Live Google Hangout: the Science in “Interstellar” (Yes, the Movie)

Interstellar is the latest blockbuster movie about space. Now in a special live Google Hangout, three astrophysicists brush off the popcorn, leave the theater and answer your questions about the “science” in the movie.

LIVE HANGOUT: INTERSTELLAR – SEPARATING THE SCIENCE FROM THE FICTIONAstrophysicists (and Curious Stardust bloggers) Mandeep Gill, Eric Miller and Hardip Sanghera answer YOUR questions about worm holes, black holes and distant galaxies.
WHEN: November 26, 12:00-12:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: Right here!

int_wps_1280_wormLife could better in the new film Interstellar. Set in a distant future (but not distant enough), the Earth is a catastrophic wasteland of dying farms and mile-high dust storms. With just years before facing complete oblivion, humanity needs to find a new planetary home.  It’s a “Hail Mary” of a job, and taking it on are four astronauts who must enter a wormhole to find an extremely distant habitable planet suited for a mass exodus.

The movie is already a blockbuster, in part because a lot of thought and attention went into making a film based deep in science and theory.  This goes from the look of wormholes to the push-pull of gravity on a planet to the way a  black hole might readjust your concept of time.  But just how much of the movie is really true to what we know about the universe? And how much of it is, say… creative license?

To find out, Curious Stardust sent three bloggers into the darkness of their neighborhood theaters. And now, on Wednesday, November 26, from 12:00-12:30pm PST, Mandeep Gill, Eric Miller and Hardip Sanghera  will separate Interstellar’s science from its fiction. They will also answer your questions in a live Google Hangout.

Submit questions ahead of and during the webcast by emailing or by using the hashtag #KavliSciBlog on Twitter or Google+. Then come back to this page on November 26 to view the live webcast!


gill-thumbMandeep Gill – Mandeep Gill is an observational cosmologist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, located at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. His research focuses on gravity’s bending of light and the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Eric Miller MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space ResearchEric Miller – Eric Miller is a research scientist at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, where he studies diffuse gas to understand the structure of mass and how galaxies interact with their surroundings. He is a member of science and instrument teams for the Chandra and Suzaku X-ray Observatories, with active collaborations in the U.S. and Japan.

hardip3Hardip Sanghera – Hardip Sanghera is a member of the Cambridge Planck Analysis Centre, based in the Kavli Institute for Cosmology Cambridge. He supports the European Space Agency’s space-based Planck observatory, which recently completed mapping the universe’s earliest light.

12 thoughts on “Live Google Hangout: the Science in “Interstellar” (Yes, the Movie)

  1. Pingback: Going “Interstellar” with Astrophysics | Curious Stardust

  2. I was bothered that when they went down to that planet with the large waves, the planet that was so near that back hole… wouldn’t any gravitational field strong enough to create that kind of time dilation, crush them? Acceleration being equal to gravitation, wouldn’t they be crushed?


  3. This is our time, our time has come for us as a species to unite together for a common cause. We must seed other worlds if we are to survive. The fragility of life here is ever present with infinite possibilities of our extinction pose a great threat of forever losing any proof of our own existence and the existence of this blue marble teaming with life.


  4. First of, thank you to all three physicists, and to Ms Tuttle. You were all great!
    Also, I did enjoy the film, and found it quite thought provoking.

    A few thoughts and questions (no expectations) :
    1) Was the magnitude of the time dilation due to gravity plausible? My first impression from the brief explanation of how this works that Mandeep gave (Thank you.) would lead me to believe that there would be a limit to the additional length to the path that light would follow when bending around something vs going straight. I realize that it may be too involved to explain here, but is there such a limit? Is one hour to seven years even possible?

    2) I have a marine science background, so while many elements of the film got my attention, I was particularly interested in what was going on with the large waves on the first planet. First of all, was it liquid water? Also, both the craft, and the astronauts seemed not to be buoyed up by the liquid, but rather resting and or walking on the bottom, which appeared to be consistently only about 20 cm deep where they were anyway. If that is the case, I am wondering how the thousand meter scale waves could form, and if they did, why they would not break on the shallows. Also, why were these waves as steep as they were?

    As a continuity note furthermore, when they were approaching the surface, the sea conditions appeared to be perhaps up to a couple of meters, and yet when they were walking out there it was dramatically calmer (between tidal waves anyway).

    3) The professor explained that they had managed only “rudimentary binary communication” through the wormhole, and yet, they got video data from Earth even when it wasn’t working at all in the other direction, and even down on one of the planets. Why was the information coming back from the planets to our crew in the same star system (or black hole system as it was) limited to such minimal beacon information, and not ample detail? Also, why were the not able to communicate with the mothership from first planet? Was that because of the time dilation perhaps? On the ice planet they were communicating with the mother ship right?

    4) What was up with the frozen cloud and other apparently suspended solid ice on the frozen planet? Was it supposed to be such low density that it was apparently buoyed up by the not apparently terribly thick atmosphere?

    Finally, and this is more of a criticism than a question, but it seems to me that a great deal more information about these planets could have effectively been collected from orbit or on approach before landing, or with unmanned probes before sending people to the surface. This wouldn’t have aided with the story arc of course, but it would have been nice to have better explanations than were given. Perhaps somebody caught something that I didn’t relating to this? Perhaps it related to the communication?


  5. PS I forget which of you was explaining this, but I was intrigued to learn that it is only possible to use the old gravitational slingshot trick if the body being used is rotating. In trying to intuit why that might be, is it because an object would be most attracted to the mass in the portion of a moving body that is closest to it, and is thus moved by that portion as that portion moves around its own center?


  6. Pingback: 'Interstellar': A Sci-Fi Film with Plenty of 'Ifs' -RocketNews

  7. Pingback: Pi Day Special Series — The Planck Constant | Curious Stardust

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