You've probably heard that Neil DeGrasse Tyson will be making an appearance in an upcoming issue of the Superman comics. But earlier today he showed up on NPR's Morning Edition to explain the juicy science behind the cameo, and drop some knowledge about the Man of Steel. Here are five real-life Superman facts he shared.
Because Superman left Krypton as an infant, arrived to Earth as an infant just before Krypton's destruction, and is around to see the light from Krypton's destruction reach Earth, the must have made his interstellar journey instantaneously. If he'd just traveled at near light speed and failed to age due to relativity, he would have missed the explosion. A wormhole is the only way he could have gotten such a head start.
Because LHS 2520 is 27 light years away and Superman arrived instantly through a wormhole, we also know he's not only in his late twenties, but actually right around 27 Earth-years old. Depends on when his birthday is.
Since DC cites Superman's age at being "late twenties," Tyson looked around for a suitable red star that could be found at that distance. He came up with LHS 2520, which is 27 light years out. That is/was/would be Krypton's iconic red sun.
Normally you couldn't make out a planet that far away, only the light of its star. But it's not impossible if you use a theoretically plausible but practically insane technique. Basically, you turn the whole planet into one giant telescope or "interferometer," by pointing every telescope on Earth at the same spot. Sure, the logitics are near impossible, but who doesn't owe Superman a big favor?
Even if you've got all the telescopes in the world aimed at one spot in the sky, you've still got to make sense of all that data, and that's not a problem even fictional astronomers can tackle. It's a piece of cake for Superman though; he takes one look at all that stuff and uses his super brain to massage it all into one coherent glimpse of Krypton's 27-year-old destruction.
All in all, it's a fantastic take on Superman, and what cooler way could you possibly apply astrophysics to the iconic superhero we all love so dearly? "Star Light, Star Bright..." drops in January 2013, so keep your eye out if you want to see the whole science-laden story for yourself. That, and a bunch of stuff that isn't so science-laden, but cool nonetheless. [NPR]
Image by DC Comics