(WARNING: Spoilers ahead)
Time can be warped in space - TRUE
One of the main themes in Interstellar is that characters can age at different
speeds depending on where they are in the universe. When McConaughey
(Cooper) and Hathaway (Brand) make their ill-fated trip to Miller’s planet
they age by only a few hours, but return to find shipmate Romilly, is 26
Could that be true? Well yes. In 1912 Einstein predicted that gravity is a
product of huge bodies, like Earth, bending space-time. The typical
illustration is a heavy ball placed on a rubber sheet. The sheet bends to
the weight of the ball and stretches time out.
On Earth the effect is minimal, adding just a few microseconds a day to the
time of space. Although it does mean that time is moving ever so slightly
more quickly in a penthouse compared to a basement. Consequently GPS
satellites orbiting the Earth need to be adjusted to take into account that
they are moving through time slightly more quickly – 40 microseconds a day –
than a person with a Sat Nav on earth.
Compared with other bodies in the universe, Earth is quite small and so the
time shift is minimal.
However bodies with more mass have a bigger impact on time. A neutron star for
example is so dense that it slows time by a few hours. At the surface of a
black hole time is slowed to a halt.
What is even more extraordinary is that space is bending into a different
dimension, somewhere that is not part of universe – known to astrophysicists
as ‘the bulk.’
Miller’s planet is as close to the huge black hole Gargantua as it can be
without getting sucked in. The black hole is estimated to have a mass of 100
million Suns, and spinning at near to its maximum speed. While unlikely to
happen in nature, the effect would mean that anyone on that planet would age
just one hour while those outside of the black hole’s pull, like Romilly,
would age seven years.
Slingshotting around a Neutron star – FALSE
The crew of Interstellar’s Endurance spaceship faced a headache when trying to
get to Miller’s planet because it is trapped within the control of the huge
black hole Gargantua.
To avoid being sucked into the black hole, the spaceship had to be travelling
at high speed to escape the huge gravitational and centrifugal forces
In Interstellar, Cooper gets round his speed dilemma by slingshotting around a
the black hole.
Actually this isn’t as wacky as it sounds. In fact the Rosetta mission skipped
around Earth and Mars to pick up enough speed to chase comet 67P
However the speed needed to escape something is massive as Gargantua is huge.
The Endurance would need to be travelling at close to the speed of light to
escape the huge pull of the black hole, and then quickly slow down so it
could land on the planet. The sudden change in momentum would almost
certainly tear the ship apart.
In Interstellar, the crew uses the slow spin of Neutron star to slow down, but
it is unlikely to work. Only another black hole, around the size of the
Earth would have been able to slow the craft down.
Gargantua – TRUE
The film depicts the huge black hole of Gargantua as a black circle surrounded
by a swirling mass of stars and galaxies, almost like a human eye.
The distortion of the stars, known as ‘gravitational lensing’ was generated by
In fact, the computer simulations were so accurate that Thorne and the team
discovered that black holes are slightly concave on one side and have a
bulge on the other. It is the first time the phenomenon has ever been seen,
and Thorne has now produced a scientific paper detailing the discovery.
The black hole depicted in Interstellar is probably the only known accurate
example of what it would look like to a human if you could ever get close
enough to view it.
“Accident is the first building block of evolution” FALSE
On finding that Miller’s planet is sterile, Brand (Hathaway) declares that
“Accident is the building block of evolution”
Brand goes on to explain that life never evolved on the planet because comets
and asteroids would have been prevented from landing by the huge pull of
It is true that comets are believed to have seeded life on Earth – and
possibly other planets – by carrying amino acids and water.
However almost all bodies – planets, comets are asteroids – have a strong
angular momentum and produce their own centrifugal force which will keep
them safe from harm. So Miller’s planet would have been bombarded with
comets and asteroids like all other planets.
Blight on Earth UNLIKELY
The main premise of Interstellar is that Earth is dying and mankind needs to
find a new home before the last crop – corn – is entirely used up, or falls
foul to the unstoppable blight which has wiped out all other grains.
It is true that most people today do not grow their own food and rely on a
global system of production and distribution. It is quite possible that the
system could break down on a small scale however the film doesn’t seem to
address that humans eat a lot of other things, like animals and fish.
And lethal blights usually only attack one group of plants and do not cross
species. Blights which affect more species are generally not that harmful.
Biologist Elliot Meyerowitz of the California Institute of Technology said it
might be possible for a pathogen to evolve which attacks chloroplasts –
cells which are crucial for photosynthesis.
“Without chloroplasts a plant will die. Now suppose that some new pathogen
evolves , for example in the oceans, that wipes out all algae and plant life
in the oceans and jumps to land where it wipes out all land plants,” he
“This is possible. I see nothing to prevent it. But it’s not very plausible.
It is unlikely to even happen.”
Wormholes TRUE AND FALSE
In Interstellar, the crew overcame the vast distances between galaxies by
jumping through a wormhole.
The term wormhole was coined by the astrophysicist John Wheeler who based it
on wormholes in apples. If an ant is crawling around an apple, he could
reach the other side far quicker by travelling through a hole in the centre.
If you imagine the universe is a flat sheet of paper you could travel between
two points by moving in a straight line. However if you bend the paper so
that the points touch through it, and then make a hole, you can reach that
point much quicker.
Essentially, a wormhole is where space and time are being bent so that points
are now closer together.
They can exist theoretically but nobody knows how they could be held open so
that someone could travel through it. It is extremely unlikely they could
exist naturally in the universe. It would take a huge mass, like a Neutron
star, to create a bend in time which could push into ‘the bulk’ and meet up
another such tunnel on the other side. So far, nothing has shown any signs
of doing that.
In Interstellar, Cooper surmises that the wormhole which has been found near
Saturn has been put there by an advanced civilisation. However it is highly
unlikely anyone will ever find a way to bend space time and then rip a hole
in it so it could meet on the other side.
Prof Thorne adds: “I doubt the laws of physics permit traversable wormholes.
It they can exist, I doubt very much they can form naturally in the
“In Interstellar the wormhole is thought to have been made, held open and
placed near Saturn by a civilisation that lives in the bulk, a civilisation
whose beings have four space dimensions. This is terra extremely incognita.”
Living in the Bulk FALSE
Throughout Interstellar, beings which live within ‘the bulk’ are hinted at,
although never named, simple referred to as ‘they’ or ‘them.’
Brand says to Cooper: “Whoever They are, They appear to be looking out for us.
That wormhole lets us travel to other stars. It came along right when we
Nolan’s idea is that ‘They’ are the descendants of humanity, who have learned
to live in five dimensions and can reach through space and time.
It’s just nonsense of course. For a start space in ‘the bulk’ would
infinitesimally small. A human could not exist inside it.
Falling in (and out) of a black hole TRUE AND FALSE
When Cooper plunges into Gargantura so that Brand can escape it seems unlikely
that he will survive. And yet he does.
Although previously scientists thought black holes would destroy anything that
fell into them, they now think that some could be gentle.
From Brand’s point of view, she would see Cooper moving more slowly and
finally freeze as he reaches the event horizon at the edge of the black
hole. For Cooper nothing would seem different.
As Cooper’s ship breaks apart in the force of the black hole, he evacuates and
ends up in a Tesseract – a four dimensional cube, supposedly created by
Because a Tesseract exists in four dimensions it can live within ‘the bulk’
and therefore Cooper can, theoretically, use it to travel back to his
However Cooper would never have been in the Tesseract without the co-ordinates
to the secret desert NASA base. And he is the one who put them there. In the
future. As it is impossible to travel backwards through time and change the
past, the plot falls into a black hole at this point from which there is no
For more detailed explanations read Kip
Thorne’s The Science of Interstellar which is out now.
Article source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/11236384/The-science-of-Interstellar-fact-or-fiction.html