By Odin’s beard! We’re celebrating the May 6 release of “Thor” with a bevy of daily new content, from interviews with the cast and crew of the film to looks back at key stories from the comics and even more surprises! Visit Marvel.com every day for new Thor Month coverage, and head out to your local theater now to see the Odinson fly onto the bigscreen!
Ryan Haupt is a grad student studying Paleoecology at Vanderbilt University. In his less-than-ample free time he enjoys writing about comics and science for iFanboy.com as well as hosting his own podcast "Science… sort of."
|Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) banishes Thor|
The world of Norse myth is a place of stories and magic. It would seem at a glance unfit for scientific inquiry. Yet the Aesir are, if anything, a very advanced people, and as we learned from sci-scribe Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I would go so far to say that this is indeed what Thor Odinson meant when he explains to Natalie Portman’s character, Jane Foster, in “Thor,” “What your people used to call magic, now they call science; well in my world they are one and the same.” It is with that notion in mind--that science and magic can be woven together in a speculative and fun way--that I present some of my ideas on the science behind “Thor.”
I think it’s important to start with origins. Not necessarily the origins of Asgard, Bifröst, Yggdrasil and the like, but with the origin of Thor and his relationship to Midgard. How did Thor get from Asgard to Earth? Conventional mythology--a phrase I never thought I’d be able to use--tells us that the path between realms is known as Bifröst, aka the Rainbow Bridge, and guarded by Heimdall, played in the film by the wonderful Idris Elba. However, as Odin casts Thor out of his home it doesn’t seem like he’d have access to the road of many colors. In fact, in the film we see what appears to be a tunnel of swirling light and smoke which deposits our titular hero on terra firma.
Well just what the heck is that thing? I’ve already mentioned magic playing a role so from a less logically-inclined perspective I would be fully within my rights to claim that the transportation mechanism relies on magic and be done with it. But then I’d have nothing more to write, you’d have nothing more to read, and I would lose a fun opportunity to flex my mental muscles. I know whatever explanation I come up with will be at the end of the day so much nonsense, but it’s about the journey exploring the big ideas of science and how they might inform the character that makes this all worth doing.
|Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on Earth|
So now onto to the matter, or energy, at hand. We have a tunnel of sorts, and the word “tunnel” is one I have avoided using until now because I didn’t want to give away my big reveal: This looks like a wormhole. Now when I say it looks like a wormhole I’m already pushing the envelope of reality because a wormhole, as it exists outside or underneath spacetime, wouldn’t really have a physical form to see at all, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A wormhole is an idea first proposed by Einstein, along with his buddy Rosen, in the form of what they called an “Einstein-Rosen Bridge.” Remember, they were physicists, not script writers. The idea being that general relativity, which Einstein had figured out a few years before (no big deal) prompts a series of equations that could theoretically curve spacetime in a way that joins together two far away points. If you’re having trouble visualizing it I encourage you to attempt a brief demonstration. Take a sheet of paper and make two dots some distance apart from each other. Label one dot ‘A’ and the other dot ‘B.’ Then draw a line connecting the dots using the shortest path possible, i.e. a straight line. This line represents travel through normal spacetime, such as when NASA sends astronauts to the moon. Within our spacetime frame of reference, aka the paper, this is the only way to get between points A and B. But what Einstein and Rosen were suggesting is that it could be possible to bend the paper such that A and B were right on top of each other and to get between the two you’d just have to punch a hole in the paper and then you’d have a tunnel connecting points A and B outside the frame of reference of the paper. Neat, right?
Now thinking about this in a 3D world can get tricky. I actually had to talk to a physicist friend of mine, Ben Tippet--and any errors in this article are my own, not his--to get some help on how to visualize what might happen in the real and/or Marvel world. The first thing he was eager to point out is that Einstein-Rosen Bridges simply don’t exist in the real universe. This is because the universe is not shaped like a donut.
|Jane Foster (Natalie Portman)|
This sounds crazy, but go with me for a second, it’ll be worth it. The shape of the universe has a big effect on whether or not certain types of wormholes even work. Going back to our paper experiment, what would have happened if a hole had been punched in point A before we’d folded it to be next to point B? Nothing. We’d just have a hole in our paper and any matter that fell through it would be outside our spacetime frame for good. This is analogous to a black hole, wherein gravity from a star much bigger than our own sun collapses in on itself until it’s dense enough to create a gravity field not even light can escape, hence it appears black. We know our universe has black holes, we’ve seen plenty of them, but we haven’t yet seen any wormholes--and Ben even told me they’d collapse in on themselves almost instantly even if they did exist in our universe, but that’s not the point right now. So in a sense we can think of our universe as that unfolded piece of paper and when the gravity gets too high we get a black hole, not a wormhole. Because we see black holes and not wormholes, we can infer that our universe isn’t in the right kind of shape to allow for them, which for the purposes of spacetime frame would be a donut, or toroidal, shape.
Well that’s a super easy fix for Thor, isn’t it? Let’s just say that the Marvel universe is toroidal shaped. We know there are enough other differences about their universe, such as the fact that radiation gives people super powers, mutants are attractive and being smart is considered a virtue. This would mean that with sufficient gravity, and something called non-matter, which is not the same thing as anti-matter, one could create a stable wormhole connecting two very far away points together. We know the Asgardians have some tricks up their sleeves regarding gravity--only the worthy can even lift Mjolnir off the ground! So I think it’s safe to say they can handle that aspect of wormhole travel just fine.
|Chris Hemsworth stars in "Thor"|
The other thought this scenario brings to mind is that this means Asgard isn’t in another dimension; it’s simply another planet somewhere in the universe. Well there are a few fixes there. First, there are several types of wormholes that could connect different universes, but I’m not sure about connecting different dimensions, so it depends a bit on how you define the relationship between Asgard and Midgard. But let’s consider the planet explanation again for a moment. The universe is really old and it is expanding. The expansion means that there are other galaxies containing many other stars containing many other planets that could not be reached even in a ship traveling at the speed of light. It has to do with how the acceleration away from each is increasing whereas lightspeed is a constant, but if that makes no sense just trust me.
So there are other planetary systems that may have had around a 9 billion year head start on evolution. That number is based on the age of the universe at around 14 billion years old and the age of our solar system at around 4.5 billion years ago. That comes out to 9.5 billion but I rounded down just to account for potential hiccups along the evolutionary Yggdrasil. And odds are with a really big universe you could get a least two species out there that look human. So with that much extra time to develop technology in a donut-shaped universe why couldn’t they have perfected wormhole technology for casting princely troublemakers away to learn lessons?
So there you have it, all we need to do is change the shape of the universe, allow for a few extra billions of years of technological evolution and control of one of the fundamental forces of nature, gravity, and you’ve got yourself a working Einstein-Rosen Bridge to meet all your travel needs.
Please send all physics-based hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or just yell at him on Twitter @haupt.
For more Thor, visit the film's official site and our "Thor" movie page!
Buy your "Thor" tickets now on Fandango, Moviefone or MovieTickets.com!
Check out the list of Required Reading: Thor Collections, and find the best jumping-on points with Thor: Where to Start!
In addition to "Thor," Marvel Studios will release a slate of films based on the Marvel characters including "Captain America: The First Avenger" on July 22, 2011; "Marvel's The Avengers" on May 4, 2012; and "Iron Man 3" on May 3, 2013.
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