Archives for : gravity

"Man of Steel" shows its rust

This weekend, I saw what is expected to be one of the big “blockbuster” hits of the summer, Man of Steel.

Keep in mind that I will be discussing key plot points and specific moments from the film, so there will be spoilers ahead.

The story of Superman is very well known, and the movie doesn’t break any huge new ground in originality – Superman is an exile on Earth and must (literally and figuratively) rise to the occasion when his adopted home is in trouble. But his origin story does get a bit of a buff, as is the director’s (Zack Snyder) and producer’s (Christopher Nolan) right.

What is new to the franchise is in the first 30-ish minutes of the film when you really get a sense of the Kryptonian civilization. And boy is there a lot of talking – and a giant dragonfly/lizard hybrid.

Jor-El, played by Russel Crowe, grabs the MacGuffin (the Kryptonian Codex) and sends young Kal-El to Earth with it imbued within his cells. We are later told that the codex contains the information for the entire Kryptonian civilization within it.

Here is my first gripe – and this is taking for granted that everything you see in the movie is possible, such as interstellar travel, flight, etc.

But if Clark has every Kryptonian within his cells, he’d have their DNA. And how can billions of people’s DNA exist within every single cell of an individual? Wouldn’t the cells simply die from too much “stuff” in their cells, even if the DNA were inactive? Or wouldn’t the cellular machinery just destroy the foreign matter?

This is, of course, taking for granted that Kryptonian cells and their DNA behave similarly to that of humans.

And this leads to my biggest issue with the movie – the Kryptonian powers on Earth.

In the movie, we are told that Kryptonian powers on Earth are caused by our sun being younger than the one on Krypton, and that their Kryptonian cells will absorb the radiation from our yellow sun, granting them “Godlike” powers. We are also told that the gravity is weaker on Earth than it is on Krypton, which implies that flight (or super-bounding, as the case may be) and super-strength will be possible.

Now in the comics, Clark is super-strong pretty much from the outset, even as a baby.

But in the movie, Clark grows up on Earth, and we see his powers (X-ray vision, super-hearing and heat vision) develop when he is in elementary school, I guess around grade 5 or so. We *are* told that the other students think he is weird because “his mom won’t let him play with anyone.” But it is never made clear because he is super-strong, or because he is an alien, and the Kent’s don’t want anyone to get to close – lest they discover his secret.

He learns, from his parents, how to control them and focus only on one thing at a time. Therefore, based on that information, the solar radiation seems to take around 10 years or so to affect Kryptonian biology and grant super-powers.

Remember that, it becomes important later.

When Zod and his cronies arrive on Earth, they are equipped with airtight battle suits. We know this because they explicitly say that Earth’s atmosphere is dangerous to them. And due to the change in gravity from their home planet of Krypton, each soldier is super-strong. We see them flip trucks into houses and throw Ma Kent like a rag doll.

Zod, in all his glory. Source

So, this would seem to hint that their prison ship had Krypton-like gravity. Ok, fine. Moving on.

But why didn’t the increased gravity affect Clark and Lois when they were brought upon the ship? We do know that Lois needed a breathing apparatus to survive the Kryptonian “atmosphere” and that Clark became weak because of that – so if the ship did have stronger gravity, wouldn’t Clark and Lois have to struggle to adapt to it?

And, if this is how they are so strong, how is Clark super-strong?

He wasn’t on Krypton long enough to get used to the gravity. He was there for what appears less than a day. And even if the ship that carried him did have artificial gravity, you would think that after 33 years on Earth, his body would have acclimated to the decreased gravity of Earth (like he did with the atmosphere).

So, if the lesser gravity isn’t the cause of the super-strength and flight of Superman, it must be the solar radiation from our yellow sun.

During a battle with Zod, Clark damages Zod’s helmet, causing the Earth air to ‘infect’ Zod, granting him super hearing and x-ray vision.

But how did the solar radiation affect Zod so quickly? It happened practically instantaneously – his helmet was damaged, he tore it off and voila, sensory overload caused by the sudden onset of super-powers.

His laser vision, however, only appeared at the final battle after much longer exposure to Earth’s yellow sun. But only his head was exposed to the sun, except for the last few minutes of the battle, when he tore his battle suit off. How much solar radiation could he possibly absorb through his head in one day?

And how did the sun affect Zod so quickly, but it took Clark about 10 years or so to gain X-ray vision, super-hearing and heat vision? The same thing happened with Faora (the female henchman), so it obviously was not strictly a Zod thing.

And if Zod was super-strong, super-fast, able to withstand super-punches that would make a normal person’s head explode like a watermelon being hit with a hammer, how was Superman able to snap Zod’s solar radiation enhanced bones in his neck?

Wouldn’t the enhancements bestowed upon the Earth’s yellow sun create super-bones? You can’t have Zod have all the super-powers that Superman does, except for that without a reason.

Granted, in the comics, Clark does get bones broken by other super-powered beings, such as Doomsday. But that only happens when he is dramatically out-powered and out-classed, not when someone has the exact same power set.

I am not saying that I disliked the movie in any sense of the word, but when you establish a certain mythology (the same or different than in the comics), there is only a certain amount that can fall under “suspension of disbelief.” Things still need to be explained, and the rules of the universe spelled out.


There are other science-light areas of the movie that bothered me – like Clark defeating the gravity beam by sheer force of will, the gravity weapon itself, the gateway to the phantom zone being conveniently close enough to the planet to be damaged by the explosion, etc.

But, during the visually stunning final battle, one thing struck me more than anything else – isn’t Superman supposed to PROTECT people?

Think about the countless battles that occurred in Metropolis. Did Superman save more than a handful of people? Did he seem to care at all about the safety and security of the citizens in the office buildings, the crowds in the street … anything?

The amount of wanton destruction during the final battle was insane. Countless buildings were torn apart by nigh-invincible beings with super powers battling it out with blatant disregard for human life.

How many buildings fell during the battle? How many office floors and infrastructure was damaged?

Superman is supposed to be one of the bravest and selfless superheroes in the galaxy – willing to sacrifice himself for anyone else, to lay down his life if necessary. Sure people die all the time, and he cannot possibly protect everyone.

Wouldn’t Superman try to save at least some people? We do see him save some people on the oil rig, the school bus as a child, and a few others – but after that, Superman does not appear to care about anyone else.

He does care about those four people in the final scene with Zod and Lois Lane, but do those few lives counter-balance the hundreds of thousands that died and the millions that were most likely injured in the battles of Smallville and Metropolis?

And couldn’t Superman have moved the battles to a less densely populated area, like the middle of the ocean or the Arctic? Or destroyed the gravity machine in Metropolis, thereby preventing the damage is causes, instead of the one in the middle of Indian Ocean (which is totally isolated), since they are linked?

No, because it wouldn’t have been as pleasing to the moviegoer.

And that is the whole argument in a nutshell: It is a movie, and is strictly popcorn entertainment. But just because it is, doesn’t mean it cannot make sense and abide by the rules of the universe that has been created – or is that asking too much?

Short and sweet

Every since Science Online 2013 ended, I have been very busy with a variety of things including work, developing some super-secret side-projects and more. But being busy is often a double-edged sword.

While these projects are developing and turning into some fantastic stuff that I am sure you all will enjoy – it has left me with little time to read the ever-increasing amount of books I endlessly accumulate and post on this blog.

But, take heed loyal reader, as I have not forsaken you.

Over the past week and a half, I’ve been communicating with experts in various fields, and asking them questions that can come up in normal conversation – for example: How can black holes exist if we cannot see them? Or, how hot is magma locked in the Earth’s core?

The process is simple – I ask an expert in a field four questions. They pick two and answer each in four sentences of less so that anyone can understand.

I hope to continue this series going, so if you have any ideas for experts or questions to ask, please do so in the comments!

Man, that’s heavy
The first expert is David Shiffman, a shark conservationist and ecologist graduate student in Florida. He blogs regularly at Southern Fried Science and tweets at @WhySharksMatter.

Question 1: Since it is right there in your Twitter handle, I must ask – Why do shark matter?

Answer: Many species of sharks are top predators in their food chains. Top predators can influence their ecosystem both by regulating populations of prey, and by influencing the behavior of prey. In short, they help keep ocean ecosystems healthy.

Question 2: How can whales grow so big in the water, but the biggest animal on land (the elephant) is only a fraction of that?

Answer: The answer to this is simple- gravity. There’s a limit to how big things can get on land because after a certain point they get too heavy. Water provides increased buoyancy. Blue whales are bigger than the biggest land dinosaurs ever were.

Short, stocky and strong

This leads perfectly into our next expert, Brian Switek, a freelance science writer who spends his life getting to know anything and everything he can about dinosaurs. He blogs at National Geographic and is on Twitter as @Laelaps.

Question 1: Who would win in an arm wrestle, an average man or a T. rex?

Answer: There would be no question. Tyrannosaurus rex would win. Estimates based on bio-mechanics indicate that the arm of T. rex was about three and a half times more powerful than that of the average person. The arms of T. rex were short and stocky, but very powerful.

Question 2: How did mammals survive the extinction event 65 million years ago and the dinosaurs didn’t?

Answer: Actually, dinosaurs did survive. Avian dinosaurs – birds – escaped extinction and carry on the dinosaur legacy today. And even though mammals also survived, many mammal lineages died out in the catastrophe. Exactly why birds, mammals, and other creatures persisted while the non-avian dinosaurs died out, however, is a mystery that hinges on how climate change, volcanic activity, and asteroid impact translated into pressures that changed the world.

Invisible doesn’t mean it’s not there

The final expert is Matthew R. Francis, a physicist and science writer who writes at Bowler Hat Science and tweets at @DrMRFrancis.

Question 1: How do we know black holes exist if we cannot see them?

Answer: We can’t see black holes directly, but many of them are surrounded by matter – mostly gas stripped off stars or from other sources. When that gas falls toward the black hole, it forms a fast-rotating disk, that heats up and emits a lot of light in the form of X-rays and radio waves. So, even though black holes don’t emit any light of their own, they can be some of the brightest objects in the Universe.

Question 2: What does E=mc^2 actually mean in terms of everyday life?

Answer: “E= mc^2” literally tells us that mass is a form of energy, and anything with mass will have that energy even if it’s not moving. Most of the mass of your body is in the protons and neutrons in its atoms, but those are made up of the smaller particles known as quarks. The mass of a proton is a lot greater than the mass of the quarks that make it up; the rest of the mass comes from the energy that binds the quarks together. In other words, “E=mc^2” is responsible for most of the mass of your body!

Thank you very much to Brian, Matthew and David for all their help, time and effort – and remember, if you have any ideas for experts or questions to ask, please let me know in the comments.