What did you think of the science in Interstellar?

What did you think of the science in Interstellar? The film was based on the ideas of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne and Neil deGrasse Tyson thought the science was credible. 

Originally shared by Science on Google+

Science of Interstellar

Theoretical physicist Professor Kip Thorne served as a scientific advisor to director Christopher Nolan on his film, Interstellar. Professor Thorne was a academic at California Institute of Technology from 1967 to 2009 and remains an Emeritus Professor. Professor Thorne has released a book explaining the science behind the script, including discussion of wormholes, black holes and interstellar travel (http://goo.gl/KF5kQW).

Professor Thorne tells Nature News & Comment that the initial idea for the film came from him and his producer and colleague Lynda Obst, which initially interested Steven Spielberg, but that the Nolan brothers eventually took over the script and changed most of it except the “warped space-time and splendidly fulfilled our vision of a science-fiction movie with real science woven deeply in its fabric.” Thorne’s equations were used to “compute what a camera would see through the wormhole”: He explains:

“Black holes do not emit light, so you visualize them through gravitational lensing — how they bend light from other objects. I took equations based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity and created a description of a wormhole with three parameters: diameter, interior length and the degree of flare where the wormhole joins the external Universe.” (http://goo.gl/YBAorD)

You can watch Prof. Thorne speaking about his scientific input in the video below or head to the film’s website to see more of the science as it appears in the film, including Prof Thorne’s equations! (http://goo.gl/GoegmQ) .  

Thumbs Up for Science

Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has been critical of the science in other films like Gravity, has given Interstellar the nod of approval in terms of its depiction of science. On Twitter, deGrasse Tyson says the science is solid, and except for critiquing a scene involving violence between two scientists, he also notes that the film is notable in having depicted gender diversity amongst its central STEM characters. Below are his tweets:

In  #Interstellar: The producers knew exactly how, why, & when you’d achieve zero-G in space. http://goo.gl/ogDgTF

In #Interstellar: You observe great Tidal Waves from great Tidal Forces, of magnitude that orbiting a Black Hole might create. http://goo.gl/dY2OOU

In #Interstellar: You enter a 3-Dimensional portal in space. Yes, you can fall in from any direction. Yes, it’s a Worm Hole. http://goo.gl/fgdpYQ

In #Interstellar: They reprise the matched-rotation docking maneuver from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but they spin 100x faster. http://goo.gl/Ydsk79

In #Interstellar: Of the leading characters (all of whom are scientists or engineers) half are women. Just an FYI. http://goo.gl/2N4dtk

In #Interstellar: On another planet, around another star, in another part of the galaxy, two guys get into a fist fight. http://goo.gl/uG3w67

In #Interstellar, if you didn’t understand the physics, try Kip Thorne’s highly readable Bbook “The Science of Interstellar” http://goo.gl/eCWF5C

In #Interstellar: They explore a planet near a Black Hole. Personally, I’d stay as far the hell away from BlackHoles as I can http://goo.gl/yGzY75

Hollywood Meets Science

Thorne is not the first high-profile scientist to consult on a big budget film, of course. Professor Brian Cox for example was the Science Advisor on Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. While the basis of the science for the film was correct, Cox has explained that the producers asked him to tweak the science. Watch him talk about how he “scientifies the film,” in director Danny Boyle’s words (http://goo.gl/JkhnJy).

Astrophysicist and Science on Google+ moderator, Professor Brian Koberlein,  recently wrote that while films are now aiming for stronger scientific “reality,” he has mixed emotions about the impact of cinematic attempts to capture astrophysics. He argues that films can either help the public make an emotional connection to science, or feed misinformation:

“If a manned mission to Mars can be made with the hum of a computer rendering farm, what’s the big deal about landing on a comet. Our real triumphs pale in comparison to cinematic dreams. Then again, these dreams might actually inspire us to continue exploring. From cinematic dreams we may find the ambition to make them real.”  (http://goo.gl/x3Jkf0)

Over to You, Science Lovers!

If you’ve seen the film, what did you think of the science? Please keep comments focused on science rather than other aspects of the plot please. Are there other films you love that are scientifically accurate?

#SoG+CuratorsChoice #science   #stem   #physics   #astrophysics   #space  

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13 Comments


  1. Filippo Salustri The corrections Philip Plait made stressed that he’d made a mistake on the science in the film and that his problem was with the plot. He writes: “Knowing some scientists who are science advisers for scripts (and having done it myself), I know that many times movies and TV show scripts are plotted out long before a scientist comes in to look at them….This is so common I assumed that’s what happened with Interstellar, too. After all, Thorne knows more about black holes before breakfast than I do in my entire lifetime, obviously. As it turns out, my operating assumption wasn’t accurate, and that colored my thinking as well.


    I’ll note that in my review I wanted to write about some of the good stuff in the movie—the near-future Earth felt gritty and real to me, and the depiction of the tesseract was extremely clever and well-done—but when the review hit 2,000 words some stuff had to go! That may have helped make me look more the curmudgeon than I am.


    So, to sum up: The science in the movie of time dilation near the black hole was in fact accurate, I made a mistake, and for that I apologize. But for me, the movie as a story still missed the mark. Good science does not necessarily make a movie good.” (emphasis added, http://goo.gl/dGE5AE).


    So he’s saying the science was accurate, but he didn’t like the story (the dialogue in particular).


    This thread is about the science, not the plot, nor dialogue.

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  2. The science was credible?  Are you kidding me?  Humans have to leave Earth because a plant fungal infection will consume all the nitrogen in the atmosphere?  Really?  …and the simplest solution to this fungal infection is to build giant starships and travel through a wormhole to a different galaxy?  LOL!


    Also, don’t you think that the technology necessary to stop a fungal infection just might be a little simpler than intergalactic travel?

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  3. Rennie Allen Another problem I have with the movie is this “suicide mission” thing they do: They send humans on a one-way ‘scout’ trip to unknown planets… Why would you do that when you have robots at your disposal??


    Robots don’t need spaceships with life support, they don’t need living space, they don’t need food, they don’t have an Ego that will make them fake their reports, they can last for centuries if needed and continue to collect data…


    Earth is in ruins, what’s left of civilisation is reduced to the standards of developing nations (“3rd world”), … but they can afford to build many super-expensive space ships and send their last remaining astronauts on suicide missions to unknown planets… although they have AI-controlled (“smart”), super-robust robots that they could have sent instead?


    That didn’t make much sense to me. :/

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  4. The movie was really good, maybe the best sci-fi film I’ve ever seen.


    The science you could pick apart of course but the only part of it that seemed a bridge too far to me was the planet orbiting a black hole near the event horizon, unless I misunderstood the dialog.

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  5. “Quantum” love? Hrm… lost me at the word quantum. Cool idea, but very very unrealistic in terms of the fighting scientists and the concept of “controlling” gravity to get out in space only to need to figure out how to control gravity again out in orbit. Hrm.

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  6. Pretty much everything in the movie was cockamamie. The fact there was a Saturn 5 sized rocket to launch the vehicle into space, but then when they get to the foreign planet they fly down and back up without issue even though it had 1.3x earths gravity. Then they fly down and up again at the second planet. This movie had the worst science in it.

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  7. Linda, yes… the 4/5th episode of the remade cosmos goes into great detail of this theory proposed recent (i believe the paper was published in 2012) about the idea of black holes being the singularity that we can track down to what we refer to as thre “big bang”… and that every black hole leads to yet another singularity with it’s own big-bank universe… much like quarks in a cell, or strands of DNA.. all interconnected…. it’s a cool idea

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