A Word, A Place, And Something Else–Interstellar Fun

During the long weekend, the SGB household had a few visitors and together, we binge watched a lot of movies. One of which was the fairly recent, Christopher Nolan space epic Interstellar. Loved it, again. I know there are a lot of detractors, but what can I say? I’m a Nolan fan. I simply can’t help liking how the Nolan movies are made. Before I digress and turn into a squealing fangirl right here, let me wrap up today’s post. As you can guess, today we are in Interstellar space.

The Word: Tesseract (tes.ser.act)  [tes-uh-rakt]

Noun:  the four-dimensional analogue of a cube

Word Origin: Greek; Greek tésseres four + aktís ray

From Wikipedia:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word tesseract was coined and first used in 1888 by Charles Howard Hinton in his book A New Era of Thought, from the Greek τέσσερεις ακτίνες (téssereis aktines or “four rays”), referring to the four lines from each vertex to other vertices. In this publication, as well as some of Hinton’s later work, the word was occasionally spelled “tessaract”.

Below, from Wikipedia, is the simplest definition of a tesseract.

“In geometry, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analog of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. Just as the surface of the cube consists of 6 square faces, the hypersurface of the tesseract consists of 8 cubical cells.”

Venturing into debate territory (contains spoiler): The tesseract reference in Interstellar comes at the very end of the movie when Cooper gets pulled into Gargantua and lands in one created by “them.” There’s some debate about why this place was called a tesseract (a 4D object) when it was also mentioned that the space where the tesseract existed was 5 dimensional. Some call it inaccurate science and other say that just like a 3D cube exists in our 4D space-time, a 4D tesseract was shown to exist in a 5D space-time in the movie.

Okay then, moving on!


The Place:   The rings of Saturn, Saturn

Why the rings of Saturn? Because they are so darn interesting and also because Coop’s journey into the wormhole began from next Saturn.

Without further ado–Saturn’s rings are the most extensive planetary ring system in our Solar system. The ring particles are mostly made up of rocks and ice. Their sizes range from that of a speck of sand to that of a building half-mile long. Contrary to popular belief, Saturn’s rings are not made up of a series of tiny ringlets, there are very few real gaps. More correctly, the rings are more like an annular disk, with the varying density in between.

How did Saturn get its cool rings?

That is one of Solar system’s unsolved mysteries. There are a lot of theories, quite a few of them surrounding Saturn’s moons. One says the rings are almost as old as the planet itself. At some point in Saturn’s early history, a moon got too close to Saturn and was torn into pieces. Another possibility is that two moons collided. Yet another is a moon was struck and shattered by a comet or asteroid passing through.

Another school of thought is the rings were formed out of the solar nebula that created Saturn. While most of the nebula compacted into the planet, the rings were leftover water ice from the process that never made it to the planet.

No material for debate on this subject.

PC: Space.com

The Something Else: Wormhole

A wormhole, also known as “Einstein-Rosen Bridge”, is a theoritical path that creates a shortcut through spacetime. It is like a tunnel with two ends, each in separate points in spacetime. Princeton physicist John Wheeler coined the term “wormhole” in the 1960s when he was exploring the models of Einstein-Rosen bridges. He noted that these bridges are similar to the holes that worms bore through apples. An insect that wants to go from one side of the apple to another can traverse the longer curved outer surface, or take a shortcut through the worm’s tunnel.

Here’s Romily explaining a wormhole to Coop in the movie.

Cool stuff! Now onto debate territory.

Is it possible to travel through a wormhole and survive the journey?

Seems like while wormholes are mathematically viable, there is no hope of travel through it. According to general relativity, wormholes would be extremely unstable. The time for which a possible wormhole would stay “open” will be far too brief to allow even a fundamental to travel through.

The bigger problem is, the object passing through would be destroyed by the intense gravitational forces in the vicinity of a wormhole. If the object gets pulled toward one of the singularities, its particles would disintegrate, leaving behind only energy.

Hence, long live science fiction. Perhaps one day humankind will know enough to create a precisely placed wormhole and sustain it and pass through it. Right now, however, let’s just imagine and dream of possibilities.

Before I sign off, just a few words in praise of movies like Interstellar that gets the masses psyched about science. There was a huge brouhaha after Interstellar was released about movies teaching incorrect science to a generation. I think that’s a moot point. There is a big fat line separating fact and fiction, there is something called science and a very different thing called creative arts. Its good to remember that they are, different things. More importantly though, if a generation has to learn their science from a movie, then heaven help us all.

Hope you have had a fun ride today. Catch you later.

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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