Saturday, November 21, 2015

Through the Wormhole - Interstellar

"Interstellar" is one of my favorite Sci-Fi movies in recent memory due to its great use of good physics. There are many theoretical concepts that go into this film, many of which are never portrayed correctly in Hollywood but "Interstellar" seems to be the exception to that trend.  Many of the concepts raise many questions but the two I would like to draw attention to are Miller's planet and Wormholes as these two plot points have drawn the most questions out of me.  I chose Miller's planet because of the oddities behind, seemingly covered in liquid water and massive waves but only with a few feet of water on the surface seems far fetched.  I went with the wormhole directly since it is the most fiction concept in the film due to the fact that it is not a natural occurrence.

Miller's planet is extremely interesting because of its composition and position relative to Gargantua.  It is the closest planet to Gargantua that was shown in the film and possibly the most unique, seemingly covered entirely with water it is a rare planet  and even has a substantial atmosphere but too extreme to live on.  Not just because it has 130% of Earth's gravity but it is so close to the horizon that it has extremely high levels of gravity acting on it that cause intense tidal gravity.  As seen in the film, massive waves that are 1.2 kilometers high travel over the surface leaving the water in the swells seemingly calm and shallow.  As stated in Kip Thorne's book The Science of Interstellar these gigantic waves can be caused by one of two things, the first being the rocking of the planet due to the amount of gravity being exerted on it by Gargantua.  This intense gravity causes the planet to rock back and forth or left and right causing the water on the surface to slosh around in an event similar to "tidal bores" here on Earth.  The second explanation for this phenomena still involves the rocking but not the surface water sloshing but, instead the mantle below moving around constantly causing hourly tsunamis on the water above.  Miller's planet is not ripped apart by this gravity because one side of the planet is always facing Gargantua, this also explains the extreme time dilation found on the planet.  It is estimated the planet orbits Gargantua once every 1.7 hours, that is a 1.7 hour year.  This means that Miller's planet must be rotating at an extremely high rate in order to keep one side of the planet constantly facing Gargantua, similar to how one side of the Moon is always facing Earth.  The planet would be going at ten revolutions per second and due to the deformed space around it, it would not feel any centrifugal forces, in fact it would seem normal.  
The wormhole in "Interstellar" is probably one of the most substantial plot points as there would be none if it did not exist.  In the film, the wormhole is suspected of being placed near Saturn by an super-advanced race of interstellar traveling beings or inter-dimensional beings.  As Romilly explains, space has been bent and poked through, creating a passageway across an incredible distance, allowing the crew to travel to another galaxy which would be impossible without the wormhole.  What would it take to create something like this and is it even theoretically possible?  The only way a wormhole can exist naturally is on a submicroscopic level, it is from here that Kip Thorne believes an advanced race could create a wormhole or, rather, exploit an already existing one.  They would have to expand the "quantum foam" to a massive size and be able to brace the bulk with some material that will not allow the wormhole to collapse upon entry.  In the film, the wormhole never collapses and the crew is able to pass through it without any trouble at all, showing that whoever put it there knew what they were doing.  The possibility of a wormhole is plausible but only in the hands of a race evolved well beyond our understanding, being that live in the bulk of the wormhole.  The human race could never accomplish something as magnificent as this as we are now but if the movie is correct and we do in face evolve into a higher race then maybe something as monumental as a wormhole would be simple to us.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Star Trek Tech

The 2009 "Star Trek" reboot has gotten good reviews across the board and brings in new fans to the series but has driven some hardcore fans away due to its alternate timeline.  Many of the film's plot points, however, stay true to the original "Star Trek" technology.  One piece of technology that seemed to be accurate is the classic warp drive.  The warp drive is an all important plot device in this film, without the warp drive, the U.S.S. Enterprise would not be able to make it to other planets in the timely manner that it does.  The warp drive allows the Enterprise to travel to far reaching planets and systems in a fraction of the time that it would usually take, the physical limitations without the warp drive are too daunting and the plot of "Star Trek" would be nonexistent without it.  If there was no warp drive, it would take several years, decades and centuries to travel to Alpha Centauri alone. Thanks to the warp drive, U.S.S. Enterprise and other Star Fleet spacecraft can travel several light years in a matter of days or possibly weeks by traveling beyond the speed of light.  Time dilation would be a factor however, the people on the moving Star Fleet ships would age much slower in comparison to the people or creatures on Earth and the planets that they visit since they are traveling well beyond the speed of light.  
Another piece of technology that is central to the plot of "Star Trek"would be the transporter.  The transporter is not really explained but from what I can tell it transports a person or object in a fixed position to another fixed position on a specific transporter pad.  This technology is important to the plot of the film because in several seems it allows the main characters to avoid certain death in an instant.  This is also a plot device for getting Kirk back on the Enterprise and bring Scotty in as a central character due to his equations involving transporting during warp.  This technology would be needed to warp crew members to and from the Enterprise in time sensitive situations such as the rescue on Volcan or beaming Kirk and Sulu during free fall.  Physical limitations would be having to manually travel to the surface of the planet or trying to catch up with a ship during warp which is virtually impossible (at least until "Star Trek: Into Darkness")
It is hard to say whether or not these two types of technologies would be possible outside of science fiction.  Warp drive technologies may be a possibility in the distant future as interstellar space travel becomes more of a necessity but the feasibility of transporter capabilities is low at best.  I do not see a terrible amount of money or time being spent into de-materializing and materializing an organism or object from one place to another.  Not only would this be incredibly dangerous but it would also be wasteful if sufficient transport abilities already exist.  I also do not see the threat of space miners creating a singularity in the center of a planet as a realistic threat in the real world.  That being said, this technology would be useful but finding out how to create it (if at all possible) would not be worth it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Weapons of Mass Destruction

This week we had a fantastic double feature on our hands dealing with World War II era warfare and the introduction of weapons of mass destruction.  The first film,"Fat Man and Little Boy" dealt with the Americans behind the first two atomic bombs and what it was like for a team to be working on such a weapon.  The film began to focus on the moral dilemma of having a weapon that could wipe out hundreds of thousands or even millions of people at a time.  The scientists working on the project began questioning their actions and what they were working on  while the military leaders were mostly pushing for the weapon to be completed, even though Germany had surrendered by this time.  This brings up the moral question, is it right to have a weapon of mass destruction or weapons at the disposal of one man or one country?  "Gojira" attempts to answer this question with a single scientist and his own weapon.  In this film, Godzilla is destroying Japan and taking thousands of lives, a single scientist has created a weapon that can kill the monster while doing research on oxygen but is reluctant to use it because he knows that after he does the leaders of the world will want to use it against other humans.  You can see that the plot from both films begins to converge on this moral dilemma.  On one hand you could let more people die while trying to stop the monster or country slowly.  On the other hand you can destroy the monster in one or two foul swoops but wipe out countless lives in the process.

If I were a scientist doing research that may go into weapons of mass destruction I would most likely stop, contributing to the creation or advancement of such weapons just seems inhumane.  There is no reason to build a weapon that could wipe out millions of human beings, the majority of which are not even combatants but citizens.  I would not be OK with this kind of research but if for some reason I did contribute I would embrace it.  A scientist should never have regrets or doubt themselves in what they do, even if it has terrible outcomes.  A scientist should always live up to their mistakes and either learn from them or suffer the consequences of such actions.  In light of this, if there is a way to avoid the damage or at least reverse it, I would personally try to do one of those things in order to make amends for the possible mistakes to be made.  If working on weapons was the only position for a scientist to take then I would most likely switch fields, I would not mind working on weapons if they were for combat use only and could lead to easier victories but if they are weapons of mass destruction intended on wiping out civilians then I would be forced to decline.  Thankfully, even though weapons have advanced greatly since WWII there have not been anymore nuclear attacks on any nations or aggressors and there does not seem to be any immediate danger regarding such attacks. If such weapons were to fall into the hands of the morally corrupt then concern would be well established but what would be the proper retaliation in this situation?  Dropping more bombs would only lead to more loss of life and the possible end of the world but if nothing is done to stop this kind of aggressor then they would continue to take lives as well.  Here we have a grey area that should not exist, the creation of atomic bombs is a great mistake in human history, I believe that without them the world would feel much safer.  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Day After One Hundred Years

This week we watched the film "The Day After Tomorrow" and saw just what could happen if we stay on the current course and ignore global warming, even though the film had a very inaccurate timeline some of the events in it could actually come true. To avoid this we should take a better look at the aspects of global warming or maybe just one, The aspect I would like to take a look at is the impact on global weather, us residents of Charleston have caught a glimpse of this impact on weather by global warming up close with the recent flooding all across the state of South Carolina.  This is just one example of the extreme weather patterns and evidence of a rising sea level as well as an increase in flooding.  This blog post will be more to show the real time effects of global warming rather than distant future outcomes.  The video below shows us the effects happening to day and that could continue to worsen in the coming decades due to tidal flooding and rising sea levels.
As you can see, flooding is already bad along the East coast and will only get worse due to global warming, not only is flooding itself a problem but along with extreme weather patterns it can turn into a disaster.  We see these disasters unfolding more and more each day and they can all be linked to global warming, more specifically, human-caused climate change.
With the combination of all these events caused by global climate change we can see that something must be done, it may be too late to reverse it but slowing down this rapid change and increase in extreme weather may be viable.  Cleaner, more reliable and renewable sources of energy could be used.  Going green by recycling more, driving less, limiting uses of resources and many other small things could aid in the slowing down of global warming.  With the evidence provided the human race should be acting more urgently in limiting the effects of global climate change to the weather and sea levels because the effects could happen faster than we initially thought.

Friday, October 2, 2015

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey... a classic film indeed, not only for its accurate portrayal of space physics but also for its influence on science fiction movies and movies in general in the years following.  In this review I will be covering three main topics as followed; enjoyment, plot, and physics as well as giving my overall "score" at the end.  This is my third time watching this film and I love it and appreciate even more the third time around, the pacing may be slow but if you can catch all of the underlying themes you see where the deliberate slow pacing is worth it.  Stanley Kubrick is famous for his long, slow, single shots to establish a certain tone and overall setting as well as portray certain themes that would just be ruined if said aloud.  The characters do leave something to be desired but they are far from the central focus of the film, they are but vehicles to take us on the journey that Kubrick has laid in front of us.  Visuals were spectacular, special effects were spot on, and score (my personal favorite) was phenomenal, blaring away at pivotal moments to establish tone and then complete silence to help drive home the theme.  This film is one of my personal favorites even if it is a little difficult to sit through.

As for plot, its a tricky subject to cover but I will do my best.  As the class has established, the pacing is painfully slow but this is on purpose, not only from an artistic point of view but to tell the underlying story that is present in this film.  It starts off with "The Dawn of Man" with the first primates learning to use tools (bones) as they learned from the mysterious black obelisk, after a few scenes of demonstration there is a rough cut to the year 2000 where we see how far humans have come and how far they have gone back.  Humans must, once again, learn how to walk, talk, eat food and even use the bathroom.  Kubrick's slow shots on the flights and the space station show how humans have "dumbed down" in space.  As man establishes its presence in space it discovers, yet, another black obelisk.  Instead of being hesitant like the apes, man immediately goes for contact with the object and is abruptly shown a new way of using tools.  Another sudden cut and we are now in the year 2001, where a space team is on its way to Jupiter.  The Obelisk pointed them towards Jupiter and they have blindly followed.  While on space walks outside of the ship it is silent and all you can hear is the heavy breathing of the crew member, this is to show that man does not belong in space, that man is still out of his element.  Man's new use of the tool has presented itself as the first artificial intelligence but there is a catch.  Man's tool becomes self aware and questions the use of man, even showing signs of feelings.  The "tool" slaughters all of the crew except for one man who is able to stop the "tool" and continue to Jupiter.  Once there, something strange happens that is hard to describe, much less explain.  My conclusion is that whatever higher being has brought man out to Jupiter has now transported them to a fifth dimension where he will take the next step in human evolution since man has been overtaken by his tools.  We see the last astronaut grow old in a matter of minutes but something strange happens in this room other than the fact that he is aging between every cut.  As he eats his last meal he knocks over a glass, the glass breaks but it always looks like the contents remain in the bottom of the glass, an analogy for man.  After the glass is broken he is then shown in bed near death and the obelisk appears in front of him.  It is here to transform him, to evolve humanity again from this broken shell and into a new one.  This is when we see the glowing baby or "starchild" born outside of Earth's orbit.. this is the new species of man.

Now, after that brief synopsis I would just like to point out how well thought out this film really is, every slow shot, every sound, every object on screen served a purpose throughout this entire film and I did not even touch upon it all.  The story of this film is simply amazing and after watching it more than once you will be able to pick it apart and see it for what it really is.  Despite the underlying story the film also excels on the space physics side of things.  As Dr. Fragile stated, this has some of the best physics in film to date and it came out in 1968.  I cannot think of any physics mistakes except for the moon scene.  The astronauts should not have been able to walk on the moon's surface with no "bounce" so to speak.  Other than that I did not see very much wrong with the physics.  The idea of spinning to create artificial gravity was a superb idea, the way the astronauts were depicted in space (the space walks to repair the antenna) were done greatly.  There was no sound in  space and as they jumped from the pod to the spacecraft they moved at what seemed to be accurate speeds.  A scene that particularly caught my eye was when Dave re-entered the ship through an emergency hatch.  The scene was handled almost perfectly, as he blasted his way into a vacuumed part of the ship he was flung against a wall and bounced around until he was able to grab onto the door that led inside.  It was accurate because he kept moving until he was able to gain control and the chamber remained zero-g until he was back inside the ship.  Everything from the awkward walking to the floating pin were executed expertly, its as if the film were actually filmed in space.

A majority of the class seemed to be either upset, confused, in love or just plain bored with this classic but for me, I enjoyed watching it again.  The pacing may be atrocious but as I stated before, it serves a purpose.  Characters are weak and the plot is confusing unless you take the time to dive deeper and give it some decent thought as well as pay attention to the smaller things going on in the film.  Last but certainly not least, this movie is a shining example of good physics coming out of Hollywood.  No huge explosions and sounds echoing through space or a main protagonist defying physics for the sake of enjoyment, this film did everything almost perfectly and even though it was not exciting, it served its purpose and portrayed accurate space physics.  If I were to rate this film I would give it four and a half bones out of five and seal of excellent movie physics.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Here comes the Spider-Man.

The book I chose to do research on is The Physics of Superheroes and the chapter being "Can He Swing From a Thread? - Centripetal Acceleration"  In this chapter, author James Kakalios challenges the comic book minds on if Spider-Man can actually swing from a thread at the speed that he does, would it be able to accommodate for his weight and possibly the weight of others that he may be carrying?  To solve this he looked at the following factors.  Newton's second law of motion shows us that force is needed to change an object's motion.  A change in motion or acceleration is made evident by a change in magnitude or change in direction.  The force that would be acting on Spider-Man while he is swinging in a parabolic arc or semi-circles would be the force of gravity and the force from the tension in the webbing.  Due to these forces he is constantly changing acceleration during the swing.  Since the webbing is providing some of the force acting on Spider-Man it must be incredibly strong in order to hold his weight and the weight of others while providing an outside force.  If the webbing were to snap mid swing, Spider-Man would go falling in the direction at which he was pointing when the web line snapped.  The acceleration acting on Spider-Man provided by the web is identical to that of the acceleration of the moon by Earth's gravity.  If there was no gravity acting on the moon then it would simply fly off with the same velocity that it had initially, just like Spider-Man falling off of his thread.  The author provided us with an equation to show the acceleration of an object being constantly directed onto a circular orbit with a velocity ((v * v)/R = v^2/R) with "R" being the radius of the circle.  The webbing must provide a force (mv^2/R) in order to change the direction of the swing and to support his weight.  The faster he swings, the greater the centripetal acceleration will be (v^2/R).   For example, when Spider-Man swings from a web 200 feet long at a speed of 50 mph the acceleration would be 27 feet/sec^2 as well as the acceleration of gravity (32 feet/sec^2).  With Spider-Man weighing approximately 160 pounds and the force needed to change his motion being 135 pounds, the webbing would have to hold nearly 300 pounds and then other possible passengers on top of that.  Kakalios then states that real spider silk is actually five times stronger per pound than steel cables and even more elastic than nylon.  The webbing is made of thousands of rigid filaments that are a few billionths of a meter wide with fluid-filled channels that distribute out the tensile force along the webbing instead of just on one strand.  The high tensile strength of real spider silk can support a weight of more than 20,000 pounds per square centimeter.  Even a thinner webbing could hold 6,000 pounds, so 3,000 pounds, or even a runaway train, would be no problem for Spider-Man's webbing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Save us NASA... and Gravity

This week we watched another great hit from the 90's, Armageddon.  The premise of the film is that there is a large, Texas-sized asteroid hurdling towards Earth at 25,000 mph and in 18 days it will impact Earth, destroying all life on the planet.  NASA's great plan to stop this "global killer" from reaching Earth... some drillers and a nuke.  In the film the plan is a complete success but in reality... not so much.  Putting aside the drillers becoming astronauts in 18 days with absolutely no qualifications, the physics behind the whole plan just does not hold up.  However, addressing the film itself is not the objective this week, I am, instead, tasked with finding an actual working plan that could save the Earth from impending destruction if need be.

The plan I found to be the most interesting and that actually had some tests done was the "Tractor Pulling" plan.  The plan in itself is simple and almost sounds ludicrous but with some more thought given in to it, might just work but at an extremely high cost.  This plan could go two ways, one is cheap and possibly beneficial to the planet but more risky and the other is expensive but overall more safe than the previous.  The first plan is not really a defense plan but could act as one if the initial test is successful.  NASA plans to sends a probe or probes out to an asteroid headed in our general direction and see if they can alter the gravity of the object and ultimately alter the trajectory of the space rock.  To do this, the probe will fly alongside the asteroid and slowly remove chunks of the rock in hope of changing the objects gravitational field.  The original application of this plan was to be used to bring small asteroids into orbit of the moon so that astronauts could use it as a pit stop on their way to Mars in 2030.  The physics for this plan would be tricky but possible and since this plan is already on schedule to be tested it may very well be the best solution we have to date.  Things to consider when going with this plan would be the mass of the object, the force of gravity of the asteroid (which we need the mass and the radius of the asteroid), how dense the asteroid is and how fast it is traveling towards Earth.  Given the quantities that are needed to be known we can see that changing the asteroid mass would affect the overall gravitational force of the object, possibly changing its course.  For example, all of the planets in the solar system revolve around the sun because of gravity and the huge amount of gravitational pull the sun has, since gravity depends on mass these planets must be at an exact and constant mass to maintain their orbit.  If Earth suddenly became less massive its orbit would change.  The same could be said about an asteroid going towards Earth, since it is also caught in the sun's gravitational field.  The proof is in Newton's equation for the gravity of two objects (Fgrav -proportional to- m1*m2/d^2) whereas the mass of the two objects is directly proportional to the final gravity.  The only problem I see with this plan is that it could possibly put the Earth in more danger, especially in its testing phase.  This is due to the fact that they would be bringing in an asteroid closer to Earth instead of redirecting it away from Earth.  The second plan is quite similar but could prove to be safer, if it is even possible.  For the second defense technique NASA wishes to send one big probe or several probes to throw the asteroid off course using gravity.  This could be a possible solution but only if they could gather enough force to counteract the asteroid's gravity (which could be large depending on the asteroid's mass and radius) and even if this amount of force needed to transmit the required impulse can be harnessed it still must be directed at the rock and forced upon it for quite sometime for the change to be effective enough.  In short, NASA would need to deploy this plan as early as possible to ensure success.  Basically this plan is to change the objects momentum in general.  Quantities needed in this plan would be the mass, acceleration, radius, and overall velocity.