Hello there puny humans,it has been more than 4 months now that Interstellar came out, and since then, it has been one the most talked about movies of last year. Critics accuse fanboys of hyping the film too much and over-looking its mistakes, while fans of the movie are annoyed that people seem to deliberately nit-pick just because it's made by Christopher Nolan and they want to see him fail. Despite all that, it is undeniable that the science presented in Interstellar is amazingly accurate for such a fantastical and large-scale sci-fi adventure. Not only was Kip Thorne (one of the leading experts on gravitational theories) advisor and producer on the film, but other theoretical physicists like Clifford V. Johnson (i.a. science consultant for the Discovery Channel), and even the famous Neil deGrasse Tyson praised the movie for its realism. So which parts are fact and which are fiction? I've worked my way through tons of videos and articles to find out, and though I'm still no science expert, I think I am now able to break it down for you! But those who haven't had the pleasure of watching this film yet, be aware: There is spoilers ahead!
1. Another One Bites the Dust
|Scene from Interstellar|
|Photograph of a Texan Farm, 1935|
This phenomenon was caused by the dramatically quick increase of agriculture in a short amount of time, which was the result of the government funding the cultivation of land. This could easily have happened in the film, as here too, the government is supporting the idea of people becoming farmers due to the food shortage.
2. Sleeping Tight
To travel as far of a distance as the crew of Nolan's "Lazarus" mission does, its members put themselves into cryo-sleep. This technique, which is based on the principles of an animal's winter sleep, does not exist yet, but agencies like NASA are doing a lot of research on that matter, hoping to use it for a manned Mars mission. Eventhough they have yet to come up with anything beyond the therapeutic hypothermia that is used as a medical treatment today, there are a few cases that lead them to believe that cryonics might actually work:
Mitsutaka Uchikoshi of Japan purportedly survived 24-days without food or water after falling in snow and entering a hypothermic state. Erika Norby, a one-year old, was revived after her heart stopped beating for over two hours when accident left her exposed to -20 C weather conditions and her core temperature dropped to 17 C. And in 1999 Dr. Anna Bagenholm, at 29 years old, was revived after her heart was stopped for 3 hours after being submerged under ice while skiing. So who knows, maybe one day this bit of fiction might become reality...
Of course to get to a whole different galaxy as far away as the one in the film, even cryosleep wouldn't have helped because it would have taken way too long. In Interstellar however, the crew manages to overcome this obstacle because of a little help they got from "them". And what "they" did was placing a wormhole in the perfect spot for the spaceship to take a shortcut.
|A "two-dimensional" demonstration of a wormhole|
So eventhough wormholes are not proven to exist, the movie Interstellar uses the most current theories about them. Also its visual design is quite accurate, because as said in the film itself: A hole in space must be three-dimensional and therefore more of a spherical shape.
4. Surfing Safari
After a juddey ride through the wormhole the spaceship lands on a planet covered in water. Just a couple of minutes have passed when the astronauts realize that what they thought to be a very high island on the horizon is actually a mountainous wave coming towards them. Not all of them make it back before it hits and so the crew has to deal with their first losses.
Naturally, a lot of viewers thought that the wave was just a little gimmick the writers made up to give their characters at least some kind of challenge, but here too, the events are scientifically logical. On earth, low and high tide are created by the gravitational pull of the moon. A "bulge" in the water forms right under it, but as moon and earth are both moving without our notice, it actually looks like the water is moving. In the film, the planet they landed on is said to be incredibly close to the black hole "Gargantua" which has a gravitational pull that is significantly larger than the moon's. As a result, the "buldge" is substantially larger here and appears to be one giant wave. The only thing the film does get wrong is that it would not have such a peak and be much less steep than portrayed on screen. But that just wouldn't look as menacing...
5. What time is it?
Water is not the only obstacle the crew of the Lazarus mission has to face after their first touchdown. Every hour that passes on this planet equals seven years on our earth. What sounds like a crazy reversed-Inception-dream-time logic is actually one hundred per cent possible and plausible.
This kind of phenomenon is in fact relevant here on earth as well. Some GPS satellites are so far out of our planet's gravitational field that their clocks must run a little slower in order to match the ones on earth.
6. Holes in Space: The Black ones
We've heard a lot about Gargantua by now, but what exactly is a black hole?
|"Gargantua" from Interstellar|
Now, if anyone (like Matthew McConaughey apparently) was crazy enough to jump into a black hole, it is wrong to assume that this person would die immediately. In fact, there is a point called the event horizon, which is where the black hole's pull is already strong enough for you to never get out again, but where you haven't reached the singularity yet. You'd probably even have a breathtaking view, but as soon as you left the event horizon you would get spaghettified. Yes, this is actually a term used by scientist to explain the horrible and (most likely) deadly stretch that your body would experience...
7. The Tessaract (...not from Marvel)
This is where we go deeper into the fiction part. After his jump, Joseph Cooper doesn't look like a spaghetti at all (or dead for that matter). On the contrary. He lands. And where does he land? Well, behind the book-shelf in his daughter's room...
At this point in the film, we don't really know if this is supposed to be the inside of Gargantua or if "they" somehow transported him there before he reached the end of the event horizon (the latter of which actually being less and more plausible at the same time). However, thinking that all scientific aspects of the movie have been thrown out of the window by now would once again not do it justice. I will not discuss the exact content of the ending here (though I personally quite like the message of love transcending space and time), and instead will focus on its visualization:
The difficulty the filmmakers faced here is that Coop' is supposed to be in a four-dimensional room. As the movie explains as well, for four-dimensional beings traveling through time would just be what walking up or down a hill is for us. Unfortunately, a visible fourth dimension is literally unimaginable for our brains. Yet, Nolan still gives it his best. He and his animators tried to construct something similar to a tesseract, which is to the fourth dimension what a cube is to the third (or a square to the second). When rewatching the scene you will notice that the "tunnel" that Cooper is stuck in is actually made up of a lot of cubic shapes. Further, (and just as explained before,) he is able to travel forwards and backwards in time by simply moving up, down, left or right inside the tunnel.
Thus, it might be a very speculative, but also a very ambitious way to portray a four dimensional room.
8. Cooper Station - or: Very weird baseball
|space-colony art (1970)|
So even this time Nolan has drawn on real scientific theories...
Aaaand that's it! I hope you enjoyed this in-depth look at Interstellar. It was lots of fun writing and researching for it, and I hope I didn't bore you to death with my newly gained knowledge. What were you surprised about? What did I miss? What did I get wrong? How are Joseph Cooper and his dad-in-law drinking beer eventhough corn is the only existing grain?* Feel free to discuss any of that and more in the comment section, and thank you so much for reading!
*the answer: corn beer exists