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The science of Superman

July 9, 2006 @ 2:26am

I read two stories about the physics of superheroes last week. One was in National Geographic and it covered some opinions by James Kakalios, professor and author of "The Physics of Superheroes". One of the things he says is "As any fan knows, the original explanation for Big Blue's power and skyscraping leaps was gravity. He comes, the story goes, from the destroyed planet Krypton, where gravity was stronger than it is on Earth."

I remember that explanation. His point is that Clark Kent should be bouncing around The Daily Planet offices like Neil Armstrong did on the moon -- unable to control his floating. Like Bryan Singer's Superman Returns didn't have enough of those accusations to deal with.

Of course, that's not the explanation anyone gives anymore. Decreased gravity wouldn't give Superman heat vision. The difference is Earth's yellow sun versus Krypton's red one. That doesn't explain why he was returning from going to visit his destroyed home planet in between Superman II and Superman Returns. Why would he want to sit under a red sun, surrounded by Kryptonite?

This other article has a few more entertaining related theories and stories in it, especially the book "Great Mambo Chicken" -- "which tells of a scientific experiment in which a researcher put several chickens in a centrifuge and raised them in twice-normal gravity for months at a time. When they emerged, the chickens were stronger and had larger bones and muscles, and greater endurance. In other words, they were superchickens."

Again with the gravity thing, but at least this one has real-world superchickens.

My favorite superhero physics question was from John Byrne about the Invisible Woman a long time ago. Supposedly she turns herself and other objects invisible by bending light rays around them. If the only light bulb in the room is on and she turns it invisible, does the room go dark?

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