Interstellar movie: What is the “portal” to the other galaxy?

Interstellar movie: What is the “portal” to the other galaxy?

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I recently watched Interstellar with some friends and we didn't come to the same conclusion. In my opinion, the portal they use to go to the other galaxy (to visit the three planets) is not a black hole. My friends tell me it is.

(warning, contains spoiler!!)

To me, it's not because of these points:

  • When they are in front of the portal, they can see the other galaxy, which is not the case when Coop goes to the black hole at the end
  • When they go to that portal, they "flow" in a tube like channel. Again, that's not the case when Coop goes to the black hole at the end.
  • When Coop goes to that black hole, he goes through some sort of light dust that hits his ship, which is not the case when they go to the portal.
  • When the robot (I forgot his name) goes in the black hole, his purpose is to collect some quantic data. If the initial portal was also a black hole, he would have made that collection at that time.
  • When they goes to the portal, they seems "confident", but when Coop goes to that black hole, it's for killing himself. If the portal was a black hole, they would behave more identical.

So I believe it's not a black-hole, but what is it exactly (maybe not in scientific terms, but in Interstellar's terms)? A Wormhole?

Yes, it is a wormhole indeed. This has been indicated quite clearly in the movie as well, when Dr. Romily explains with a pen and paper to Dr. Cooper. The explanation goes like this :

Imagine a sheet of paper to be 2-D space, then a line joining two points on the sheet of paper is the shortest distance possible to reach that point, but if due to some disturbance, the space is bent ( achieved by folding the sheet of paper), you can pierce a hole in the sheet after aligning the two points together. That is a 2-D wormhole (which is a circle indeed). So what happens when you consider a 3-D wormhole? It becomes a sphere.

Now, you can see the other end of a 2-D wormhole (which is effectively the other hole in the sheet visible from the first hole, and one can see beyond the hole in the other direction as well). Same happens with the 3-D spherical wormhole where you can see to the other side of the wormhole as well.

Now, the means to bend spacetime : Space time can be bent by having a very big mass placed inside the space time (read Einstien's General Relativity ). So, it is safe to assume that the wormhole is a space time disturbance created due to a massive object, but it is not a blackhole.

In addition to the previous answer about Romily's explanation, the black hole is just a black hole at the center of the star system they're exploring. It's the remnants of the large star, not a wormhole. When they first come through the wormhole in the movie they're fairly far from the "Gargantua". That's why it takes them some time to get to Miller's planet that is orbiting the black hole. Hope this helps. :)

Exploring the Philosophy of 'Interstellar': Why Is the Universe Like This?

'Interstellar,' the new science fiction film, is rightly praised for its adherence to the real science of black holes, wormholes, extra dimensions and time travel. Moreover, promoting frontier concepts of cosmology builds public appreciation of real science. Successful entertainment need not be all escapist and unscientific like, say, magic ('Harry Potter') and fantasy ('Transformers,' 'X-men').

It goes deeper. Can grasping the exotic nature of reality approach bigger issues of meaning and purpose (if there be any)? What's it all about? Perhaps the philosophy of 'Interstellar,' as well as its science, is worth exploring.

The cutting-edge science comes from Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at Caltech, a global authority on gravitation, general relativity and "the warped side of the universe," as he likes to say. Kip is an executive producer of the film and his new book, appropriately, is The Science of Interstellar.

Kip stresses "gravitational anomalies" as both changing the course of astronomy and playing a major role in the film. "Gravitational anomalies are a big deal, today and in the past," he says. "And we're still trying to figure out what's going on." In astronomy, gravitational anomalies in Mercury's orbit were explained by Einstein's general relativity, in rapid rotations of galaxies and stars by "dark matter," and in the shocking accelerating expansion of the universe by "dark energy." In the film, gravitational anomalies are fields in a fifth dimension (called "The Bulk"), which are then harnessed to save humankind.

The science of 'Interstellar' is founded on black holes, which are unimaginably strange, converting all their energy-matter (from a collapsing star) into warped space-time and trapping light so that it cannot escape (that's why they're "black"). Black holes give insight into higher dimensions and wormholes -- those theoretical tunnels that link one part of the universe to another and serve as the central plot device in 'Interstellar.'

But can black holes go further? Can they give us insight into how the universe began, and what lies in the far future? Can black holes connect to other universes? We can never see them but the "light" of black holes brings us "closer to truth."

Some say science can only answer "How questions," not "Why questions." "Why" is the domain of philosophy. So what's the philosophy of 'Interstellar'? What is it about a universe that features black holes and perhaps extra dimensions and wormholes? What does it mean, if anything, that black holes help structure galaxies such that stars and planets are stable for billions of years? What does it mean, if anything, that a universe with black holes is congenial to life and mind?

"Some people have speculated that there's only one way that things could work, because there's only one manner in which all the fundamental physical laws could hang together in a logical, self-consistent way," Kip says. "But there is considerable evidence in the last decade or two that's not the case."

Here are five possibilities:

  1. There is no meaning. The universe, as Bertram Russell put it, "is just there, and that's all." Reality is a "brute fact" with no explanation.
  2. There is "Only One Way" that the laws of nature can be -- the so-called "Theory of Everything." (Cosmologist Max Tegmark suggests reality is mathematical.)
  3. There are multiple universes, perhaps an infinite number of universes, so that anything that can happen must happen, including us. Because only if we exist can we ask why we exist ("selection bias"). We think we are special when we are not.
  4. There is a "ground of being" that is a "supreme conscious being" from which all being comes -- perhaps the personal God of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), perhaps the cosmic consciousness of Eastern religions.
  5. There is a "ground of being" that drives (or is) a kind of teleology in reality (which the atheistic philosopher Thomas Nagel suggests), an impersonal directionality in the universe that reflects the foundations of reality. (The atheistic physicist Paul Davies suggests that the universe is "about" something. The philosopher John Leslie suggests that "value" is fundamental.)

I asked Kip to reflect on a reality that features black holes, wormholes, extra dimensions and time travel.

"I have no great wisdom on this," he said. Maybe, I thought, that's the greatest wisdom.

So while I admire the science of 'Interstellar,' I appreciate even more how it provokes us to ask the "Big Why Question." Why is the universe like this?

Robert Lawrence Kuhn is the creator, writer and host of Closer To Truth, the public television series and website archive of over 4,000 videos of leading scientist and philosophers.

1. There's a solar-powered drone that stays up for decades.

Depends on design, but this is probably possible. The solar-powered Opportunity Mars rover has been going strong for ten years, and it's on Mars, which is further away from the sun than we are.

(It seems really unlikely that Cooper would be able to hack into the drone though. Did all world governments use the same guidance programs, accessible via short-range wi-fi?)

Milky Way Galaxy Line Drawing / The milky way is the galaxy that contains our solar system, with the name describing the galaxy's appearance from earth:

300x168 - The milky way (like other spiral galaxies) is surrounded by a large halo region which contains globular clusters, large clouds of hydrogen gas, and a huge mass of the mysterious dark matter.

612x383 - Distributed in the halos around the milky way and other galaxies.

1600x1155 - Learn how to draw the easy, step by step way while having fun and building skills and confidence.

479x612 - Our sun lies near a small, partial arm called the orion arm, or orion spur.

661x672 - The milky way facts say that it is the galaxy that contains our solar system.

1024x1159 - Titanic mergers between galaxies or interstellar winds from catastrophic supernovas can also have smashed clouds together into stars, she explained.

848x798 - The beijing researchers thought forces from the milky way's spinning.

1600x1155 - You can learn how to color with markers, color pencils and much more.

This film provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: SSTO VTOLs have been built, as well as cryogenic sleep pods, Uterine Replicators and conversant AI Robot Buddies. They're just not common because of the Second Dust Bowl (which also has robotic harvester machines), meaning most people drive 2014 cars, beaten to hell by decades of wear and tear.
  • Ace Pilot: Cooper. At first only an Informed Attribute, he later proves this to be true when docking onto the wildly rotating Endurance without losing consciousness and when pulling off the Spaceship Slingshot Stunt around the black hole.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: The NASA officials laugh when Cooper asks for assurances that they're leaving, and not in the trunk of a car.
  • Adaptation Distillation: TARS has less dialogue in the novelization, and several of his funny lines and scenes with Cooper are cut or shortened, making CASE's comment about TARS being the much more talkative one almost into an Informed Attribute.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The novelization, while naturally very close to the movie, provides more insight into several of the characters, such as Mann's deception and what ultimately happened to characters like Tom and Edmunds.
    • One of the more common complaints about the characters in the movie is that, in the film, Cooper occasionally comes across as blatantly caring more for his daughter than his son, and not thinking about Tom nearly as much as he does Murphy. The novelization, while still emphasizing Murphy more (justifiably, since she is more important to the plot than Tom), evens it out better.
    • Several characters occasionally address/refer to Cooper as "Coop."
    • Cooper addresses TARS as "Slick" multiple times.
    • Cooper, and some others, refer to his daughter Murphy as "Murph"
    • Cooper is alarmed when TARS states that his Honesty setting is set to 90%, but TARS explains that Brutal Honesty isn't always preferable. Ultimately Cooper trusts the robots and they never betray him or the mission. This also allows him to joke about the astronauts being "slaves for [his] robot colony".
    • We even get a scene that almost mirrors events of 2001, where CASE gets a message to relay to Cooper containing information that would hinder the mission he's perfectly capable of editing the message to remove the ending, but instead he shows it to Cooper and company in full.
    • Cooper suffers this twice. First, Dr. Mann cracks Cooper's visor and takes the emergency oxygen packs out of his suit, leaving him to die. Later, Cooper is teleported out of the black hole and floats in free space near Saturn, only to be rescued by one of NASA's scouting Rangers.
    • Humanity is suffering this on Earth. The reason why the Blight will eventually kill every human on Earth isn't starvation rather, its uncontrollable growth will reduce the level of oxygen to the point where everyone will suffocate to death. It's already starting to happen when Murph is an adult.
    • Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night".
    • "90 percent" (referring to TARS's honesty setting, with the explanation that Brutal Honesty is not always the way to go, and the subsequent agreement among the crew to stick by this). At the end, Coop rebuilds him and ups his honesty to 95%.
    • Kip Thorne, one of the world's leading experts in astrophysics, put an amazing amount of research into the film, but this film is the first place many viewers will have seen it. And some of it &mdash the Time Travel in particular &mdash is bleeding-edge theoretical, and may be disproved in the future &mdash especially as Thorne was actually able to use Double Negative's (the CGI effects company that worked on the film) resources to make significant theoretical advances. Of particular note is a disagreement between Thorne and Roberto Totta over those advances.
    • There is at least one major aspect of the film that is pure artistic license. A planet orbiting a black hole's accretion disk would not be habitable by humans for numerous reasons. For starters, while accretion disks do give off radiation, very little of it is visible light of the sort that humans would need most of it is deadly X-rays and gamma rays. The planet would also be at risk of being torn apart by the black hole's tidal force (that is, the difference in the pull of gravity on different sides of the planet).
    • The conditions on Mann's planet are the exact opposite of what they should be. Chlorine is rather heavy and should have drifted to the surface instead of staying in the higher elevations. The film does imply a plausible reason, as Mann was lying about these conditions and no one caught the mistake .
    • Despite being a common misconception, land plants don't generate the world's oxygen, which is mostly generated by algae in the ocean. And it would be fairly easy to concentrate oxygen from the atmosphere to supply people with it, even if the atmospheric oxygen content were to significantly drop (which it wouldn't do on the order of decades, but centuries to thousands of years).
    • While it makes for a very interesting scene, frozen clouds, as they are displayed, are just not very likely, namely due to the implication that they were actual clouds formed from water vapor or similar substances. It is scientifically possible for ice mountains to form like that, but it's unlikely that they would take the shape of clouds in the process.
    • The incredible time dilation of Miller's planet may seem to be an exaggeration &mdash indeed, for a non-rotating (Schwarzschild) black hole, such dilation is impossible. But for a rotating (Kerr) hole, as described in Kip Thorne's The Science of Interstellar, the time dilation level in the film is actually possible &mdash if the conditions are just right. The black hole must be spinning near the speed of light for the effects to be as strong as in the film. The real problem with the black hole comes from its visual appearance in the film. As a fast-rotating Kerr black hole, Gargantua would look highly asymmetric due to its spin in real life, looking very different from how it does in the film note It is asymmetric in the film, but only very slightly, so you need to know to look to spot it look at how the accretion disc hugs the edge of the disc more closely on one side than the other. . Thorne, who would otherwise never agree to unscientific elements in the film, had to concede this small but noticeable inaccuracy to Nolan so that audiences would not be confused by an asymmetric black hole.
    • There is no realistic way the solid surface of the water planet would be that smooth if there are tidal and rotational forces as powerful as what there would need to be for waves that big. The probe debris being that close together is also unlikely, especially since it is all invisible a moment before it.
    • Several of the orbital maneuvers performed by Cooper defy real-life orbital mechanics. Of particular note is the sequence where Cooper attempts to dock with the damaged Endurance, where several such inconsistencies appear in rapid succession.
      • Objects spin around their centers of mass. After it's damaged by Mann's failed attempt to enter , the Endurance is no longer symmetrical, and would not spin around its former center, where the central hatch is located. Therefore, Cooper would not be able to dock it, no matter how fast his module is spinning around its own center of mass.
      • It's conceivable the Endurance was designed for situations like this, considering how catastrophic such a situation would be, plus simple modularity. The ship could have ballast in all the modules that could be ejected as needed. Or even, perhaps, large hidden masses in each of the modules that can be moved toward or away from the center.
      • The accident causes the Endurance's orbit to decay enough to cause it to enter the planet's stratosphere. This would require an external force to act against the ship's direction of travel. No such force was applied in the movie. And assuming the Endurance's orbit was indeed sufficiently high to be stable before the accident, it would then need to have been slowed down significantly in order to fall so quickly into the stratosphere (again, no such force was applied during the accident).
      • In order to enter the stratosphere at all, the Endurance would have needed to be in such a low orbit that it would already be grazing the stratosphere. This in itself would have made the orbit decay and destroy the ship well before anyone returned to it.
      • A small boost from Cooper's ship is apparently enough to not only deflect the Endurance out of its sub-orbital trajectory but enough to get it to interplanetary velocity by mistake.
      • The sequence when Cooper docks with the out-of-control Endurance is evocative of a emergency that occurred during Neil Armstrong and David Scott's 1966 Gemini 8 mission, when a thruster failure while practicing docking and rendezvous caused the spacecraft to spin violently out of control, which Armstrong was able to recover from. It also harkens back to the Soviet mission Soyuz T-13, in which spacecraft rotation had to be matched to dock with a derelict Salyut 7.
      • Mann's fate is evocative of (although not nearly as graphic as) the horrific 1983 Byford Dolphin diving bell incident.
      • The genuine recollections of Dust Bowl survivors.
      • Cooper had to leave his family for possible dead as he ventured out to find a suitable planet.
      • Mann is described multiple times as "the best of us" and "remarkable". However, by the time the Endurance crew reaches his planet and awakens him, all those years by himself, believing that he would die, have broken him and caused him to Go Mad from the Isolation .
      • Professor Brand becomes this to everyone who learns the truth&mdashbut especially Murph, Cooper, and his own daughter Amelia&mdashwhen it comes out that he was lying to nearly everyone about "Plan A." He believes that everyone still on Earth is doomed. Earth does eventually succumb to the dust bowl and part of humanity is saved by Murph, but it's not thanks to him .
      • Judging by the way Dr. Mann is described as the best that NASA has to offer, and the fact that he went on a possible suicide mission in the first place, he must have been a respected and idolized astronaut. In spite of it all, he makes a false report that endangers the entire human race just to save his own skin .
      • Possibly Cooper to Tom later on in the film, due to the stress of Tom not seeing his father for years and losing his firstborn child. When Murph tries to convince him to follow her advice based on something having to do with their father, Tom notes that their grandfather was the person who really raised him, not Coop.
      • Briefly Coop to Murph as well, when, after years of already resenting him for leaving, she learns that Plan A is a sham and comes to fear that her father knew about it and abandoned her, Tom, and the rest of humanity to die. However, she eventually realizes that her father was her "ghost" all along and was giving her the info she needs to save humanity, and he becomes a Rebuilt Pedestal as a result. However, she does move on from waiting for her dad after this when he does return, she's glad to see him but tells him that she has filled her life by surrounding herself with a family that love her, and that he should seize the opportunity that being still young gives him.
      • The wristwatch Cooper leaves for Murph as a Memento MacGuffin he later uses it to communicate the gravity equations to her. Before that (or after that depending on the moment you focus on in the movie), both the dust from the storm and the books in Murph's room.
      • Cooper (from the future) turns out to have been Murph's "ghost" the whole time.
      • Both Cooper and Murph know Morse code, which is important later when Cooper communicates with Murph via books and wristwatch.
      • Murph's shared penchant with her father for scientific pursuit and her talents as a Child Prodigy result in Professor Brand taking her under his wing, and she grows up to work with NASA just like her dad.
      • While it is only implied in the film proper, the official novelization and official prequel comic both confirm that Mann betrayed his Robot Buddy, KIPP , years before the beginning of the movie. Since KIPP found enough data to prove that Mann's planet was uninhabitable, Mann had him prepare a "hypothetical" set of perfect data for his planet that he used to create forged data, shut KIPP down before he could send any of his findings to Earth, and booby-trapped him to explode if anyone tries to access the archives that would reveal his deception. He did all this to a robot who was programmed to be his loyal helper and companion .
      • He also betrays the entire Endurance crew who comes to rescue him. Once Cooper decides to return to Earth (but still help the others get settled on Mann's planet before he leaves), Mann resolves to kill him and Make It Look Like an Accident to the rest of the crew so he can still keep them as companions. When that fails (thanks to Cooper surviving and Romilly dying by inadvertently setting off the bomb), Mann decides, "Screw This, I'm Outta Here!" and tries to steal the Endurance and abandon all the remaining crew on his planet .
      • On a less personal level, he also betrays the Lazarus mission (which he led) and all his fellow humans by succumbing to his cowardice and falsifying the data about his planet, which puts the entire Endurance mission at risk and almost destroys the possibility of either Plan A or Plan B&mdashand thus, the future of the human race .
      • NASA's secret base is within a night's drive of Cooper's farm.
      • Try calculating the odds of finding a lone astronaut floating in space just in the nick of time - but also note that the bulk beings who brought Cooper into the Tesseract also created the wormhole in the first place. Spitting him out right where the spacers would find him instead of just dropping him off inside the station itself is just them granting present-day humans their Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
      • The Ranger is a VTOL Space Plane with a fighter jet aesthetic that chariots our heroes wherever they need to go.
      • The bulkier and less sleek-looking Lander, designed to haul heavy scientific equipment, proves its own worth when Dr. Mann steals the Ranger and Brand uses the Lander to rescue Cooper .
      • Subverted with Laura Miller. She is dead by the time the Endurance crew reaches her planet however, due to severe time dilation there, Brand speculates that, by this planet's time, she only arrived a couple of hours before they did, and probably only died minutes before they landed .
      • Played straight with Wolf Edmunds. Once the crew gets through the wormhole, they learn that Edmunds&mdashwho was sending the "thumbs-up" signal for his planet&mdashstopped transmitting three years prior (i.e. a year before the Endurance left Earth). When Brand reaches his planet at the end of the movie, she discovers that this is because a rockslide crushed his habitat, including his beacon and his stasis pod, and killed him, meaning that, regardless of which order the crew visited the planets, she never had any chance of seeing him again. Still, Brand was right to believe in her love for Edmunds, since his planet is the only one of the three that is actually habitable .
      • TARS, the sarcastic robot.
      • Cooper, the sarcastic human. Not surprisingly, leads to some good old-fashioned Snark-to-Snark Combat between the two.
      • The original twelve astronauts were chosen based on their skills and their lack of any familial connections. Everyone fails to consider that this means they would have nothing to lose by falsifying the data and claiming their world is habitable when it isn't .
      • Dr. Brand looks slightly puzzled but mostly straight-faced as Cooper exchanges goodbyes with TARS when the latter detaches and drops into the black hole ("See you on the other side, Cooper" "See you there, slick!"). It's not until CASE announces that Ranger 2 (Coop's ship) is about to be detached that she panics and pleads for him not to do it. only to get the 90% rule response from Cooper before he detaches despite her protest.
      • The wormhole is represented as an instantaneous passage between two points in space separated by millions of lightyears, yet it is possible to see through the "aperture" from multiple angles due to its spherical shape in physical space, allowing probes to scan the far galaxy in all directions to identify potential new worlds for humans to settle. Later when the Endurance passes through, it takes a noticeable amount of time to make the trip, and while inside the crew witnesses a prolonged passage of other stars and galaxies on the way. Also, the ship's controls do nothing inside, because it's not physical space.
      • Miller's planet at first appears relatively earth-like and normal, but two big differences play a key role in the plot: time passes at approximately 1/60,000th of the Earth's rate, due to the extreme bending of space that occurs as a result of the planet orbiting right outside the event horizon of a black hole, and the surface (which is a uniform ocean only two feet deep across the entire planet) is regularly swept with literal mile high tidal waves, again due to the planet's close proximity to the black hole. It's also uniformly well lit like a slightly overcast day on Earth, but the planet has no sun - that light is caused by the black hole again, due to light bending around it from all directions.
      • The black hole, both inside and out. On the outside it appears as a blacker than black sphere surrounded by a nimbus of light from all directions, which makes sense - the gravity causes such extreme distortions in local space that all light is literally wrapped around it. On the inside, Cooper flies through a stream of particles that steadily increase in size and speed which destroy his ship, forcing him to eject, which lands him inside the Tessaract. Also, his ship's systems mostly fail and he has no control because like the wormhole, the inside of the black hole is not physical space.
      • At the baseball game, numerous people somehow fail to spot a gigantic dust cloud until it's almost on top of them.
      • The waves on the water planet are only visible when the plot requires them to be, despite being so massive they can be seen from orbit. Also, when the crew is digging around in the water, there is no way the probe debris would be that close together with waves that powerful tossing it around. Finally, when the crew is looking for the probe wreckage, they proclaim they should be right on top of it when their robot steps on it and digs it out. at which point the camera pans to reveal that they're surrounded by brightly-painted pieces of metal they should have been able to see with ease. It also floats to the surface right after they proclaim they can't see the wreck. Though it's possible the water being drawn up into the advancing wave exposed them as the water receded.
      • Cooper, through his bond with his family.
      • Brand becomes this as well after the visit to Miller's Planet, which at first gets dismissed by the other characters.
      • Quite a bit towards the "ghost"'s identity:
        • Murph says that she calls the mysterious happenings in her bedroom the work of a "ghost" not because she's afraid of it, but because it feels like a person. Turns out she's right, and it is a person. namely, her father reaching out to her from the future .
        • After being woken up by Cooper's nightmare in the beginning, Murphy even mentions "I thought you were the ghost", and it turns out he was the ghost all along.
        • While leaving home, Cooper says to Murph, "Once you're a parent, you're the ghost of your children's future". Cooper is Murph's ghost in his future, and is able to use this to play a vital role in her future.
        • The wormhole. How is a hole drawn on paper? A circle. What's the three-dimensional form of a circle? A sphere. This is also a hint that They don't really understand humanity that well Cooper mentions that he would have expected a wormhole to be, well, a hole.
        • When Cooper enters the black hole with TARS, he deduces that the "aliens" have spread time into physical dimensions as snippets of Murph's timeline so that it's understandable to Cooper and makes it easier for him to communicate with Murph. The sympathy that he feels from this, and the fact that he deduces it so easily, makes him think that the creators of the black hole are futuristic humans who chose Murph (and him to a lesser extent) to be bookmarks and catalysts for humanity's exploration of space.
        • Dr. Mann, to the point of lying about his planet's habitability, attempting to kill Cooper, setting a trap which kills Romilly, and docking his Ranger with Endurance while ignoring all warnings Cooper and Brand give him. Also, he gave in to selfish temptation from the isolation, as he knew that he would be never be rescued if his world was not habitable &mdash meaning all the Endurance's colony supplies would have been good for was keeping him alive a few more years.
        • Downplayed for Romilly. He's stiff and awkward after 23 years of isolation on the Endurance (he spends a good portion of that time in cryosleep, but it isn't enough), but he's still sane and sober enough to continue functioning mostly-normally and remains helpful to the crew up until his death .
        • Cooper's attempt to dock the Lander with the Endurance, while the ship is spinning out of control and falling into the atmosphere. It's a suicidally-risky maneuver, but if they lose the Endurance, they lose any remaining chance of saving humanity.
        • Dr Mann tries to smash Cooper's helmet with his own. When Cooper points out he has an equal chance of cracking his own helmet, Mann replies that a 50/50 chance are the best odds he's had in years.
        • Played straight with most of the astronauts of the Lazarus Mission, three-quarters of whom traveled to planets that they found to be completely uninhabitable, and thus are doomed to never be rescued and die there.
        • Defied by Dr. Mann, who refuses to die alone on his planet and endangers the entire mission just to survive.
        • Attempted but subverted by both Cooper and TARS, who let themselves fall into Gargantua so Brand and CASE can continue, but are saved by the Bulk Beings, who first place them in a tesseract that allows Cooper to make minimal contact with Murph in the past and give her TARS's data to save humanity, and then, after that's completed, send them back through the wormhole to a location where they can be rescued by the Plan A habitat.
        • The crew agrees to land on Miller's planet, as she has been transmitting positive signals for years. However, as the planet is within Gargantua's gravity distortion, time there runs extremely slow, to the tune of one hour to every seven years outside, so they won't have long to assess viability. It never occurs to them that Miller likewise couldn't have been there very long by her planet's time&mdasha couple of hours at most&mdashand thus her signal is repeating because she simply hasn't had long enough to transmit anything else. Cooper is furious, and Brand admits she screwed this up after the fact.
        • The same can be said of both Brand and Doyle while they're on Miller's planet:
          • Despite Cooper issuing four warningsthat the next wave was approaching, which Brand can plainly see, she still insists on trying to recover the data recorder, and doesn't seem to realize how pointless it is until she falls and gets pinned beneath the wreckage. This makes her indirectly partially responsible for Doyle's death, since he sends CASE to save her and has to manually override the shuttle's outside hatch. mere seconds before being swept away by the tsunami .
          • However, Doyle is also partially responsible for this after CASE gets Brand back to the Ranger and they both jump in, Doyle doesn't immediately jump in after them, and instead spends a few seconds gawking at the giant wave about to crash down on them. By the time he turns back to try to get in the Ranger, it's too late, and Cooper has had to forcibly close the outer hatch so the water doesn't get in and kill them all, trapping Doyle outside and causing him to be killed by the tidal wave .
          • Miller who probably died when her ship was hit by the Giant Wall of Watery Doom.
          • Also Edmunds, Brand's former significant other , who seems to have perished in a rock slide many years prior to her arrival (almost certainly when he stopped transmitting, which was a year before the Endurance mission leaves Earth) .
          • Joseph Cooper is almost always referred to as Cooper or by his nickname "Coop" rather than his first name. His son even nicknames his grandson "Coop" in his honor.
          • Wolf Edmunds and Laura Miller only get their first or full names stated once or twice, and Mann's first name is All There in the Script otherwise, they are referred to by their last names, which is Truth in Television (usually) for space flights.
          • Cooper reveals that his wife died of a brain tumour in the opening portions. The fact that doctors were not able to save her is implied to be a big part of his motivation to go on the mission.
          • Amelia is revealed to have one in Edmunds . He may or may not be alive, but she's partially motivated by the chance of seeing him again. He's confirmed to be dead in the epilogue .
          • Brand finds out Cooper is about to detach himself from the Endurance to ensure her safe onward travel to Edmunds' planet, and distraughtly cries that he told her there were enough resources for both of them to make it. He responds with "We agreed, didn't we? 90% [honesty]."
          • When Brand is making her somewhat bizarre speech after returning from Miller's Planet, she is repeating a lot of the words Cooper said to Donald on the porch of his house when explaining why he is going to leave on the mission to another galaxy.
          • The Endurance, which besides its obvious implications championing the human psyche's resilience, is also the name of Ernest Shackleton expedition's ship. Bonus points for Mann's planet being an Antarctica-like Single-Biome Planet, with the Endurance orbiting it while the crew go off to search for Mann.
          • Amelia Brand, the only female astronaut on the Endurance, is a callback to Amelia Earhart: the first female aviator to fly across the Pacific solo. At the end of the movie, Brand also successfully lands on an inhabitable planet &mdash and her whereabouts to the general public are unknown.
          • Murph Cooper, whose name's meaning is blatantly discussed when Cooper explains that Murphy's Law actually means that anything could happen. Against all odds, Cooper ends up in a pocket dimension when he passes through Gargantua. He manages to transmit critical gravitational data TARS gleaned from the black hole to Murph through her room, so she can solve Brand's equation and save humanity.
          • Dr. Hugh Mann, who eschews principle for base survival instincts when he realizes that his planet is unsustainable.
          • The Lazarus Project, in a round-about way. Meaning to be about humanity's capacity to come back from the brink (existential "death"), it also fits in that Dr. Mann, the sole surviving member of the space-bound part of the project, is awoken from his cryo-pod, which was set to keep him asleep until it terminally malfunctioned or someone came-literally "awakening the dead". This one also gets a Lampshade Hanging &mdash Cooper, concerned, notes that "Lazarus had to die first", as well as quipping to Mann that he "rose like Lazarus from the grave" when they opened his hibernation chamber (as Mann was not expecting to be woken up ever again).
          • Professor Brand, shortly after being introduced, informs the protagonist and the audience about the history that has lead the Earth to such a dire situation and NASA's attempts to save humanity.
          • Romilly, from describing how a wormhole looks and behaves (from without andwithin), to stating numerous times that information cannot be garnered from a black hole, fits the bill of Mr. Exposition Scientific Advisor.
          • In the final chapter, when Cooper wakes up in the hospital, the doctor gives him Infodumps about where he is and what happened to him.
          • For Cooper: Donald and Tom. Donald dies somewhere in the 23-year-Time Skip while the crew was at Miller's planet, and (according to the novelization) Tom dies over a decade before Cooper reaches the human space colony at Saturn .
          • For Brand: Her father and Edmunds (her former lover). Professor Brand dies while the crew is on the way to Mann's planet, and at that point, Amelia (and the entire crew) have been unable to send messages out for a long time. Edmunds died three years before the Endurance crew crosses through the wormhole (when his signal stopped transmitting) due to a rockslide that crushed his pod while he was in cryosleep .
          • Part of the reason that the lone woman on the mission, Amelia Brand, is included is that she's Professor Brand's daughter. However, she is also a legitimately vital part of the crew in her own right as the biologist on board, she's the expert on and in charge of caring for the fertilized eggs of Plan B. She's the only human member of the crew to make it to Edmunds's habitable planet (with only the non-human CASE there to help her) and is heavily implied to have started enacting Plan B there, which would have been much more difficult for any of the other crew members to do.
          • Likewise, Murph only gets to meet her eventual-mentor Professor Brand, who brings her to NASA to be educated, thanks to him knowing her father. However, the Professor is still quick to notice her intelligence after meeting her, and specifically seeks her out on her own merits after her father is gone to take her under his wing.
          • The early parts of the film are spliced in with interviews with elderly people living in a "Dust Bowl". Given that they're speaking in English, with US accents, the viewer may well assume that they are talking about the USA's Great Depression-era Dust Bowl. note In real life, this is actually what these are real interviews from a documentary about the Dust Bowl are used for this movie. The ending scenes reveal that those interviews were part of a museum exhibit on Cooper Station about life on earth in the first part of the film.
          • When Cooper is in the tesseract and realizes that he's Murph's "ghost", we get this for the various gravity anomalies seen in the first act, which are shown to have been caused by him using gravity to interact with Murph's bedroom. We even see some of the same scenes again, such as the binary dust lines, with this new context.
          • Tom's first child, Jesse, dies from lung disease.
          • Discussed by Murphy on her death bed. She sends Cooper away so he won't have to see her die .
          • Professor Brand to Murph, as he wishes to cultivate her genius she grows up to work as an astrophysicist in NASA under his tutelage. Since her father and his daughter both left on the mission, they become like a surrogate father and daughter to each other. Her image of him is completely dashed when he confesses on his deathbed that he had always intended to restart the human race at the expense of Earth's current inhabitants.
          • Also, Donald, who is charged of taking care of Murph and Tom while Coop is away. Tom particularly seems to regard him as his primary father figure after years of not hearing from Coop .
          • TARS is Properly Paranoid about Dr. Mann and prepares accordingly, but never thinks to voice this concern to his fellow crew at any point. Had he done so, Romilly may have survived and the Endurance wouldn't have been badly damaged by Mann's failed docking attempt . Based on the way robot programming often works, the fact that that they do this on their own initiative, and the fact that CASE (who also knows about it, since the robots are in constant contact with each other) reveals it as soon as it becomes relevant to the current conversation, it's possible they don't bring it up beforehand because nobody asks them about it.
          • When Cooper and Brand try to warn Mann not to open the hatch of his vessel to the Endurance because the robots have turned off the automatic locking and thus he would be propelled into space as soon as he does so, their calls just consist of them repeatedly telling him not to open the inner hatch without explaining why, failing to convey the danger he's in. Had they started explaining the danger as soon as they call him, he might have listened to them.
          • Cooper's love for his daughter enables him to literally transcend time and space to give her younger self the information required to save humanity .
          • Brand believes in her love for Edmunds. She makes an unscientific speech about that topic and is bashed for it. She turns out to be right.
          • The giant dust clouds were created on location using large fans to blow cellulose-based synthetic dust through the air.
          • The film's spacecrafts, as well as the robot companions, are almost entirely physical models/miniatures, and pretty much every scene (except for exterior space shots, of course) was shot in a real location.
          • On Miller's planet, there is no life and nothing to sustain it, because not enough time has passed there to allow evolution to do its thing, and also likely because the violent tidal waves would make it quite difficult for complex life to survive there.
          • NASA chose Lazarus mission crew members with no strong attachments to leave behind. One of them turns out to have no higher priority than his own survival and is willing to jeopardize the entire human race for a better shot at living.
          • Earth society might be slowly crumbling and the people starving due to the blight, but that doesn't mean all aspects of civilization have vanished. Ignoring the NASA facility which operates in secret (and where apparently you can still buy drinks in old-fashioned cups with plastic lids and straws), people are still driving cars and trucks (suggesting fuel sources still exist), there is still electricity and there is still some form of internet.
          • Dr. Mann sets one of these as a booby trap in his robot, KIPP , set to go off if anyone tries to access KIPP's archives (which would reveal the real data, which contradicts the stuff that Mann forged) . The bomb ends up killing Romilly .
          • TARS pretends to start a destruct sequence while Cooper is tinkering with his settings.
          • To Star Wars &mdash Protagonist in two-seater spaceplane with robot buddy in the back.
          • From the robots shaped like monoliths to the score, the film is a love letter to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even some of the dialog from Dr. Mann is oddly similar to that of HAL's. It's a bit of foreshadowing that Mann is going to be the character that will cause problems later on, rather than TARS and CASE that audiences would be expecting. Then there's an In-Universe example of the wise-cracking robot making a joke about blowing the team out of the airlock.
          • Mann trying to enter the airlock with a vessel that can't seal with the entrance is also similar to Dave Bowman's dilemma in 2001. However even though Mann has his space helmet, unlike Bowman he dies because he can't seal the airlock properly before opening the inner hatch.
          • Among the books in Murph's collection is Stephen King's The Stand &mdash kind of relevant, given the post-apocalypse of Earth.
          • Early in the film, Cooper refers to his son Tom by the nickname Servo.
          • In the movie Contact, McConaughey’s character gives Jodie Foster’s character a compass before she goes on her space voyage, and tells her it might just save her life (which it eventually does). The same actor in a similar movie performs the same gift-giving act with a similar gift that turns out to have similar plot results.
          • Both of the Robot Buddies on the Endurance are named after characters from famous science-fiction novels. TARS is named after Tars Tarkas from John Carter of Mars, and CASE is named after Henry Case from Neuromancer.
          • The scene of Cooper's launch (partly replaced by him driving his pick-up with launching sound effects) is a homage to Solaris (1972) (where the launching of the cosmonaut is totally replaced and symbolized by long shots from a car on a Japanese highway). Also the oceanic planet, of course.
          • Donald's (John Lithgow's) comment "I want a hotdog" calls to mind the conversation about hotdogs in 2010: The Year We Make Contact, in which Lithgow played one of the characters.
          • Romilly's explanation of travel through a wormhole - folding a piece of paper in half and pushing a pen through it - mirrors Weir's explanation of the gravity drive in Event Horizon.
          • Like in 3001: The Final Odyssey, the protagonist is found floating near Saturn.
          • A lot of the movie draws from Kip Thorne's theories of wormholes and portrays them accurately. Kip Thorne is an executive producer on the film. Moreover, the portrayal of other physics is also accurate, at least in comparison to most sci-fi movies/tv shows. Gravity doesn't suck, space isn't air and isn't noisy, and the engines are fired only when they need to be. Even the insane time dilation on the ocean planet is plausible &mdash Thorne worked out that the time dilation could exist if the planet were deep inside the black hole's gravity well and if the black hole were spinning extremely fast. Really the only thing one could get worked up over is how much fuel the spacecraft are using and the existence of the "ice clouds". note The ice clouds are the one big concession of scientific accuracy that Thorne made to Nolan when the movie was being written &mdash originally, the script had a spacecraft going faster than the speed of light!
          • The film's black hole is often cited as the most realistic depiction of a black hole ever, as it was based on the actual equations which model black holes. It should be noted that lower-quality renderings have been made before for scientific papers and the like, but Interstellar is likely the first time such an equation-based rendering has been made at a photorealistic level of fidelity.
          • To acquire inspiration for real-world space travel, Christopher Nolan invited former astronaut Marsha Ivins to the set.
          • Mann has a pretty bad case of it, though it's more the isolation that has taken its toll on him.
          • Romilly gets a mild case when he starts to fret about how thin the spaceship hull is, with all that nothingness behind it. Cooper soothes Rom by giving him his recorded nature sounds to listen to.
          • The Endurance slingshots the black hole in order to get up to the speed needed for the onward flight to Edmunds' planet.
          • Before the arrival at the wormhole, they make a flyby of Mars, which could have slightly given it velocity.
          • The film acts as this towards Inception. Time passing by at bizarre speeds, a father being separated from his children in a faraway location, a Tragic Villain who almost screws up the team's goals , Nolan being in the Sci-Fi genre again, etc. Of course, the main difference is that the scale is much grander than Inception's smaller focus. Even lampshaded by Nolan himself in a couple of interviews.
          • The film is a more practical and straightforward version of 1997's Contact, which also deals with an otherworldly message that triggers a drive for space exploration. In Interstellar's case, they actually have the logistics for space travel and Cooper speculates that the messengers are advanced futuristic humans , whereas in Contact, the beings basically provide the means and are extraterrestrial .
          • First by 2 years, when the Endurance travels from Earth to Saturn to enter the wormhole.
          • Next by 23 years, 4 months, and 8 days, which is how long half the crew spends on Miller's planet in "real" time (though, thanks to Time Dilation, from their perspective, they're only there for a few hours).
          • Lastly, by more or less 60 years. Unlike the previous example, we don't see the direct effects of this until the denouement. At this point, Cooper is told he is chronologically 124 years old, but biologically, he is still only 40-ish.
          • Murph is played by Mackenzie Foy as a child, Jessica Chastain in her mid-30s and Ellen Burstyn as an old woman.
          • Tom is played by Timothée Chalamet as a teen and Casey Affleck as an adult.
          • Brand should have listened to Cooper and hurried back to the Ranger, especially since she can see that the next wave is practically on top of them. Instead, she insists on trying to retrieve the data log anyway and Doyle dies saving her .
          • Doyle as well in the same situation, since he freezes up and gawks at the approaching wave multiple times instead of continuing onward. The first time, Cooper has to tell him to keep moving, and the second time, it costs him his life even after Brand and CASE have already gotten into the Ranger, Doyle doesn't immediately jump in after them, but still keeps staring at the wave, and gets locked out of the Ranger and swept away .
          • Mann really should have listened to the three separate warnings telling him not to open the airlock.
          • The trailers also depict Mann's pod exploding, debris spewing from Endurance, and the waves of Miller's Planet.
          • The Endurance crew comes to rescue him and, as he puts it, "literally raised [him] from the dead". In fact, since Mann's planet was uninhabitable, they shouldn't have even come there in the first place, and only do so because Mann faked his data to make it look like the planet could sustain human life. Mann repays them by 1) trying to kill Cooper to keep him from going home, 2) actually killing Romilly (indirectly) when Mann's booby trap in KIPP blows him up, and 3) attempting to steal the Endurance and continue the mission on his own while leaving Cooper, Brand, TARS, and CASE marooned on his planet.
          • This also applies to his treatment of his Robot Buddy, KIPP . The robots are programmed to be loyal to their human masters, and the entire Endurance crew appreciates and values their robots, TARS and CASE, forming good friendships with them. By contrast, the novelization and prequel comic reveal that Mann threatened to shut KIPP down multiple times before actually doing so to keep him from transmitting their true findings to NASA (which is just KIPP doing his job), and then rigged him with a bomb to explode if anyone tries to access the real data in the archives .
          • Cooper's relationship with his son Tom, as well as the daughter-in-law and grandson whom he never meets, seems to be thrown aside in favor of his bond with his daughter. Given the time skips, it's probable that he dies of old age and that his descendants are in the room with the rest of Murphy's family in the end . In any event, he isn't seen or mentioned in the finale in the movie, though the novelization expands on it by confirming that Tom died over a decade before Cooper arrives on the station .
          • Seeing as it would have been physically impossible to evacuate everyone on earth, not without building thousands if not hundreds of thousands of ships the size of the colony, the finale avoids the issue of how many had to be left behind &mdash and, indeed, whether any group other than Americans even made it off the planet.
          • The Indian Drone is collected in an exciting scene and then that subplot is shooed aside. Presumably, they stripped it for parts. The film never explains why an Indian Drone has been flying over the US for 10 years, and if it's meant to tie in with the gravitational anomalies, it isn't made clear or elaborated on at all.

          Video Example(s):

          20.6 Interstellar Matter around the Sun

          We want to conclude our discussion of interstellar matter by asking how this material is organized in our immediate neighborhood. As we discussed above, orbiting X-ray observatories have shown that the Galaxy is full of bubbles of hot, X-ray-emitting gas. They also revealed a diffuse background of X-rays that appears to fill the entire sky from our perspective (Figure 20.19). While some of this emission comes from the interaction of the solar wind with the interstellar medium, a majority of it comes from beyond the solar system. The natural explanation for why there is X-ray-emitting gas all around us is that the Sun is itself inside one of the bubbles. We therefore call our “neighborhood” the Local Hot Bubble, or Local Bubble for short. The Local Bubble is much less dense—an average of approximately 0.01 atoms per cm 3 —than the average interstellar density of about 1 atom per cm 3 . This local gas has a temperature of about a million degrees, just like the gas in the other superbubbles that spread throughout our Galaxy, but because there is so little hot material, this high temperature does not affect the stars or planets in the area in any way.

          What caused the Local Bubble to form? Scientists are not entirely sure, but the leading candidate is winds from stars and supernova explosions. In a nearby region in the direction of the constellations Scorpius and Centaurus, a lot of star formation took place about 15 million years ago. The most massive of these stars evolved very quickly until they produced strong winds, and some ended their lives by exploding. These processes filled the region around the Sun with hot gas, driving away cooler, denser gas. The rim of this expanding superbubble reached the Sun about 7.6 million years ago and now lies more than 200 light-years past the Sun in the general direction of the constellations of Orion, Perseus, and Auriga.

          A few clouds of interstellar matter do exist within the Local Bubble. The Sun itself seems to have entered a cloud about 10,000 years ago. This cloud is warm (with a temperature of about 7000 K) and has a density of 0.3 hydrogen atom per cm 3 —higher than most of the Local Bubble but still so tenuous that it is also referred to as Local Fluff (Figure 20.20). (Aren’t these astronomical names fun sometimes?)

          While this is a pretty thin cloud, we estimate that it contributes 50 to 100 times more particles than the solar wind to the diffuse material between the planets in our solar system. These interstellar particles have been detected and their numbers counted by the spacecraft traveling between the planets. Perhaps someday, scientists will devise a way to collect them without destroying them and to return them to Earth, so that we can touch—or at least study in our laboratories—these messengers from distant stars.

          Artifacts In Space

          All of a sudden, we have spacecraft and objects both coming into our solar system and leaving for interstellar space. This is highly unusual, and very intriguing.

          The departing spacecraft is Voyager 2, which launched in 1977 and has traveled spaceward some 11 billion miles. It has now officially left the heliosphere, the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the sun. In this it follows Voyager I – which left our solar system in 2012 — and managers of the two craft have reason to think they can travel until they cross the half-century mark.

          This is taking place the same time that scientists are puzzling over the nature of a cigar-shaped object that flew into the solar system from interstellar space last year.

          Nobody knows what the object – called Oumuamua, Hawaiian for “first messenger,” or “scout” – really is. The more likely possibilities of it being a comet or an solar system asteroid have been found to be inconsistent with some observed properties of the visitor, and this has led some senior scientists to even hypothesize that it just might be an alien probe.

          The likelihood may be small, but it was substantial enough for Harvard University Astronomy Department Chairman Avi Loeb to co-author a paper presenting the possibility. In the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Loeb and postdoc Shmuel Bialy wrote that the object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.”

          They also say the object has some characteristics of a “lightsail of artificial origins,” rather like the one that Loeb is working on as chairman of the Breakthrough Starshot advisory committee. The well-funded private effort is hoping to develop ways to send a fleet of tiny lightsail probes to the star system nearest to us, Alpha Centauri.

          Put the two phenomenon together — the coming into our solar system and the going out — and you have a pathway into the world of alien “artifacts,” products of civilizations near and far. They are the kind of “technosignatures,” the potential or actual handwork of intelligent beings, that NASA is now interested in learning about more.

          We know this because during a fall conference in Houston convened by NASA at the request of members of Congress, scientists were brought together to discuss many different kinds of potential signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life. While artifacts were one of many topics discussed, the term carries a quite magnetic pedigree.

          So far, that meaning is of course fictional, or a misreading of actual features. There is perhaps most famously the monoliths from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” and then the myriad sightings of alien spacecraft that turn out to be anything but that.

          And then there’s the “Face on Mars.”

          The original image taken by Viking 1 looked somewhat like a human face. The feature, found in the region where the highlands meet the northern plains of Mars, was subsequently broadly popularized as a potential “alien artifact,” with even a major motion picture.

          So many people were convinced that an image had been sculpted on the surface of Mars that NASA ultimately put out a substantial release in 2001 to make clear that the face was actually a mountain.

          That was after the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter determined that the “face” was created by unusual reflections in an otherwise ordinary Martian mountain.

          So alien artifacts surely and properly have a steep hill to climb before they can be taken at all seriously.

          But does that mean they shouldn’t be taken seriously at all? Loeb clearly says no, that they are a potential source of important and compelling science, even if they turn out to be unusual but natural phenomena.

          And then there’s the question raised in the Houston “technosignatures” conference: What actually is meant by an artifact?

          Longtime SETI scientist and advocate Jill Tarter, for instance, wondered if the signatures of intelligent civilizations could be imprinted on neutrinos. She said that a leak of the radioactive isotope tritium, which has a short 12-year half-life, could also signal the presence of advanced life because (unless it’s near a supernova) it would have to come quite recently from a nuclear reactor.

          Taking it further, she and others argued that artifacts of intelligent life would include many atmospheric and planetary changes that could only be accomplished by intelligent beings. For instance, the presence of unnatural pollutants such as chloroflurocarbons ( CFC s) or sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) in an exoplanet atmosphere would, in this view, be an “artifact” of civilization.

          Back, now, to Voyager 2, which is for sure an extraterrestrial artifact.

          Voyager 2 was launched by NASA in August, 1977 to study the outer planets. Part of the larger Voyager program, it was launched 16 days before its twin, Voyager 1, on a trajectory that took longer to reach Jupiter and Saturn but enabled further encounters with Uranus and Neptune.

          Both have traveled far their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. With the spacecraft holding up despite the rigors, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible, and then the Voyagers were directed to interstellar space.

          Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission ever.

          At the on-going American Geophysical Union annual meeting, NASA project manager Suzanne Dodd said she believed that Voyager 2 can keep functioning for 5 to 10 more years in this new region of space, though not with all its instruments operating.

          The greatest concerns about keeping the probes operating, she said, involve power and temperature. The nuclear-powered Voyager 2 loses about 4 watts of power a year, and mission scientists have to shut off systems to keep instruments operating.

          Voyager 2 is very cold — about 3.6 degrees Celsius and close to the freezing point of hydrazine — leading to concerns about the probe’s thruster that uses this fuel. Dodd says she’s set a personal goal of keeping at least one of the Voyagers going until 2027, making it a 50-year mission.

          The cameras for both probes are no longer on. But before the camera on Voyager 1 was decommissioned, it took the iconic “Pale Blue Dot” picture of the Earth.

          In preparation for the potentially deep space travels for the Voyager spacecrafts, both were fitted with a greeting for any intelligent life that might be encountered.

          The message is carried by a phonograph record – -a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to show the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by space scientist and popularizer Carl Sagan. He and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds to give a sense of what Earth and Earthlings are like.

          So are the Voyagers now artifacts from our civilization, messengers awaiting discovery by some distant beings?

          Perhaps. But they actually have not even left the solar system, and won’t be leaving anytime soon. They are in what is considered interstellar space, but the boundary of our solar system is beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the sun’s gravity.

          The width of the Oort Cloud is not known precisely, but it is estimated to begin at about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the sun and to extend to about 100,000 AU. One AU is the distance from the sun to Earth. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

          Astronomers have long predicted that objects from other solar systems get shot out into space and arrive in our system.

          The first identified interstellar object to visit our solar system, Oumuamua, was discovered in late 2017 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope as part of a NASA effort to search for and track asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighborhood.

          While originally classified as a comet, observations revealed no signs of cometary activity after it was slingshotted around the sun at a remarkable 196,000 miles per hour.

          Oumuamua seems to be a dark red highly-elongated metallic or rocky object that (at last analysis) is somewhere between 400 and 100 meters long and is unlike anything normally found in the solar system. Researchers hypothesize that the shape and size suggest that the object has been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years.

          Immediately after its discovery, telescopes around the world were called into action to measure the object’s trajectory, brightness and color. Combining the images from several large telescopes, a team of astronomers led by Karen Meech of the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii found that Oumuamua varies in brightness by a factor of 10 as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours.

          No known asteroid or comet from our solar system varies so widely in brightness, with such a large ratio between length and width. The most elongated objects we have seen to date are no more than three times longer than they are wide.

          “This unusually big variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape,” said Meech. “We also found that it had a reddish color, similar to objects in the outer solar system, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it.”

          Oumuamua is headed out of the solar system now, so it’s unlikely more will be learned about it. And with its odd shape and features, it clearly remains something of a mystery.

          And that’s where Harvard’s Avi Loeb comes in. Especially due to the remarkably fast speed with which Oumuamua entered the solar system, he argues that a probe sent by intelligent others cannot be ruled out, that science must be open minded.

          “There is data on the orbit of this object for which there is no other explanation” than that it is the product of intelligent others,” he has said. “The approach I take to the subject is purely scientific and evidence-based.”

          Others strongly disagree. But the views of the chairman of the Harvard astronomy department are nonetheless an intriguing part of the story.

          Sign-up to get the latest in news, events, and opportunities from the NASA Astrobiology Program.


          With the highly-touted Passengers due out this fall, this earlier take on the "interstellar ark" film is worth a look. Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster star as two inhabitants of a ship sent on a 123-year voyage to another planet, who wake up to discover that many of the 60,000 others have devolved into a mutated form of human life. The movie suffers from budgetary and script problems, but it has some effective twists and the idea of the effects of deep space travel on human beings is a compelling one. Not a great movie by any means, but I could think of worse ways to pass some time.

          Interstellar (2014)

          Christopher Nolan’s past masterpiece include Batman’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” and “Inception”, and these days whenever the director releases a movie it automatically attracts levels of high expectation. So it should come as no shock that people expected great things from Nolan’s space epic film entitled “Interstellar.” Were those expectations met? Well, it definitely looks REALLY pretty, and will have obvious appeal to those people interested in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, wormholes, and all sorts of other theoretical physics related stuff. Others, however, have called it a “magnificent folly” or an “awe-inspiring mess”.

          “Interstellar” is about the Earth’s impending destruction and an attempt by humankind’s remaining scientists to launch a rocket to another galaxy in the hopes of finding a new planet for Earth’s population to colonize and start a new life. One of the mission’s crew, NASA’s top space pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is afraid of the toll this mission will take on his family’s lifespan and the fact his 10-year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) may die from old age before her father ever returns. Nevertheless, Cooper, Dr. Brandt (Anne Hathaway) and a handful of explorers venture off into an unknown galaxy in Earth’s last ditch effort to save the human race before the planet we once called home becomes extinct.

          “Interstellar” start off slow despite some amusing parental antics from McConaughey, then slowly get more interesting as they reach space, when things get emotional and heart breaking before eventually getting really weird. Throughout the movie, McConaughey, Hathaway and Michael Caine present some truly moving emotional scenes, and the journey into space wields a lot of great ideas and compelling conflicts. Overall, “Interstellar” has the cast, the music and the visuals to truly live up to Nolan’s well-earned reputation for excellence. One issue, however, is that the space voyage goes to too many places, and takes too long to get there while the finale results in more unanswered questions than many may care to spend the time contemplating.

          Director: Christopher Nolan
          Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
          Music: Hans Zimmer
          Budget: $165 million
          Box Office: $675.1 million
          IMDB Rating: 8.6
          Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

          Watch the video: Astronaut Chris Hadfield Reviews Space Movies, from Gravity to Interstellar. Vanity Fair (September 2022).