Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Energy sources

One of my hobby horses is that people have no idea how much energy it takes to do some things. They don't realize that Superman might be affected by sunlight but there just isn't enough power in sunlight to power his, uh, powers. Even if the Flash is hungry after each use of super speed, he doesn't get enough energy from the extra food to make up for it.

These things are nods to verisimilitude, not explanations. 

As such, you can't reasonably extrapolate from them and not have the whole thing collapse as an absurdist fantasy. You end up with the Flash or Superman on a hamster wheel, powering the US, or Storm putting rain in the Sahara, or Emma Frost ruling the US by taking over the Electoral College.

However, extrapolating from them is fun, so we do it anyway.

In one Flash story, he turns on every radio in the world and tunes it to the appropriate station in a matter of femtoseconds. A femtosecond is 10 to the -15 power seconds. That's a pretty small amount of time, but hey, he's the Flash, right? (Now, I'm going off hearsay with this: I haven't read the story. I recall being told it was one femtosecond, so that's where I'll start.)

I'm doing the math on my phone and in my head, so there will be errors. I'll come back later and fix them.

The speed of light is roughly 3.0 times 10 to the 9 meters per second (3E9). In a femtosecond, light travels 3E9/1E-15 meters, or 3E-6 meters. That is, three-thousandths of a millimeter. The Flash has traveled over the entire area of the Earth in that time.

I don't even know how to figure out the distance, so instead, we'll say that he traveled the equivalent of one circumference of the Earth, about 40,000 km, or 4E7 meters. So how fast was he traveling per second? Well, 4E7/1E-15 gives us 4E22 meters per second, or about about 10E13 times faster than the speed of light.

It takes infinite energy to get to that speed, but they break lightspeed all the time in comics, so clearly there's a way to do it in that cosmos. If we ignore relativity entirely and go with the old "more gas means you go faster" model, the energy is, at minimum E = mv2/2 (kinetic energy. I don't see how to insert exponents while I'm on my phone). Let's assume that the Flash weighs 80 kilograms, or 8E1 kg. That's 8E1*.5*4E22*4E22 = 4E1*16E44 = 6E46...hmm. That's kind of a big number.

Let's work backward from E=mcc rewritten as m=E/cc and figure out what equivalent mass that is to one significant digit, because this is back of the envelope stuff.

6E46/(3E9*3E9) = 6E46/9E18 = 6E28/9 = 6E27

About the mass of Saturn has to be destroyed to push the Flash that fast, even in a world without relativity. And that's just one stunt, one story. Flash has been published since the 1940s...

So my theory is that every superhero is connected to a star that powers them. Some are connected to dwarf stars, some to giants, but it's the star that powers them. And when the star goes out, the power is gone.

And if the star had an inhabited system, the hero gets the angst, too.