Updated: Jun 26, 2019
A new iteration of Superman–the Man of Steel–zooms into theaters today looking to reboot the series for the latest generation (with Kryptonian latex, apparently). Superman is neither human nor bound by the laws of science, but there are still some fascinating facts to read up on before accepting this born-again hero.
1. Superman is basically a solar panel with red and blue tights.
Superman is able to man-handle puny Earthlings and smash through buildings for two reasons. First, his home planet of Krypton had much more mass than Earth, making the surface gravity of the planet much higher. His muscles are overqualified for 1G. Living on Earth after growing up under the stress of intense gravity would be like you moving to the Moon (you’d finally be able to dunk).
The other reason Superman is so, well, super, is that his cells basically photosynthesize. He doesn’t use the yellow Sun of the Earth precisely like a plant, but more like a photovoltaic cell. In such a cell, the Sun’s rays hit semiconductors made of some material like silicon and their interaction releases electrons. These flowing electrons create electricity. It’s not exactly spelled out how Superman’s cells use the Sun’s energy, but his costume kind of looks like a solar panel, so we’ll go with that.
2. Superman doesn’t understand how time works.
Famously, at the end of Superman: The Movie, Superman (fantastically played by Christopher Reeve) is so distraught by the death of Lois Lane that he tries to turn back time. He does this by flying around the Earth at unimaginable speed. It’s a valiant effort that works in the movie, but has no basis in physics.
If you wanted to travel backwards in time, you’re out of luck. We have theories on how it might be possible to do so, but they all involve wormholes and black holes and other stuff that would probably kill you. If you want to travel forward in time, you just have to go really fast. If you go fast enough, according to Einstein, time will slow down for you. The faster you go, the slower you age. So if you did a Kessel run like Han Solo–a trip over many light-years in a few hours–you would only experience a few hours while the rest of the galaxy ages 40 years.
By flying really, really fast around the Earth, Superman will actually speed into the future, not the past. In fact, by the time he is done, he might return to find everyone he knew dead of old age.
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