Saturday, 8 November 2014

Things to know about Interstellar (2014) Explained - Part 5

HEAVY SPOILER ALERT: The purpose of this article is to provide explanations about the real, theoretical scientific concepts presented in the film, Interstellar (2014) so that people can have a greater understanding of this unusually complex film. If you haven't watched the film and you do not wish to know the specific details of the film, please stop reading and come back here later if you're interested to know more.

The following explanations are provided based on my understanding of the film after watching it the first time on November 5, 2014 and what I know about the basics of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Note that these are highly complex theories with lots of mathematical calculations and formula. I've tried my best to make them as short and concise as possible for easier understanding without the maths.

If there are any mistakes found in this article, please kindly provide any comments below so I can rectify it.

Update: After a 2nd viewing on November 16, 2014, minor corrections are made to the answers provided below.

For my review of the film, please visit this link:


Q&A for Interstellar


1. What happened to Earth in the near future?

In the near future, Earth is too polluted and no longer able to sustain humanity. Earth's food supply is dwindling and crops are dying due to an unknown pathogenic organism (blight). However, a recently discovered wormhole provided hope for humanity to search and find a new habitable planet in a new galaxy. Humans need to leave the Earth or face the consequences: starve to death or slowly suffocate due to changes in the Earth's atmosphere due to blight (increase of nitrogen and lack of oxygen).

2. What the US government and NASA been trying to do in the past few years in the film?

US government has been secretly funding a NASA project (Lazarus Mission) to find a planet capable of sustaining human life by sending 13 astronauts through the wormhole. Each of the astronauts were required to set up a beacon upon arrival at their planet to indicate that their chosen planet was habitable or die at that planet alone without setting off the beacon. NASA has been tracking their beacons for nearly a decade, but only 3 beacons are active - Miller, Mann and Edmunds.

3. Cooper finds the secret NASA facility and it appears like the next day he blasts off into space with barely any training and preparation at all?

NASA had no money or resources and they're desperate. Humanity is at the brink of extinction. Cooper was the best astronaut NASA had ever had so they immediately signed him up.

4. What is the Endurance team's (Cooper, Amelia, Romilly and Doyle) mission?

To travel through the wormhole, visit all 3 planets and decide which planet (Miller, Mann or Edmunds) is suitable for human colonization and report back to Earth before it's too late.

5. What are the planets' proximity with each other?

Miller's planet (the first planet visited by the Endurance team) is the closest among the 3 promising planets, it's also the closest planet to Gargantua (black hole).
Mann's planet (the 2nd planet visited by the Endurance team) is the 2nd closest to the team after the exit from the wormhole. It's also quite close to Gargantua, but to a lesser extent compared to Miller's.
Edmunds' planet (the 3rd planet visited by Amelia) is the furthest among the 3 and quite far from Gargantua.

6. What are NASA's plans for survival of humanity?

Plan A - While the Endurance team is looking for habitable planets, Professor Brand will continue to work on unifying Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory that allows humans to manipulate gravity to build a colony in space. The NASA facility found by Cooper and Murph at the beginning of the film is actually a construction site for humanity's space-time traveling ark. If Brand succeeds at solving the equations and Cooper managed to find a habitable planet, humanity's survival is secured.

Plan B - If Brand failed in solving the equations, the 3 planets deemed uninhabitable or the Endurance team takes too long to secure a habitable planet to live in, NASA has collected a bank of fertilized human embryos to ensure humanity’s survival on board the Endurance, just in case everyone on Earth is wiped out. To ensure genetic diversity (to prevent genetic diseases), NASA collected sperms and eggs from a wide range of sources. Once the Endurance team managed to find a habitable planet, the team would settle down and raise the first generation of embryos, with each generation helping to raise a new set of embryos and reproduce naturally as well.

7. Why after the first mission, when the crew receives video messages from back home and we see that Cooper’s children, Tom and Murph have aged significantly and become full grown adults? 

When the Endurance team travelling in a wormhole, relative velocity time dilation takes place. Due to close proximity with a black hole, the time spent on Miller's planet is significantly slower due to gravitational time dilation effect. Both of these time dilation cost the team a total up to 23 Earth years.

8. It was revealed later on that Plan A was a lie. Why Professor Brand choose to do so?

Professor Brand has solved the equations many years back, but it was incomplete due to the lack of necessary quantum data which can only be collected from the singularity of a black hole. He was trying to ensure the survival of our species by convincing the world leaders to work together to build the necessary infrastructure to make Plan B succeed. He needed them to believe that there's still hope for their own survival.

9. Upon learning that Plan A was a lie, what did Cooper and Amelia decide to do?

They commit to Plan B on their final planetary option, where Amelia’s lover, Edmunds, who reports a positive beacon few years back. However, Cooper remains unconvinced that Plan A is impossible, so they use the nearby black hole to slingshot Endurance toward Edmunds’ planet (the Endurance sustained heavy damage after Mann chooses to open the airlock), Cooper sends TARS into the center of the black hole - in the hopes that it might able to translate the necessary quantum data that could help NASA to apply Professor Brand’s derived gravitational equations (or fix any miscalculations) on Earth.

10. In the film, the movement of the spaceship docking was way too fast to be believable. It didn't look like a several ton spacecraft moving in zero gravity. 

The spaceship doesn't have to move slowly. It's zero gravity so it has no weight. So once the thrusters kick in, it will start to move faster and faster unless reverse thrusters are activated.

11. Why Cooper choose to sacrifice himself?

Cooper and Amelia both decided to use the Penrose process to extract energy from the rotation of the black hole's spin to escape from it. Cooper sacrifices himself to reduce weight on the Endurance (reduce mass to increase acceleration), allowing the ship to leave the black hole so that Amelia can make it to Edmunds’ planet and enact Plan B should TARS fail. However, instead of dying alone in the black hole, Cooper is pulled inside the Tesseract that was created by the extra-dimensional beings.

Note: Newton's Third Law of Motion - For every force, there's a reaction force that is equal in size, but opposite in direction. Whenever an object pushes another object it gets pushed back in the opposite direction equally hard.

12. Who actually created the wormhole and Tesseract within the black hole?

In Interstellar's third and final act, it was revealed that the extra-dimensional beings responsible for creating the wormhole near Saturn and Tesseract within the black hole are '5-dimensional beings' or 'bulk beings' mentioned by TARS. Cooper was convinced that these beings are in fact a future form of humanity who have evolved to live in higher dimensions and have come back in time to ensure humanity's survival. They've built the Tesseract to allow Cooper to locate the precise and suitable moment to deliver the quantum data collected by TARS in the singularity to Murph to solve the equations that allow humanity to manipulate gravity.

13. Black holes are regions of space where gravitational attraction is so strong that not even light can escape. Then why Cooper is not immediately teared apart by the black hole's strong gravitational pull?

The gravitational singularity of a black hole is a 'place' where the laws of space and time become infinite - all spatial dimensions of size zero, infinite density, infinite temperature and infinite space-time curvature (from the viewpoint of an observer outside the black hole, time stops as gravity becomes infinitely strong). When Cooper sacrifices himself to ensure Plan B, he is caught in the black hole’s gravitational pull but, instead of dying, he ejects from his ship and actually landed inside The Tesseract, a 5-dimensional place preventing Cooper from experiencing spaghettification. However, it is unknown to us as to how the extra-dimensional beings manage to construct the Tesseract within the black hole. It is also revealed that the source that creates the wormhole near Saturn is actually from the gravitational singularity of Gargantua.

Note: Spaghettification - the effect of extreme gravitational pressure on any particle or body of matter, in particular when exposed to the extreme forces of the black hole.

14. What happened actually when Cooper enters the black hole?

At some point near the climax of the film, TARS said that "The bulk beings are closing the Tesseract..." The black hole leads Cooper to what TARS refers to as the bulkThe bulk is a higher-dimensional space (within the black hole, space-time is bending into a different dimension). TARS calls the beings living there 5-dimensional beings. Cooper seems convinced that these beings are humans from the future who have evolved to live in higher dimensions (rather than the 4 dimensions we presently live in, 3 space and 1 time).

Inside the bulk, these beings have constructed what TARS calls a Tesseract, the thing that allows Cooper to communicate with Murph. The film showed how Cooper was able to interact with multiple dimensions of space-time (limited only to Murph's room) inside the Tesseract near the centre of the black hole. After they close the Tesseract, Cooper is sent back near Saturn through a wormhole (which allows Cooper to "shake" Amelia's hand during the initial travel within the wormhole). A black hole is not a wormhole. In the movie, Thorne and Nolan both hypothesize that the black hole leads to the bulk.

The Tesseract is a 5-dimensional object that has 3-dimensional visibility specifically tuned to Murph's room, allowing Cooper to visit his daughter at any point in time. It has 3-dimensional structures specifically tuned to Murph's room (as TARS explains to Cooper) that the beings of the bulk have made so that Cooper could comprehend it, since at that point Cooper is in a 4-dimensional space and we cannot visualize things in more than 3 spatial dimensions. There is also one dimension of time, which is why TARS calls them 5-dimensional beings.

Note: Time is relative. Time is a dimension which isn't linear. Every moment exist simultaneously. Cooper is not there to change the past. Whatever happened, happened and couldn't have happened any other way. Therefore there is no paradox. It's just that 3-dimensional beings like us experience time in a linear fashion.

15. Why Cooper was sure that Murph will soon realize that the 'ghost' that has been communicating with her in the past is actually him and know the data needed to solve the equation is found in the watch that he gave her? 

Love transcends space and time. If everything in the universe is simply information, then love does transcend time and space by facilitating the preservation of information. When you love someone, you never forget them, even after they've died. Even after all those years, Murph still loves her father enough to remember the memories of him and her together. Sooner or later, she will able to connect the dots together and realize the answer lies within the watch that Cooper gave to her years ago. It's possible that information can travel through space-time.

She made a detailed recording of the timeline of her and her father's life, which is shown in the beginning of the film. This recording is passed onto future generations so that humans in the future able to construct the Tesseract that's specifically tuned to Cooper and allows him to transmit the necessary data back to Murph through Morse Code. It is only Cooper who can do it because he was heavily tangled with his daughter's timeline. The bond shared between Cooper and Murph allows him to locate the precise, suitable moment in time to provide Murph the data needed to solve the equations. 

16. How Cooper managed to save humanity in the end?

When inside the Tesseract, gravity "leaks" through all the other dimensions in space-time, allowing Cooper to spell out a message (“S-T-A-Y”) by pushing books off of Murph’s shelf in the past, communicate map coordinates to the past version of himself by spreading dust across the floor (in binary language) using gravity and the 5th-dimensional communication through gravity (made visible by 3-dimensional objects back on Earth) enables Cooper to gently manipulate the hands on Murph’s watch – transferring the data that TARS acquired with morse-coded watch ticks. Subsequently, translating that coded data gives Murph all the information she needs to drastically advance humanity’s understanding of space and time – as well as to complete Plan A.

17. Were any of the 3 planets (Miller, Mann or Edmunds) habitable?

Miller's planet is considered uninhabitable due to the constant strong tidal waves generated by the black hole gravitational pull and no land was found in sight after landing. Mann's planet is also considered uninhabitable as well due to extreme cold temperatures, toxic gases in the air and the lack of food resources. It was revealed at the end of the film that Edmunds' planet was habitable (due to existence of sun, land and water) but Edmunds didn't survive in the end, leaving Amelia alone at the planet.

18. How Cooper survives his time inside the Tesseract, and how he intends to reunite with Amelia? 

Time moves slower near the gravitational pull of the black hole. Cooper’s ejection from the Tesseract and entering through the wormhole to reach Saturn should not take long for him (time stops due to strong gravity near the centre of the singularity), but over half a century for the rest of humanity (around 80-90 years since Cooper is said to be 124 years old and Murph is estimated to be over 120 years old) when Cooper wakes up from bed.

Cooper survived and finally reunited with Murph, who was living on the faster moving side of the wormhole. However, knowing that Cooper has nothing left for him to live for here (his son, Tom is probably dead by now and Murph will join him soon), Murph reminds her father that, through the wormhole (if it still exists), Amelia is just beginning to set-up Plan B on Edmunds' planet and Cooper should join her to start a new life.

Even though around 80-90 years have passed since the Endurance first set out, time on the other side of the wormhole is moving much slower compared to our solar system – meaning that his trip through the wormhole again should allow him to reunite with Amelia on Edmunds' planet in only a short time after Cooper first sacrificed himself and dropped into the singularity. We don’t actually see the reunion, but it's quite clear that Cooper will eventually manage to reach Amelia and helps her to ready the colony.

Note: It is unknown whether the wormhole at Saturn still exists or not, after the bulk beings closed the Tesseract. It's unsure whether the construction of the Tesseract affects the creation of the wormhole or not. Let's just hope for Cooper's sake, it's still exists.

19. What does the poem mentioned by Professor Brand means?

"Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." 
It was taken from the poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, written by Dylan Thomas. It means that do not give up, do not surrender, do not let go without a fight, live and fight for survival, against the coming change, even in the midst of dire circumstances.

Infographic taken from (right click, open image in new tab to enlarge):


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