Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Writing: Input Wanted Superhero powers from manipulation of spacetime & mass

  1. Jul 3, 2017 #1
    I am working on a story where superheroes have started to appear. Their powers are all based on manipulation of spacetime and mass, and not on electromagnetism.

    One character is a speedster who can compress time. He can experience many seconds while everything around him experiences one second.

    What I can't wrap my head around is what physics would need to happen to make a small region of space have a faster clock rate. Slower - sure. But faster? Would the hero have a different speed of light? Would his 1g acceleration toward the Earth be modified?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2017 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    Why would you expect their to be physics to support something that goes against physics? You'll need to just make something up. I don't see why that should be a problem. Most scifi stories do it. It's the STORY that is important.
  4. Jul 3, 2017 #3
    The story universe I am building doesn't break physical laws, to the best of my ability. The "magical" sufficiently advanced technologies that allow this kind of effect are based on physics outside the standard model - so obviously it is speculative - but the new laws should not contradict the physics we know.

    The narrative arc of the story is established, but the details are often driven by real world constraints. I'm sure faster time would cause other effects, but not at all clear on what those effects might be. I write more interesting stories with deeper jeopardy and less plot armour when I work with those kind of constraints.
  5. Jul 3, 2017 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    Seems to me that the first effect of "faster time" is that he would suffocate since his metabolism would, presumably, follow the faster time (else not much point in it) but the air around him would not. You also have the problem of the boundary layer between his region of faster time and the rest of the world. Does it end at his skin? His clothes? Why? How?
  6. Jul 3, 2017 #5


    User Avatar

    Just "write" him as being really old... :ok: ?
    Seems to me that... the older I get, the "faster time" goes...?
  7. Jul 3, 2017 #6
    I am trying to stick to the forum guidelines here, asking a specific question about the physics of a situation. I have other ways to deal with the issues above, so they are out of scope for this question. I have a plausible power source to all this too.

    At this stage I do not understand what happens inside the bubble well enough to decide where it ends. My narrative preference is that it ends at his skin, or very close to the boundary of his tissues, but I'm not willing to pin that down until the physics is explored.

    The reading I have done so far has lead me in strange directions. Do you need a steep gravity 'hill' - the inverse of a relativistic gravity well - to make speacetime distort into a shape where time flows faster? Maybe negative energy? Or a local change to the speed of light/causality?
  8. Jul 3, 2017 #7

    His age is 38 at this stage - changing it would break some important relationships. OOTH this story is happening while humanity is crossing the event horizon of the technological singularity, so tech like youth-restoration is popping up. Dare to dream.
  9. Jul 4, 2017 #8
    My first thought was plumbing Suppose our sub hero uses the toilet. Things happen in the stall at 4X rate while the nearby plumbing is still in normal time. Flushing the stool could cause a backup and overflow. The water and poo are trying to leave at 4x rate but fail. Alternatively the whole toilet mechanism could be in his time zone so the flush leave the stool as we expect but a plug of water blasts down the drain and causes a sewer eruption.

    Electrical wiring gets fun. The wall current oscillates at 60 cycles per second. A device used by the sub hero uses 15 cycle per second power. 110V current shorts into the neutral line and disrupts other appliances.

    The sub hero could fight his enemies by causing an uneven flow in their circulatory system. The end result could be similar to darth vader choking admiral motti except that he needs a victim's extremity to be at a different time than the heart. So he flops down at the enemy's feet.

    His metabolism would not appear different inside of him if all of him is in his time zone. The radiation emitted would be off equilibrium. Black body radiation from the surrounding air and walls would be red shifted. To an observer our subhero would radiate blue shifted blackbody radiation. If he is holding a flashlight someone else will see a UV light but the subhero sees normal light because the reflected UV shifts back to visible. Lightbulbs outside of the time zone will look dim and redshifted to him. The net effect would cause him to cool off and freeze very quickly.

    Thermal conduction could be much worse. Water molecules, for example, remain liquid because they bend, stretch, and rotate. If the boundary between time zones is sharp then a water molecule rotating at 4X time will interact with (and donate motion to) molecules outside the boundary and 4X rate. If the gradient is gradual water would still move heat just as fast, each molecule is slightly faster than the adjacent molecule. If the sub hero gets into a pool the water freezes inside his time zone and boils slightly outside of it.

    Air would have a similar cooling. But molecules inside of the time zone move quickly. Once they leave they slow down. So air pressure inside the time zone should plummet. So suffocation like phinds said but not because of metabolism.
  10. Jul 4, 2017 #9
    tl;dr: THANK YOU for your help so far. Q2 is the one that is really bothering me.

    That would be a very interesting effect. I'll stick with lightspeed invariance for this just to maintain this visual! (Unless Q2 causes insurmountable problems in other ways. :) )

    Q1) How do I conceptualize and then calculate that red/blue shift? Should I be thinking in terms of the rest of the universe falling into a gravity well? The 'reality' is that he is putting himself in a gravity 'hill' compared to the rest of reality, but I'm not sure if that even has meaning in terms of spacetime curvature.

    Q2) What would happen to local gravity for the speedster and for the stuff around him? I feel like this would mean some seriously messed up local gravitational gradients, but I don't even know where to start on that. This could turn in to a really interesting last-stand attack.

    Another very interesting implication I had not even begun to consider. The super(s) are all Captain America level tough, and no matter the tyre of fowler they can't activate it for very long. He would get cold, but likely not dangerously so.

    See, this is why I want the physics to be as realistic as possible. So many fascinating consequences that add delicious consequences to the narrative!

    Good point. These supers are able to spend a few minutes in hard vacuum before CO2 buildup starts to cause them real grief, so our speedster will be OK. They are also fast - able to sustain a running speed like Cap, Bucky, and Buack Panther in MARVEL's Civil War movie - so et es conceivable he could reach speeds in the range of Mach 1. The shock wave just shy of that speed might provide enough air tensithy to compensate.

    Thanks again. This is awesome.
  11. Jul 4, 2017 #10
    A photon moves at light speed. It has energy, wavelength, and frequency. They are all interchangeable. Double frequency = double energy = half wavelength. So purple at 400 nanometers would have twice the energy per photon as 800 nanometer light which is almost still visible in red. light always travels at 3 x 108 meters per second. A 4 x 10-7 m wave (400 nano) will cycle 3/4 x 1015 times. That would usually be stated hertz. 750 terahertz. A shift from 400nm to 800nm (purple to red) is also a shift from 750 terahertz to 375 terahertz.

    When you change time then cycle per second (hertz) changes too.

    Phones and radios would also stop working. You could build a specialized phone that used lower frequency signals. If he does a 4x time shift he needs a radio that dials to 25.3 in order to listen to 101.1 FM.

    You also have to worry about costumes. A lot of super heroes dress in red and blue and try to kill anyone wearing "bad colors". If your hero's costume shifts from red to sick green he might get whacked by friendly fire.
  12. Jul 4, 2017 #11
    Thanks! I figure he might hit 10x eventually, which might be enough to make his body heat into 80nm UV. I wonder what he would look like after that? His black body radiation at what, microwave wavelengths, would be shifted into the visible spectrum. The radio issues will make for some interesting plot points.
  13. Jul 4, 2017 #12
    no, 12 micron radiation at 10X would be 1.2 micron. That is still infra red.

    After I walked away for awhile I occurred to me that he could wear a rainbow suit to avoid the friendly fire. Then I remembered that superman went soft in the presences of green kyptonite. If rainbow man wraps his arms around superman then superman could be inside the same time zone. The green cryptonite will blueshifts to blue cryptonite. Blue cryptonite is the antidote and will make superman hard again.

  14. Jul 6, 2017 #13
    I misread the spectral chart on Wikipedia. Thanks! His colours would shift and distort, but not crazily.

    Any thoughts on the gravitational effects?
  15. Jul 6, 2017 #14
    A distortion from 60 seconds per minute to 66 seconds per outside minute would be a full color shift. A green shirt at 450 nm becomes a orange almost red shirt at 495 nm. That would look crazy and is only 10%. But it is not body heat.

    I am not sure about gravity. If you drop a rock it is accelerating at 9.8 ms-2. When it drops into his time zone the s-2 is effected but no more so than anything else. Things may be hitting the floor harder but would be very similar to the air pressure problem. Things move away.
  16. Jul 7, 2017 #15
    Not crazy as in 'not shooting out gamma radiation', I mean. The visual effects will be really interesting!

    If he is in a 9.8 ms-2 field and shifts to double-time, the external field is still 9.8 ms-2. He's not altering the gravity well of the Earth.

    ...maybe this only makes sense if he is altering the gravitational constant? I mean a local spacetime hill causing a t'=2t would require insane negative mass otherwise, right?

    (From http://genesismission.4t.com/Physics/gtd.htm)
  17. Jul 7, 2017 #16
    A super hero with his own time is not really "realistic", "believable", or "scientific". I was assuming that we allow one change and then work out the implications. Why would he have a hill?

    G has units N⋅m2⋅kg-2.
    A newton, N, has units kg⋅m⋅s-2.
    The speed of light, c, has units m/s

    If you alter the time then you have already altered the speed of light and the gravitational constant. If you are observing rainbow dude and he drops a pencil the pencil will fall faster. Specifically if time looks 2X then the pencil hits the floor in half the time you would otherwise expect it to hit the floor.

    Just in case, I would recommend not claiming that a character is carrying a small dense mass that is distorting space with gravity. Small artificial black holes are also called a "kugelblitz". The time dilation effects a few meters out would not be very noticeable. Some other effects would be very noticeable. Isaac Arthur has a nice you tube channel and made an episode on micro black holes and another one on black hole starships.
  18. Jul 7, 2017 #17
    Yes, I am explicitly aiming to make as few impossible changes to physics and trying to understand the implications.

    Based on my limited understanding ot the math, I think there is a fairly simple proportional relationship between rate of flow of time and the gravitational constant. I maen, we don't change M or r (at the Earth's surface), and leave c alone. Since t is proportional to G, making G bigger makes t bigger - makes the local 'speed of time' faster.

    I was visualizing spacetime in terms of space stretched downward into a 'gravity well' and naively thought that the appropriate conceptual model for altering the relative rate of time flow would to be 'higher up' the gravity gradient. Thus a 'hill'. Thinking through Einsteins thought experiment on time dialation, I can now see the problem. The gravity well isn't stretched down. It's just stretched out. The reverse would be compressing spacetime, not 'going up'.

    But Wait, There's More...

    Altering the ratio of G to t with invariant c would mean that space is pinched or compressed in that region, compared to the surrounding spacetime, right? Not stretched out like from acceleration (inertial or gravitic), but stretched in. Accellerated objects look shorter in the direction of acceleration, right? Would this mean increasing G would make the superhero stretch out or expand from the outside observer's perspective? Would compressed space be equivalent to a reduction in experienced acceleration from gravity too?

    I really am trying to not break any physical laws we know. Constants are just there. If there is a ToE, perhaps it will one day let us do 'magic' like mess with a universal constant or two. :)
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted

Similar Discussions: Superhero powers from manipulation of spacetime & mass
  1. Superhero shenanigans (Replies: 17)