The concept of the superhero has permeated our culture. They fascinate their fans with their incredible superhuman abilities and impressive technology. But do you ever wonder if any of it is plausible or rooted in fact?
Enter The Science of Superheroes, which address more than fifty topics that span the worlds of your favorite superheroes and villains. Explore and examine their amazing abilities and fantastic gadgets with a detailed scientific lens.
The scientific questions examined within this book include:
- Can an Iron Man suit be made?
- How does Thor's hammer work?
- Could any known forms of radiation cause superpowers?
- How many calories does Superman need each day?
- Could you cross a Lamborghini and a hummer to make the Batmobile Tumbler?
- And many more!
Whether you're a movie or comic buff, this book is certain to entertain and open your eyes to the truth behind these amazing characters.
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About the Author
Mark Brake developed the world’s first science and science fiction degree in 1999. He also launched the world’s first astrobiology degree in 2005. He’s communicated science through film, television, print, and radio on five continents, including for NASA, Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum, the BBC, the Royal Institution, and Sky Movies. He was one of the founding members of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute Science Communication Group. He has written more than a dozen books, including Alien Life Imagined for Cambridge University Press in 2012. Mark also tours Europe with Science of Doctor Who, Science of Star Wars, and Science of Superheroes road shows.
Read an Excerpt
PART I SPACE
WHAT IF SUPERMAN PITCHED FOR THE METROPOLIS METEORS?
[Exterior. Kent farm — daytime.
Clark is three now. He faces Jonathan, ten feet away. Like any three- year-old, Clark tosses a baseball to his dad. A few other baseballs scattered about.
JONATHAN: "Good. Excellent — nice arm."
Jonathan rolls the ball back to the kid. Clark picks it up, throws it again.
JONATHAN (contd): Yes. Great control — you see that?
CLARK: ... yeah ...
JONATHAN (tosses it back): "Okay, give it a little more juice. A little of that 'Kent magic.'"
And Clark hurls the ball — OUT OF THE STATE. Jonathan just watches it go.
JONATHAN (contd): ... oh God ...
— J. J. Abrams, Superman screenplay FIRST DRAFT (2002)
"There does seem to be a sense in which physics has gone beyond what human intuition can understand. We shouldn't be too surprised about that because we're evolved to understand things that move at a medium pace at a medium scale."
— Richard Dawkins, The Very Best of Richard Dawkins: Quotes from a Devout Atheist (2015)
It followed from the special theory of relativity that mass and energy are both but different manifestations of the same thing — a somewhat unfamiliar conception for the average mind. Furthermore, the equation E=mc2 in which energy is put equal to mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light, showed that very small amounts of mass may be converted into a very large amount of energy and vice versa. The mass and energy were in fact equivalent, according to the formula mentioned before.
— Albert Einstein, quoted in Atomic Physics, by the J. Arthur Rank Organization, Ltd (1948)
"I didn't mean to hit the umpire with the dirt, but I did mean to hit that bastard in the stands."
— Babe Ruth, New York Times (1922)
"I'm not particularly fond of Gotham. It's like someone built a nightmare out of metal and stone."
— Superman, Superman/Batman Vol 1, #53 (2008)
BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN (MY TAKE ON A DELETED SCENE)
A full house at the Gotham stadium roars as the players take the pitch. Against a sweltering Gotham skyline, the green gauze of the baseball diamond is lit up for a steaming nighttime encounter: their very own Gotham Knights against fierce rivals, the Metropolis Meteors. Each side is playing its own superhero ringer. The Meteors are fielding Superman, and the Knights have high hopes that their home batters box will feature the Batman himself. His slugging potential must surely be awesome. After all, his name is "bat-man," right?
Has there ever been a more dramatic debut? Not in baseball, anyhow. The competition is keen and the air electrified with tension. Men are born for games. Little else, it sometimes seems. Each one knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the value of a game is not innate to the game itself. Rather, it is in the value of that which is put at risk. Games of chance need a wager to warrant any meaning at all. Games of sport not only involve the skill and strength of the opponents, but also their humiliation in defeat. By trial of chance, or trial of worth, all games aspire to the state of war, for in play that which is wagered gulps up game, player, and all.
At the allotted time the lights seem to brighten further in the heat. The sheer din dies down. Superman steps forward to take his place on the pitchers mound. Upon seeing the Man of Steel, a strange wall of noise sweeps across the crowd like a Mexican wave. Some start to catcall. Some rise from their seats and jeer, the heat and tension of the night getting the better of their sense of fair play. Expectation is high, yet what happens next takes everyone by surprise.
Superman pitches at such speed, normal everyday physics breaks down. From the back row of Gotham stadium it's simply impossible to tell, but Superman pitches the baseball at a pace approaching the speed of light, around 90 percent. The ball is moving so speedily that all else seems stationary. Even the particles and dust in the balmy Gothamite air stand still. Like the crowd, the air particles become passive observers of the ball's meteoric flight. Sure, the particles of air still vibrate at a few hundred miles an hour, but that super-pitched ball is passing through at 186,000 miles a second. As far as that ball is concerned, those particles are simply just hanging there, frozen, like microscopic pieces of stadium popcorn.
All that's aerodynamic melts into air. The usual rules simply dont apply. Normally, as you sometimes see illustrated on car commercials, the air would flow easily around an object speeding through it, but now it's as though Superman's pitch has frightened the particles of air into inaction. They don't have time to be bundled out of the way by the speeding baseball. Rather, the ball ploughs into them so hard that the atoms in the air molecules are either forced to fuse with the surface atoms of the approaching ball or simply pass straight through it.
Each minuscule collision that manages to occur issues a tiny explosion of scattered particles and gamma rays. Faster than the mind can see, but a perfect picture for a graphic novel, the expanding globule of gamma rays and debris radiates out from the vicinity of the pitchers mound. The rays and debris start to rip apart the particles in the air, transforming Gotham stadium into a mushrooming bubble of radiant plasma. The leading wall of the bubble speedily approaches Batman the batsman at the speed of light, only infinitesimally ahead of the actual ball.
A matter of mere nanoseconds later, seventy to be exact, Superman's pitched ball arrives at Batman. Solidly planted at the home plate, Bats is not even sure he saw Superman let go of the baseball, as the light beam carrying that message would arrive at the same time as the ball itself. The ball arrives at the plate, eaten away by collisions along its short and swift journey. The ball is, by now, a rather appropriate bullet-shaped cloud of mushrooming plasma in the steamy Gotham night. It jets through the air as a shell of X-ray radiation hits the batsman first, instantly followed by the cloud of debris.
But Batman seems to have been the only one in the stadium to expect such a pitch. Hardly by wit, and far more likely by fate, Batman makes contact with the "ball." The bullet-shaped cloud of the ball is still moving at near light speed. First it hits the bat, but immediately Batman, plate, and catcher are all engulfed by the surging cloud and carried through the backstop as they all begin to degenerate into smithereens. The expanding sphere of radiation and white-hot plasma opens out in all directions, save the ground itself, as the cloud gobbles up the remaining players on the pitch, Gotham Stadium, and the city backstreets, as the stadium clock has failed to even tick a full second since the ball rocketed out of Superman's grip.
The scene cuts to some casual observers far outside the stadium, looking down on the city from a tall tower on the outskirts of Gotham. First, they see the blinding light, burning brighter than the midday sun. Then, seconds later, a mushrooming fireball morphs into a pyrocumulus cloud of devastation. They hear a terrifying roar as the baseballs blast wave approaches, ripping up road-signs and turning houses to tinder. They look on helplessly as the stadium neighborhood is leveled, and a firestorm starts to consume much of the city below. Out of sight, the baseball diamond is reduced to the kind of crater easily seen on the surface of the moon, which looks silently down on Gotham, a mere light second away.
Meanwhile, a dark speck is spied against the glow of the moon. Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
LIFT AND SEPARATE: THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING A METEORITE OUT OF SOKOVIA
"Sokovia, officially the Republic of Sokovia, is a small [fictional] country located in eastern Europe. Its capital city is Novi Grad. The tiny country was thrown further into disarray when Ultron implemented a plan to create a global extinction event by raising an area of land with a major city atop into the air and ramming it back into the ground. The plan was thwarted, primarily by the Avengers and their allies, along with limited assistance from the Sokovian police, but the portion of land lifted in the air ended up destroyed."
— Sokovia entry in the Marvel Database
ULTRON: [to the Vision] "You shut me out! You think I care? You take away my world, I take away yours."
He activates the Vibranium core and the Earth around Sokovia starts to shake and break.
TONY STARK: "Friday?"
As Sokovia is being destroyed.
FRIDAY: "Sokovia's going for a ride."
As the earth is shaking, falling in around them.
ULTRON: "Do you see? The beauty of it, the inevitability. You rise, only to fall. You, Avengers, you are my meteor, my swift and terrible sword, and the Earth will crack with the weight of your failure. Purge me from your computers, turn my own flesh against me. It means nothing. When the dust settles, the only thing living in this world will be metal."
— Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age of Ultron screenplay (2015)
TONY STARK: [Searching for secret door] "Please be a secret door, please be a secret door, please be a secret door ... [finds a secret door in the Sokovian castle] Yay!"
— Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age of Ultron screenplay (2015)
"Propulsion is the force by which something, such as a ship, a car, or a space rocket, is moved forward. A rocket is propelled using slow- burning gas, which escapes through a nozzle (the narrow, back end of a rocket) to create a large amount of thrust and push the rocket upward. Crossing the 100km (62 miles) into space is easy enough. Space travel may be rocket science, but it isn't too tricky. You can get into space with a rocket the size of a telegraph pole, just by going quite fast and steering upward. The trick is staying up there. To stop yourself, and your spacecraft, from falling back to the Earth, you have to travel along your orbital path really, really quickly. To stay locked on your orbit, you need to set the crafts speed controls at about 5 miles per second.
— Mark Brake, How To Be a Space Explorer: Your Out- of-this-World Adventure (2014)
In the early years of this uncertain twenty-first century, jaw-dropping CGI cinematic science fiction seems to be almost everyones thing. At the time of writing, the genre dominates the top fifteen highest-grossing movies of all time, with Avatar, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War all featuring in that list.
From Avatar to Age of Ultron, we all expect computer-generated imagery to loom large in big-budget blockbusters — its stage center, right there up on the big silver screen. Some CGI is obvious. The appearance of the late Peter Cushing, digitally reanimated for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with the magic of cinema putting words into the mouth of a deceased actor. Then theres the simulation of iconic film-star footage of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe in the epic futuristic fight-sequence of Blade Runner 2049.
Some CGI is about what you can't see, rather than what you can. Editors on Justice League had to remove a mustache grown by Superman actor, Henry Cavill, for his role in Mission: Impossible 6. Armie Hammer's genitals had to be digitally edited out of the movie romance Call Me By Your Name, as the actor's shorts had failed to fully contain his talents. And legend has it that one poor animator on the pig movie Babe spent months painstakingly removing every frame of the title characters anus. But itll take some time before CGI produces another scene as jaw-dropping as the incredibly orchestrated slow-motion sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron. We see all the Avengers in action at the same time against the swarming army of Ultrons robots, as part of the Battle of Sokovia in Novi Grad city.
It's worth taking a moment to mull over the backstory of that battle. Ultron, the allegedly all-wise artificial intelligence peacekeeping program devised by Tony Stark, decides that humanity is the greatest threat to peace on Earth. (It's a fair conclusion — you just have to consider the texture of this new century: a crumbling environment, nuclear stockpiles, unremitting government surveillance, the increasing possibility of rogue pathogens, and political leaders who seem to have walked straight out of a comic strip). Ultron decides to cut to the chase and help humanity commit global seppuku. His plan? Create a device that will lift a section of Novi Grad skyward, then send it swiftly earthward, causing it to create a meteoric crash when it impacts with the planet.
There are two chief problems with Ultrons lifting and crashing plan: first is the lifting, and second is the crashing. Lets deal with each in turn.
TAKING SOKOVIANS ON A SKY VACATION
It's quite common in science fiction movies for humans to be taken on a trip off-Earth, but its not so common to try taking a bit of the Earth along for the ride. To work out how much energy Ultron needs to figure into his brainbox equations to perform this conjuring trick of lithic levitation, we first need to estimate the sheer mass of the lump of Sokovia he's trying to lift.
Taking another quick look at the movie footage; a fair estimate of the section of Sokovia that Ultron raises up is about two kilometers of the city, one kilometer each side of the church that sits at the epicenter of the rising rock. Once the city is airborne, it looks like a mini-Earth or, more appropriately, an asteroid. A quick reference to NASA's online guide of the mass of selected asteroids shows that a two-kilometer clump of rock and dirt, such as Geographos, has a mass of 0.004 x 1015 (or four trillion) kilograms. (By the way, Geographos appears to be a very good fit for our purposes. Named after the National Geographic Society, Geographos was discovered in 1951 by a team at the Palomar Observatory in California, and is one of the asteroids that sits in a potentially hazardous near-Earth orbit).
If Ultron were a plain old protocol droid, then hed probably try to raise the rock using rockets. But Ultron ain't dumb, apparently. He knows that rockets also have to lift their own fuel. And so, to the four trillion kilograms of Sokovian rock hed need to add a commensurate amount of fuel. True, he'd not need to calculate carrying that fuel all the way up, as the good thing about old-school rocket fuel is that, as it burns, the rocket gets lighter and lighter, which means the rock would need less and less fuel. Even so, to lift four trillion kilograms of Sokovian rock would require tens of trillions of tons of fuel. You can imagine Ultron might be sorely tempted with this scenario. After all, if those trillions of tons of fuel were hydrocarbon-based, it would represent a sizable percentage of the doomed worlds remaining reserves, something that would surely amuse the batty bot.
But Ultron, we're told, is as brainy as bots can be, and has far more sophisticated tech up his metal sleeve. One of his options, perhaps, is the space elevator. A mainstay of science fiction, the space elevator idea is that if you connect a long enough cable to a space satellite in geo- stationary orbit, an elevator can be used to transport stuff into space using far less energy. No doubt Ultron feels raising Sokovia in this way simply wouldnt work. Besides, this option might lead to rather lame dialogue such as Ultron declaring, "Do you see? The beauty of it, the inevitability. You rise, only to fall. You, Avengers, you are my meteor, my swift and terrible elevator, and the Earth will be dented a little bit when I cut the cable. Mwahahaha, etc."
Lets also take this brief opportunity to help Ultron a little with his terminology. Rocks and debris in space are called meteoroids, and pieces that survive the journey to Earth and hit the ground are called meteorites. But the term meteor, and its colloquial equivalents "shooting star" or "falling star," is merely a reference to the visible incandescent passage of a glowing meteoroid falling through our planets atmosphere on its way down to the ground. (Besides, something as big as this Sokovian mass of rock is surely an asteroid.)
Ultron would no doubt be aware that another lift option would be to blow Sokovia into the sky by using a nuclear weapon. This might appeal to him. The basic plan would be to place a nuclear bomb somewhere under the Sokovian city and simply ride the shockwave into the sky. You might assume that the city would be vaporized. And yet, someone with Ultron's alleged skill could no doubt fashion some kind of (probably) metal shield to stop the soon-to-be-floating city from disintegrating before it shot skyward.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Science of Superheroes"
Copyright © 2018 Mark Brake.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Space
What If Superman Pitched for the Metropolis Meteors? 3
Lift and Separate: The Challenge of Making a "Meteorite" out of Sokovia 7
Daily Diary: Iron Man, Superman, and Coping with the Physics of Flight 15
Why Might Storm's Weather-Wielding Be Unwise? 21
Why Are Supervillains Always Invading Earth? 27
What If We Could Use Sunlight to Power Our Bodies Like Superman? 32
The Myth of the Mask: Who Is the Most Influential Superhero of All Time? 38
Part II Time
Daily Diary: The Need for Speed-How The Flash Deals with Dynamics 47
How Does Usain Bolt Compare with Captain America? 51
Where Does Aquaman Sit on the Tree of Life? 57
Did Superman Really Tamper with Time? 69
Daily Diary: Living Like Loki-Is Immortality a Drag? 76
Captain America: Experiments with Übermensch 81
Daily Diary: How Has Evolution Made Real-Life X-Men Mutants? 90
Part III Machine
How Might a Prepper Make an Iron Man Suit? 105
How Does Thor's Hammer Work? 111
Why Might Playing Superhero Video Games Help Save the World? 117
The Physics and Fun of Being Doctor Manhattan 124
Are We All Evolving to Become like the Justice League's Cyborg? 135
What's Needed to Develop Real Superhero Tech? 141
Would Alien Tech Be Like the Vibranium in Captain America's Shield? 147
What Is the Ultimate Superweapon? 154
Part IV Monster
Daily Diary: Arachnid Days and Nights-the Swinger's Life of a Spiderman 163
I Am Groot! How Sentient Are Terrestrial Trees? 169
Daily Diary: The Invisible Man and the Troubles with Being Transparent 175
When Will Deadpool's Healing Superpower Become Reality? 180
Daily Diary: Superstrong! Living with Hulk's Incredible Strength 186
Daredevil: How Far Are the Other Senses Heightened by Blindness? 190
How Could Luke Cage's Skin Be Impenetrable? 196
Daily Diary: How Does the Hulk Deal with Body Mass? 201
Would Human Enhancement Create Supermen or Super Tyrants? 206