Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oooooooo...The Core!

Before jumping to any conclusions, let me say right off that I'm going to talk about a movie that is painfully ridiculous - the characters, dialogue, storyline, and the scientific conjectures are all difficult to swallow. The movie is called The Core and it was released in 2003. The only reason I'm writing about it, aside from being reminded by a great article in Scientific American this month about new discoveries regarding a new phase transition in the composition of the Earth's core (which you can read about here), is because it was such a bad ass idea for a movie. A government experiment interferes with the Earth's inner core rotation and they have to send a team down in a ship to start it back up again. It's like the fish that got away. You say to yourself, man, that could have a been a great sci-fi movie. But as hard as I tried to be forgiving, it was just riddled from start to finish with nonsense, so I am commenting on it as a form of catharsis. There will be spoilers here but I don't consider that a liability.

Now you might want to point out to me that Jules Verne stole the idea first with his classic Journey to the Center of the Earth. But that story and others like it are really so far out of the reality scale that they should be classified as fantasy. In Verne's time, it was science fiction only because absolutely nothing was known about the Earth's core. This movie tries to loosely base the events on current science.

The first big problem in taking a vessel beneath the Earth is the absolutely enormous temperatures and pressures involved. Most materials would melt or be crushed. So they have some scientist create a new element with a fullerene type structure and ultimate integrity. Somehow this translates to it being able not only to withstand huge pressure but also temperature (a perfect insulator), and then converts the external forces into energy which somehow turns back on itself and creates more stability. Gee, what a phenomenally versatile molecule that must be, especially since if you are going to use it to build a hollow shell, the molecule used does not solve the problem of the negative pressure against the ship's hull. That requires enormous bonding force between molecules which is a property of chain-like structures, not perfectly spherical ones. It also requires minimizing the bending torque as you might find in a spherical ship design, but in the movie, the ship is cylindrical.

In order to see under ground they are supposed to have created some type of beam technology that can go right through lead, but then somehow reflects back off objects behind the lead block as soft as human tissue - huh? And this is supposed to work through a myriad of crystalline compounds beneath the earth. Hey, maybe the writers could have just used a seismic wave technology and convert the reflection profile into visual images via computer? Wait, isn't that how they see the core from the surface today? As explained in the movie even? Who's the genius writing this stuff.

Another problem is communication with the surface, which seemed to be available no matter how deep the terranauts got. Just how are they communicating? Again, the only signal that has ever successfully traveled through the core is seismic waves, and those would have to be translated into radio waves somewhere at the surface. Details I guess.

So they run into a giant geode in the mantle, complete with amethyst crystals inside, at around 1000 km down. Since when can a geode cavity form at those pressures? Geodes on the surface form after the rock has cooled and water has been sitting in it for years depositing the minerals that form the crystal structures. No such processes could occur at the temperatures at that depth, and that doesn't even explore the question of how the geode shell could withstand succumbing to the pressures and collapsing. What's that - cobalt shell you say? Alright, maybe the pressure moves the melting point upward, but cobalt is a good heat conductor. It should at least be as hot inside as outside - what, you say they are going to get out of the ship and walk around? Holy crapoly batman, that's impossible!

Yes, diamonds are formed in the intense pressures of the mantle and brought up via lava flows to the surface, but conjecturing that there are diamonds the size of mountains down there is pretty bold. And finally, detonating several nuclear devices inside the planet does not seem like a very computable, let alone controllable, operation with which to solve the problem.

I'm sure with a bit more creativity someone could do this again and make it more convincing, but for now, let's just forget this one ever happened.

No comments:

Post a Comment