Admin and Founder of The Secrets of the Universe and former intern at Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, I am a science student pursuing Master’s in Physics from India. I love to study and write about Stellar Astrophysics, Relativity& Quantum Mechanics.
This is a guest article by Bogdan Teodorescu from Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
There are many reasons and happy events that happened in my life. They made me decide that astronomy and physics is what I want to do for the rest of my life. One of them was watching “Interstellar”. It is a movie which deals with the greatest problems and concepts of science, a masterpiece indeed. In today’s article, I will mention some of the things that made it so great. In a future article, I will also write about the movies that I found really great and inspiring for the aspiring scientists.
1. The movie’s science was conducted by a Nobel prize laureate
You know what to expect when you see a movie by Cristopher Nolan. Isn't it? But when he teams up with Kip Thorne, laureate of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics, the only thing that can result is a Masterpiece.
Kip Thorne, in case you didn’t know, is the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (also known as Caltech), one of the best universities in the world. He completed his Bachelor of Science at Caltech, and then pursued a PhD at Princeton. He is one of the leading researchers on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Kip Thorne also wrote some legendary books. The include some must reads like “Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy”, and “Gravitation”, a textbook he co-authored. The last one is a little bit difficult, but great for aspiring scientists. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2017, “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves” .
2. All the science is real
One of the most notable things about Nolan’s film is that it is completely scientifically accurate. Kip Thorne said that he doesn’t want any scientifically wrong facts, not even for the sake of the film’s art. Nolan agreed, as long as it doesn’t screw his screenplay. It had been a long debate between the two when Cristopher Nolan wanted the speed of light to be exceeded, but in the end he agreed with Thorne’s solutions. The most creative image of the film, but done with Thorne’s agreement was the one with the clouds on the ice planet, which are a structure that is not very probable on a planet like that.
3. Gargantua was made so that it would not rip Cooper apart
The “spaghettification” is a popular term for what happens if someone enters a black hole’s horizon. However, Cooper did not tear apart when he entered Gargantua. “Why”? It is a question frequently asked by people. The thing is that not every black hole causes this effect. It has a strong relation to the black hole’s mass, which was planned to be 100 million solar masses.
So the point at which tidal forces destroy an object, or tear a person apart depends on the black hole’s size. In the case of Gargantua, we talk about a supermassive black hole (just like the ones at the centers of galaxies). For these galaxies, this point lies within the event horizon, so the person may enter the black hole without noticing anything. However, when getting closer to the center, which is inevitable, the person will still be squashed. What happens in “Interstellar” is that Cooper is saved before getting at the center by the Tesseract.
4. The interviews at the beginning and end of the movie are real
The whole Earth apocalyptic setting is based on the Dust Bowl, which took place in America in the 1930s. The interviews which are showed at the beginning and end of the movie are of actual survivors of the that disaster.
5. Behind the wormhole and Gargantua was a lot of work
The making of Gargantua and the wormhole was a subject of great interest to Kip Thorne. Their imaging is as accurate as possible. Kip Thorne provided pages of theoretical equations, and some images took hundreds of hours to render. This particular imaging of a black hole is one of unprecedented accuracy. “Science fiction always wants to dress things up, like it's never happy with the ordinary universe,”, Paul Franklin, the mind behind the imaging said. But reality, “the ordinary universe” is beautiful. “Interstellar” showed us that, and we thank the whole team for that.
The thing is, no one really knew what a black hole would look like, until the actually built one. Kip Thorne was actually surprised at first. But everything was theoretically correct and in sync with formulas.
Now a frequently asked question (or at least many people asked themselves), is why doesn’t Gargantua look anything like the recently released image of M87, the “real black hole”. There are some differences indeed, but they are in many aspects similar after all. First of all, M87 was seen from a different angle, so the streak of matter seen at Gargantua is not visible at it. It’s just like looking at Saturn from a different angle. You would not see its rings that well anymore. There are also other minor differences, but the simulation is still a great achievement, as said by a lot of scientists.
“The image in Interstellar is almost correct,” Kazunori Akiyama, postdoctoral researcher at the MIT Haystack Observatory who led the team that created the EHT’s image said.
Some few other facts
There are a lot of great things about “Interstellar”, and I would need a whole book to discuss about them. Maybe in time I will adress some more interesting scientific concepts seen in the movie, in independent articles. Until then, there are a few more small things worth mentioning, for example the interesting application of the Theory of Relativity, which we all knew. Did you know that a second on the first planet visited was a day and a half on Earth? Also, the strong winds in “Interstellar” were, as weird as it sounds, made with large fans.
In the end
This is my second article for The Secrets of The Universe. I feel great writing for such an amazing audience, and I thank the team for editing and publishing my articles, and I thank you for reading them.