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

Superman Propulsion

  1. May 28, 2016 #1

    How does Superman fly? Does he emit gravitons or does he control the spacetime curvature since he doesn't have any jet or wind based propulsion system?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 28, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    He's actually kicking his feet really, really, really fast and this drives him forward. It's just faster than you can see.
  4. May 29, 2016 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    2018 Award

    His propulsive force is due to "imaginarium", an element used by many comic book heroes to power their superpowers. Exact properties are unknown, as science has never able to isolate a sample.

    But seriously, I don't think there's an official explanation for this other than "powered by the Sun".
  5. May 29, 2016 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Wow, this is funny...or perhaps ingenious; I'm not sure :smile:
  6. May 29, 2016 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Originally he couldn't fly, over the years superman comics have added more and more powers. But at first all he was just strong which enabled him to run fast, jump high and take a beating (in addition to the obvious of lifting things). The rationale was surprisingly logical by comic standards; krypton had higher gravity than Earth making kryptonians more physically capable

  7. May 29, 2016 #6
    I think he stretches out his right arm so it's ahead of the rest of his body, then he manipulates Higgs bosons in the forward hand.
    The hand then becomes a significant gravity well, so this causes the rest of his body to accelerate towards it.

  8. May 30, 2016 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    1. He compresses space in the front and expands space in the aft.

    2. He can avoid or deflect gravity.

    3. He can jump up real high, and with great speed.
  9. May 30, 2016 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The mechanics were explained in some of the lesser known issues of SM comics, and obey Newton's laws of motion: super flatulence.
  10. Jun 1, 2016 #9
    I always thought it was a telekinetic ability, because he can hover. Otherwise, it's typical DC magic.
  11. Jun 4, 2016 #10
    Jet engines push on air to accelerate.. how do you compute how fast must the feet vibrate to push enough air to propel a person? Remember The Flash. I think this interesting fact must be included in one of the episodes or makes him capable of flight. Remember The Flash can run at 0.999 the speed of light in one episode I saw where he ran around the particle accelerator.
  12. Jun 4, 2016 #11


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    2018 Award

    I doubt phyzguy was being serious with his suggestion.
  13. Jun 4, 2016 #12
    Apparently his power comes from the yellow sun, considering if I am remembering my comics correctly, the Kryptonians had no special powers in their red sun
  14. Jun 5, 2016 #13
    im not sure, but i think that it was just that thier sun was old and dying and so didnt give off enough energy to empower them anymore
    with earths sun giving off much more energy than thier sun, superman is empowerd much more than the other kryptons
    (also due to longer exposuer)

    but as for how he flys, i believe the idea is that he can generate enough energy to offset and exceed the force of gravity
    so itd be differant as to say how the green lantern flies

    superman is exerting force against energy (like a bird pushes against airflow)
    lantern is using energy, to create or cancel force or matter (creates a magic carpet to float on then generates his own wind to blow his sails)
  15. Jun 7, 2016 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Here's an explanation from a Purdue PHD in an old Google newsgroup:

    From: Jim Elliott <j...@physics.purdue.edu>
    Subject: How Superman's Powers Work.
    Date: 1998/09/18
    Newsgroups: rec.arts.comics.dc.universe,alt.comics.superman

    Here's how Superman does the things that Superman does:

    Flight - His brain emits waves which selectively cancel the local
    gravity waves. Thus the speed with which he can fly is associated
    with the local gravitational field. On Earth there's more than just
    the earth's field, we are in the Sun's gravitational field so he can
    use his power to surf along the fabric of space-time that he warps to
    suit himself for his desired movement and speed. To the same end he
    should be able to add his brain waves to the local gravity waves and
    propel himself by surfing along the fabric of space-time even in the
    case where no matter, other than himself is present. His top speed
    would then be limited by his ability to warp space-time. He should be
    able to break the speed of light if he were able to warp space-time to
    a high enough degree, similar to the ideas on how ships from Star Trek
    warp space-time and move faster than the speed of light. With
    sufficient warping of space-time, it would even be possible to travel
    through time. At least the equations of general relativity say so,
    but he would need to warp space-time the same amount as two massive
    black holes. Superman doesn't so much fly as he creates a
    gravitational field so as to fall in the direction and speed he
    wishes. So he's not flying at all, but falling with style. Also he
    could effectively create a shell of atmosphere around himself that is
    not moving with respect to his body or any passenger, thus allowing
    normal humans to be transported at high speed.

    x-Ray Vision - The name is a misnomer, he doesn't emit x-rays.
    Kryptoninan brains have evolved to be able to see in four dimensions.
    Raised on earth clark has lesser control over this ability that his
    parents had. So he can effectively see through or around objects when
    he desires. An example would be a human looking at a two dimensional
    map, the entire grid of the map is apparent to a human with three
    dimensional comprehension. A two dimensional creature living on the
    map with only two dimensional comprehension would have their vision
    blocked by the two dimensional objects on the map. His inability to
    see through lead is a mental block because of his lack of
    understanding about the true nature of his powers.

    Heat Vision - Another misnomer, this ability is an extension of his
    the powers that lead to his flying ability. By altering the local
    gravitational field of the atoms and molecules of the desired object
    he imparts a high degree of random kinetic energy on that object and
    thus it heats up. The waves his brain emits are focused through his
    eyes when used in this fashion, the propagate at the speed of light
    and when his intensity level is high enough, can cause the air between
    himself and the object he is heating to heat up and glow. No glow
    should be visible in space when he uses his heat vision there. When
    shaving or cutting his hair he is not so much bouncing the beams off
    the glass, as he may believe, but merely obtaining a visual target on
    which to focus his heat generating ability.

    Invulnerability - The solar radiation which he absorbs increases the
    binding of his atoms and molecules to such and extent that he becomes
    very, very dense with a density in excess of any terrestrial material,
    perhaps on the order of the density of a neutron star. That being the
    case he is exceptionally heavy, much heavier than a normal human of
    the same dimensions. However, his flight abilities allow him to
    effectively decrease his mass by decreasing his local gravitational
    field, thus rendering him light and not heavy, yet retaining his high
    density and invulnerability. His field of lower gravitation begins
    just beyond his skin, this allows his costume to be pulled snug
    against his body, so tight that it nearly binds with his skin and
    becomes nearly as invulnerable as he is. His flight ability could
    also serve to, reflexively, lessen any impact by altering the
    gravitational field and effective mass of the object about to impact
    upon him.

    Strength - The great mass of his body allows for great skeletal and
    muscular strength. His muscular strength is augmented by his flight
    abilities, allowing him to lift and carry things which would normally
    crumble under their own weight. This, and many uses of the gravity
    altering power, is instinctual and is only focused in the act of
    lifting of physical exertion, therefore he is presently incapable of
    levitating object, other than himself.

    Speed - There are two sources of his speed, one source is his vast
    muscular strength which is used when running or moving his limbs, the
    other comes from his flight ability and is only limited by his ability
    to effect the local gravitational field.

    Super-Senses - His superior evolved kryptonian physiology, combined
    with his great strength allow for higher lens deformation in his eyes,
    thus enabling him to see far further and better that humans. the high
    density of his body allows sound to be transmitted and amplified to a
    much greater degree than humans.

    Kryptonite - Emits a type of radiation that interferes and weakens,
    and eventually destroys the bonds between his atoms and molecules.
    The first effects are to weaken him and make him vulnerable.
    Eventually he will die as his internal organs dissolve.

    Solar energy - is absorbed and stored in the bonds between his atoms
    and molecules. As time goes by more energy is stored and he becomes
    denser, more massive and more powerful. Once exposure his ended he
    loses his powers slowly as the energy stored in the bonds drains away.
    Upon arrival on Earth he had no stored energy, thus he was as
    vulnerable and strong as an ordinary very, very gifted and healthy
    human. As time passed he soaked up the solar radiation, but his
    normal growth and development slowly the accumulation of his powers.
    One he had finished growing his energy levels rose to the extent that
    his powers manifested themselves.

    How's that sound?


    * Dr. James B. Elliott *
    * Postdoctoral Research Associate - Nuclear Physics *
    * Purdue University *
    * Department of Physics *
    * 1396 Physics Building *
    * West Lafayette, IN 47907-1396 *
    * Homepage: http://www.physics.purdue.edu/~jbe/ *
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?