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Intersteller: Lecture by Kip Thorne

  1. Feb 5, 2015 #1
    It didn't seem too far off topic to let people know about the lecture Kip Thorne (Feynman professor emeritus at cal tech) just finished up about an hour ago (it's now almost 6pm here in Pasadena) at cal tech. He described the early efforts to develop the idea for the movie Interstellar and then described a few of the key scientific concepts included in the move. A premise of the movie was that it be founded on well established science although a few cheats got in there because of artistic questions of clarity for the audience. Some important points:

    (1) The black hole is spinning at a rate believed to be impossibly fast for the purpose of having the time distortion around it be 60,000 times faster than earth time. Without spin, the time distortion would be about 3 to 1. I didn't see the movie, but this seems important to the plot.

    (2) The spin of the black hole had to be ignored in the creation of the images of the black hole because it caused the image to be asymmetric. Artistic license.

    (3) Doppler shift from the spin also had to be ignored because it caused one side of the image to be a different color than that of the other side. Again, artistic license.

    (4) He used a pirated DVD from mexico to show clips of the movie because DVD is not released yet. Some clips he chose not to show because quality was poor. Then his partner (the movie was her original brain child) reminded him that the Academy DVD of the movie was in her possession (egg all over his face).

    (5) The calculations showed that travel through the worm hole wouldn't look any different from approaching the exit from within a dark cave (like zooming in), so they left it out of the movie because it wasn't very exciting. The entrance to the wormhole was shown and can accommodate entry from any direction. How the entry direction maps to the wormhole exit was not specified.

    (6) Many of the effects are only hinted at with one or two words or phrases in the movie. For example, the amount of energy needed to zip around in a space-ship near a black hole is too much for chemical or nuclear energy, so they use gravitational sling shots to get around. It requires 3 or more viewings to actually absorb all those details and shed confusion. It was speculated that this is how the director makes his movies so successful. Also, there was a lot of science about tidal forces that might be experienced by a planet near a black hole that went into the movie to keep the behavior of the tidal effects accurate, again, only hinted at in the film.

    (7) The code developed by the computer graphics guy and girl (both of whom are physicists and experts in optics and live in London or somewhere) is now being used to do real scientific research. A very minor bug was later found and corrected, but only affected very near field calculations and made no difference to the images created for the movie. The calculations originally developed by Kip lead to an equation that takes up 5 full black boards.

    (8) A tesseract which maps time to a spacial direction is used to great effect in the movie. It was the director's idea and apparently Kip was very impressed by the concept and the results (although exactly what is going on and how it all works will require some study after the movie).

    (9) There are beings that live in a 5-D spacetime that is only meters or cm's thick (can't remember) with a varying G which is why gravity in our 4-D spacetime brane propagates as r^2 despite the existence of 5-D spacetime.

    (10) I'm not a movie goer, but now I want to go see it (although LA prices for movies are outrageous). I was bothered by the fact that Mat Mcconaughey was cast, but apparently, according to Kip, he is extremely bright, inquisitive, and scientifically minded. Perhaps I have been premature.

    (11) Professor Brand is a character in the movie who is loosely based on Kip Thorne, the real person.

    (12) Almost forgot, they are working on another physics based movie. I don't believe it is a sequel, but I am not sure. Look for it in 4-6 years.

    Thought this report might be interesting to you physicists out there.

    Rising Eagle
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Good summary , thanks!

    There's a youtube video featuring Kip Thorne and other talking about the science:

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