Interstellar Timeline: Three infographics + the physics of time travel

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Three infographics from the Interstellar timeline are below — SPOILERS after the “sciencey” stuff! 

I absolutely LOVE the new post-apocalyptic movie Interstellar, partially because it really speaks to the physics geek in me and my love for all things time travel. My favorite classroom moments of all time involved learning time dilation equations and figuring out just how much time slows down as someone approaches c. Length contraction is also pretty crazy, along with the thought experiments that go along with it. If you want to buy any books that talk about the science of Interstellar or behind-the-scenes info, check out this list from Amazon. The book called “The Science of Interstellar” sounds the most intriguing. Christmas gift idea?

Time Dilation

What’s amazing to me is how this stuff is real. I mean, time really does slow down as you approach C or as you’d approach a black hole. It’s crazy when you realize that time really is relative. For example, a clock on board an airplane traveling 300 m/s will slow by 5 parts in 10^3. It’s very tiny, but time really does run just a tiny tiny bit slower on a plane. There’s even an equation for time dilation.

\Delta t=(1/\sqrt{1-V^2/c^2} )\Delta t'  (clock at rest on a spaceship)

[Tweet “Check out the science behind #Interstellar’s time dilation! #timetravel “]

Length Contraction

Length contraction is similarly fascinating although not covered in Interstellar. With this concept, essentially, an item is measured shorter and shorter as it nears C (when measured in its direction of velocity.) This is all part of the special theory of relativity, which indicates that both space and time can be warped.

The most interesting thought experiment concerning this is the “train tunnel paradox.” A train traveling near light speed would see a tunnel as being shorter than it is. A person standing in the tunnel would see the train as being shorter. So, to the person in the tunnel, the tunnel doors could shut the train in. But to a person on the train, the tunnel is too short to shut the train in…


Interstellar Graphics

The timeline of Interstellar isn’t really that hard to follow. But a few people have put together very helpful graphics to aid you in understanding better how all the timelines interacted with one another.

[Tweet “Check out three infographics that explain #Interstellar.”]

  • Frametale’s Beautiful Graphic: 

Frametale created a beautiful graphic that is posted on his Twitter feed (UPDATE: link removed because status was removed) or view it on his website here. This graphic explains all the timelines beautifully, with one small issue. Gargantua is the name of the blackhole, not the name of the wormhole.

Interstellar Timeline on Behance

  • Interstellar Flowchart from Reddit

This one is much, much simpler but also not nearly as pretty:

Interstellar flow chart

  • The Infographic That’s More Confusing Than the Movie

And then there’s this one… You have to watch the movie to even begin to understand this one, which is really a lot more complicated than the movie itself! Go to the following link to view it; it’s really too huge to post in here. Read an entire Reddit discussion about the infographic here.

Time Paradox Theories

A few people are concerned about the idea that future humans had to create the wormhole device by which they were saved, after they were saved, thus creating a paradox. A few people have come up with theories that get around this such as…

  • In the very first timeline, that we didn’t see, perhaps the AI was the only creature to survive and they created the original wormhole. In subsequent timelines, it was created by evolved humans.
  • The evolved humans evolved much slower in the original timeline, that we didn’t see, and created the wormhole through a different means. Then they got help from the past humans in order to save Earth’s population too.
  • (My favorite) The paradox doesn’t matter. Future humans live in five dimensions, where time is traversed like space. Instead of thinking in a linear sense where a paradox exists, consider all time as existing simultaneously. In this sense, there is no such thing as a paradox.

[Tweet “Three possible solutions to #Interstellar’s time paradox. “]



    Stephanie Dwilson started Post Apocalyptic Media with her husband Derek. She's a licensed attorney and has a master's in science and technology journalism. You can reach her at [email protected].

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