Interstellar opened in theaters this past weekend and blew the minds of moviegoers with its subject matter of space, time travel and black holes. Days later, people are still mind boggled as to what they witnessed with many questioning whether the film is based on actual scientific fact or is pure science fiction.
The movie takes place in a near and bleak future where our own generation has doomed humankind through their lifestyles of excess and waste. Food no longer grows as abundantly as before in the dusty, inhospitable wastelands and the only way to survive is to leave Earth in hopes of colonizing another planet similar to ours.
Sadly, at the rate we are going today, this scenario is not far from the truth, and our children’s generation could face the same dilemma as those in the film. Fortunately, for the characters, there is a solution to the Dooms Day crisis and gives hope to humanity that there is still time to fix our careless ways.
According to wired.com, the film’s director Christopher Nolan consulted with physicist and cosmologist Dr. Kip Thorne to get the facts as accurate as possible. Thorne also executively produced Interstellar and directly worked with the special effects team to make the film visually truthful. Let us take a few of the most important facets of the film and see if they would hold true according to modern astrophysics.
Warning: The following could contain spoilers so please be advised if you have not yet seen the film. I have tried my best to not reveal any direct plotlines and have refrained from giving away the predictable and dramatic ending.
First, let us look at those super cool wormholes that allowed the characters to cross light years of time and space in a matter of moments. Could this be possible in a real world situation? According to Thorne, it is a very real possibility depending on how you look at the physical makeup of the universe.
Time is not linear and does not have a starting point or an ending point but exists more as a cycle or sphere. Further, the structure of the universe is more like the folds of fabric rather than empty expanses of infinite space. Now, if you can visualize folding this piece of fabric in half and sticking a needle through both sides, you have a three dimensional representation of a wormhole.
That is right people. The universe is a bendable, malleable entity that can fold in on itself and thus create portals to other worlds, dimensions and places. Through this portal, time also bends to reflect the change in the physical structure of the universe and events that are happening in the present are concurrently happening in the future and have already happened in the past. If you are confused then you are not alone. I will explain this spherical representation of time in just a second.
Nevertheless, do not be fooled by this overly simplified explanation. If you want to know how the universe is really constructed, I suggest taking a trip to see your counselor and changing your major to cosmology and becoming a rocket scientist.
Next, let us look at what effect a black hole would have on time and relativity. If you were to approach an object as massive as a black hole, would time slow down for you as opposed to people on earth? To put it bluntly, the answer is yes. Now pay attention as this will get very confusing very quickly.
According to Time Magazine, we should continue to view the universe as a piece of fabric but this time stretch it out as tight as you can, kind of like a trampoline. Now place the heaviest bowling ball you can pick up in the center of the outstretched fabric. This will be our black hole with its incredibly strong gravitational pull. Further, the vertical fibers in the weave of the fabric represent space and the horizontal fibers represent time.
The weight of the ball will cause the fibers of the fabric to stretch out and it cannot stretch a vertical fiber without stretching a vertical one also. The closer you are to the bowling ball the more the fibers will stretch. Therefore, if both time and space are stretched out, dates like birthdays and anniversaries will also be stretched out over time. Did you get that? The closer you are to a massive object like a black hole, the further time and space are stretched out. Have you contacted your counselor yet?
Black holes are incredibly strong and powerful bodies of space and time that employ gravity as a driving force. In fact, they are so powerful that the gravity within them can bend both time and space. It can also entrap light and keep it from escaping once it has entered. With this being fact, is it possible for people and their spacecrafts from entering a black hole and come out in one piece?
The characters in the film do just that and survive but cosmologists and physicists alike do not know for sure what actually happens. Anything and everything that gets near a black hole is sucked into its gravitational force and once inside nothing can be transmitted out. Thus, we actually have no idea what would happen but the makers of the film did a pretty good interpreting what could happen.
Finally, let us look at time and its existence on a cycle. Remember earlier when I talked about events that are occurring in the present tense are also happing in the future and have already occurred in the past? No? Your brain is still swimming with bowling balls and black holes? That is okay. I will try to go slow. This one is mainly theoretical so it may not make any sense at all but just try to keep an open mind.
According to nature.com, cosmologists explain time as a cyclic occurrence and theorize that the universe repeats exactly an infinite number of times. This repetition is what causes the same event to happen on all different planes at exactly the same time. It may sound simple but it actually involves all kinds of theorems, equations and those long problem sets with number, letters and strange symbols from physics class that you never used again.
Interstellar utilized Dr. Thorne as their resident expert but even he succumbed to the pressures of Hollywood and the moviemakers choose plotline over reality. But now you have some facts to help you decide if the movie is more science or sci-fi. Be bold as you step into the unknown and keep your mind open.