survive a black hole. “If you are in a black hole, don’t give up, there’s a way out”, he said.

Fifth dimension: Tesseract

The ending of “Interstellar” confused a lot of people. People began questioning the science behind it. But it turns out that Nolan and Thorne were right. Though ambitious, Tesseracts do exist. Once you are in Tesseract, you are no longer in a 4-dimensional space. Tesseract is of higher dimension, 5th dimension to be specific. So, the protagonist uses it to communicate with his daughter. He embeds the quantum data required to solve the gravitational propulsion theory, on to his watch in morse code. Concretely, he is altering the events. The protagonist is then saved by “bulk being”. In the film, ” bulk beings” are depicted as humans from millennia in the future.

Science calls Tesseract as a 3-dimensional representation of our 4-dimensional reality inside a 5-dimensional space. If you are still with me, then what is being altered in the movie is an event that already took place. The protagonist is signalling his daughter to not let him go for this mission. But if he didn’t go, he wouldn’t signal her through tesseract. That’s Murphy’s law: Whatever can happen, will happen. Is Tesseract real, we might have to find out. As there isn’t any solid evidence for the same.

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