Christopher Nolan’s latest intergalactic cavalcade of scientific phenomenon, Interstellar, has been met with a mixture of adoration and condemnation by the critic community.
There’s no question that the film is one of the most cerebral cinematic experiences mainstream film goers will see this year, or that its worlds are beautifully constructed, coming to life in the coziness of an IMAX theater.
One of the most contentious issues surmised by movie goers is the authenticity surrounding the science in the film. A facet to the feature Nolan blatantly brags about before the movie even begins.
When it was revealed that he was bringing on Kip Thorne, a revered and world renowned astrophysicist who’s spent the majority of his life trying to understand the makeup of black holes and gravitational pulls, the science community nearly fainted with excitement.
Together, Nolan and Thorne promised they would bring scientifically accurate black hole representations to the film, something science fiction fans had been waiting quite some time for.
It didn’t take long, however, for other scientists to start taking their own notes and picking apart Nolan’s representation of Thorne’s work.
Slate’s resident science author Phil Plait collected information and set about debunking some of the most extravagant scenes in the movie.
For those interested in the movie but who haven’t actually made it out to a theater to see it, there will be spoiler alerts in the following paragraphs. You’ve been officially warned.
Black holes and time difference
A large part of Interstellar’s plot relies on the use of black holes to exaggerate the difference in the speed of time Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway’s characters would experience while they were off exploring different planets to use as a secondary home while the Earth literally fades to dust.
According to Plait, while it may be true that time does slow down the closer a planet is to a black hole, it’s utter malarkey to assume that every hour that passed on the planet closest to the black hole is equivalent to seven normal years on Earth.
In order to attain that severe degree in time difference, the planet would have to be literally hovering over the black hole. Unfortunately, a planet must be able to sustain an orbit of about three black hole sizes away from the actual space vacuum to be considered stable.
In other words, if they were that close to the black hole, they would have literally fallen into it.
Black holes and tidal waves
Another issue that Plait talks about is tides. On the aforementioned black hole hovering planet, Hathaway and McConaughey encounter massive tidal waves. As in thousands of feet high tidal waves ensuring a massive amount of devastation and destruction.
Here’s the issue: The kind of gravity enforced on a planet that close to a black hole would be so daunting, the tidal waves would envelop the surface in its entirety. The waves would be so titanic, they would cause the planet to vaporize.
Black holes and the “Accretion Disk”
One of the last problems Plait discusses occurs within the final act of the movie. In order to save himself, and the future of the Earth, McConaughey must actually fall into a black hole. In the movie, he’s able to navigate through the black hole and warn his daughter (played by Jessica Chastain) about everything that’s going on in the world through a form of gravitational pull and Morse code.
The problem with this scenario is pretty blatant, and as Plait points out, one of the more careless mistakes. Before McConaughey enters the black hole, audiences get a glimpse of the “accretion disk.” The accretion disk is a compilation of all the matter about to be sucked into the black hole.
As Plait points out, the problem with this scenario is that neither Nolan nor Thorne took into consideration that accretion disks run extremely hot. Like, millions upon millions of degrees blazing hot. If McConughey had even gotten close to the disk he would have been incinerated in seconds. Good luck saving the world at that point.
More and more of these debunking stories will come out of different publications for weeks to come, and while it might not matter to someone who wants a visually stimulating experience set in space, fans of astrophysics and space in general should take the information they’re being doled out hesitantly.