Black Hole Sun

Today, my time is very limited and I saw that there’d been an upswing in discussion concerning the nitty-gritty of Interstellar, so I decided to go into it as a new post instead of a comment. Because I thought they were worth looking into a bit more.

The larger questions of love and predestination and closed-loop time travel are things I think I have already gone over (and will go over again in the future), but for now I will let them continue in the thread while I focus on something else.

So I’m just going to cheekily take the comments from Mr. thePatriot and dump them here with my responses.

Hope that’s okay, sir. I know I’m falling into the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” trap, but … well, comments on my blog are tōtz fair game for reposting and this way they get a bit more visibility instead of being tucked in a corner of that huge Interstellar discussion. Win-win.

But that’s minor in the scheme of things. It was the PLANETS that really pissed me off! So, so utterly stupid. And even non-scientists viewers can use hindsight to see why those planets were HORRIBLE choices. I’m referring to the two that were orbiting black holes. That was confusing, too, because black holes aren’t THAT common…but there are bigger problems than that.

I guess the black hole was an issue because that happened to be where the wormhole came out (which in turn was because humans needed to use the black hole to solve the space-time gravity whatever by going into the singularity) – so maybe those worlds had been deemed important because they were close to black holes, maximising the explorers’ chances of twigging to the idea of using the singularity? Maybe it was future-humanity’s shot at self-fulfilling the destiny loop?

I can’t really remember whether there was only one black hole affecting the nearby planets that they were headed to? Or were there different ones? If it was multiple black holes in multiple systems, how were they getting to those systems? I would have thought it would take longer than the “few years” it took them, at sub-light speeds?

Or was it just that there were these systems close to the exit-point, and the three scouting teams had gone to each of them but they were all theoretically reachable in a single several-year tour?

But yeah, generally, I would have gone with the system as far from the black hole(s) as possible.

OK, so let me list the general problems with this first, then I’ll get specific to the plot. See, I saw that really nice bright yellow star when they went through the wormhole, and I was like, ahh, the three planets’ sun. Excellent.

Nope! Two were told to us as orbiting black holes, then the farthest was around a star but the signal had stopped. So, planets orbiting black holes are somehow being announced by the scientist who visited as being acceptable for life? Really?

I wondered about that myself, I’m really not sure of how a planet would “orbit” a black hole anyway. It would have to be so far out as to avoid being pulled in, and that would be a huge distance, wouldn’t it?

Or maybe they were an anomaly for some reason, and that was one of the reasons the teams went to them. I’m sort of thinking about the Satan Pit episode of Doctor Who now, with the planet circling the black hole and not falling in – and nobody knew why. So humans went there and studied it, because humans are marvellous.


1. A black hole results from a supernova which would vaporize all life and water etc. off a nearby planet and leave it radioactive and barren for eons. Atmosphere? Gone.

2. Where’s the heat source keeping the planet warm enough for our life, around a black hole? There is none.

3. What gives day and night, where did that light come from, around a black hole? It wouldn’t look like that.

Good questions. I, too, thought there was a sun as well as the black hole. Or maybe the light and heat and stuff was preserved in the same “bubble” as the planets themselves, the erasure of all possible life-bearing capacity in the system slowed down to near-infinite slowness and therefore sort of suspended?

Of course, for this to work, you’d sort of expect the people to be suspended as soon as they came too close as well. I refer you to the Stargate SG-1 episode where the team winds up hacking into a black-hole star system (against stargate safety measures).

I know, I’m citing science-fiction TV shows. This is because I can’t cite that NASA database where they talk about that black hole they flew to. Probably classified.

4. Time dilation. They said 1 hour is 7 years in the “normal” parts of the universe (lower gravity wells). Why would you want your species to exist at that level of time dilation to the rest of the universe? That would be a monumental disadvantage to meeting and relating to any other life forms, or any other human colonies. A disaster.

In at least one sense it has a sort of appeal. Any civilisation setting up in there would be automatically massively long-lived and would outlast many other cultures. Of course, they would also be almost instantly outstripped and left behind by said cultures, and exist as a sort of time capsule.

On the other hand, any potentially hostile group would have to come into the time dilation’s range to make war, and that would level the playing field. Except for the relative advancement of the species that had been living in fast-time.

Still, all in all it might be decided that they’re not worth attacking, so they’d be safe as they hurtled through relatively accelerated history.

But the specifics are even WORSE.

1. Those tides? Awesome, but TOTALLY predictable. The moon is the gravity source giving US tides. So of course a black hole like that would make INSANE tides, no scientist would fail to realize that.

I thought the whole landing was pretty darn half-cocked, actually. I know they took off in a big hurry and with minimal planning and the almost random inclusion of Coop the Farmer Astronaut (hurry up and wait, I remember thinking to myself when the story was progressing). But particularly the landing on the water planet, surely there would have been some sign from orbit that the planet was a death trap. And as soon as they did land, if they absolutely had to land, they should have looked out the door and gone “nope”.

Or, failing that, send out the amazing robot to rummage in the wreckage while the squishy humans sat and waited. Rather than letting them go out and get their legs trapped under shit, which humans always do.

In fact, note to self. Write a human-getting-leg-trapped-under-something scene into The Final Fall of Man.

2. The time delay meant the beacon was only operating for a few hours planet-side, as they said. They should have REALIZED that going in, as they discussed the time dilation at the surface!

Yes. And they should have realised everything was destroyed, and gone “nope”.

But it did make for some spectacular effects, and the film would have been pretty boring if it had been two hours of orbiting humans going “nope”.

Still, they could have found reasons to show that spectacular footage. Maybe there was some really compelling reason they needed to go down and recover the black box. Maybe they did so in a sensible way, waiting for a safe moment, and then got to relive the last moments of the scout landing, which could have been wiped out by the beautiful apparently-impossible-to-predict invisible-until-they’re-right-there tsunamis.

Most of all, I think maybe they should have done it so that all the humans went, or all the humans stayed in stasis (possibly with staggered wake-ups for security purposes) and the robot went. Because damn, that was dumb. Letting one guy piss his whole life away while they go and stretch their legs (and get them trapped under shit and take years to struggle free)? No.

3. Around a black hole you will be constantly bombarded by incoming matter, particles and larger. Very unhealthy for life.

Also true. And still raises the question of why, if all this incoming shit is bombarding the planet, is the planet not bombarding its way inwards at the same rate? I guess the incoming crap is not in orbit.

4. The tidal forces would wreck any structure you could build…honestly only an idiot would think that would be a suitable planet.

Two words: Bayn Balro.

The settlement would have had to be a mobile community. It’d have to move hysterically fast, of course, since this was not a slow-lunar tide but an apparently-accelerated diurnal one. Still, only way to survive would be to chase that wave around the planet.

I think there was more in the next comment post, so I may continue with the planetary analysis then. But this was interesting to me – obviously, I am sort of in the business of trying to imagine strange and evocative planetary systems myself, for my stories. So ideas about why they would or would not work is always fun. So far, I think I have been reasonably safe with my concepts.

One of the systems in The Final Fall of Man is a black hole system, or at least there is a black hole nearby: Wormwood, the fallen star. So far I’ve only alluded to it once or twice, but all this is going to be very useful for me. Because sooner or later I will have to add a bit more detail about what they did there (probably). At the very least, I will need to explain how they managed to get in and out without losing too many years of relative time. I’ll have to think about that. Maybe they just didn’t get very close to it.

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6 Responses to Black Hole Sun

  1. JonathanBloom says:

    I figured that the science in the movie was there to provide enough plausability that we as an audience would buy the idea of traveling through a black hole, and everything else being on the level of Jules Verne in speculative spectacle. It didn’t need the hard science, because science doesn’t happen at the speed of drama. It just needed the emotion, because questions started to become meaningless to a desperate crew when they realized that every moment they took meant that less people were getting off Earth alive.

    • stchucky says:

      So they could spend years getting their legs trapped under shit.

      • JonathanBloom says:

        Yeah, there’s no way of getting around the hokeyness factor on that one. Even in space one can’t escape cheese.

    • aaronthepatriot says:

      Aw right aw right. That’s the extent of my McCounnaghey (damnit I am not googling it like I have to EVERY time) impression. Jonathan, this is all well and good, but the reality of the time crisis you reference makes it even MORE stupid to visit that Black Hole Planet of Tidal Insanity…they knew every hour was 7 years, and by comparison a month or two travel to the one non-black hole planet would be FAR less wasteful…or however long it took them to get there, it would be less than the 23 years they wasted!

      So, feeling the time crunch would have made them even LESS likely to visit the black hole planet. Although I do agree about science vs. drama. Except, these are scientists. LOL. I expected better.

      Good blog post Chucky, and cheers, I agree with you fundamentally on all your points in this one, which were mostly in agreement with me in a nice little full circle of awesomeness. Let me go see about your other entry now.

      No, not THAT other entry. Geezus, sicko. Some people, honestly…. Your other BLOG entry, obviously I know you don’t have the other other entry anymore. SMH

      • stchucky says:

        Yeah. Like I say, seems like the smarter explanation was that the worlds close to Gargantua were top priority for reason of the black hole’s importance to the gravity equation, and that would be the reason for staying near them. But it seemed as though the third planet was also in orbit, just a bit safer? I don’t know.

        I would have preferred some more rational explanation of why it didn’t matter that they were wasting decades in time dilation for a slender hope at recovering something. You know, an explanation like “Earth is doomed and Plan B is the only plan.”

  2. stchucky says:

    Or was it just that there were these systems close to the exit-point, and the three scouting teams had gone to each of them but they were all theoretically reachable in a single several-year tour?

    On that thought, why did they send one-way scouting parties to each place? Why not a single party that could go past each place, and stop at one that was capable of sustaining life? I guess they didn’t have the tech or knowledge for that yet. And in the meantime, okra-related Dark Ages descended on Earth. Or something.

    Also there was something about Hathaway’s boyfriend also failing and dying, right? So maybe if all three had ended up there, all three would have died and this movie would have been boring and short.

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