So, if you’ve worked with me at Homestead, or you went to college with me (and if you didn’t, I’m not really sure why you’re reading this), then you know I come up with some wacky ideas or theories every once in a while, all with a decidedly nerdy bent.  The weekly columns I wrote for the Stanford Daily showed some of these, as do the lunch room conversations we have here at the office.  Thus was born The Superman Hypothesis.

It’s really simple.  In one of the Superman movies, Superman flies around the earth so fast that he manages to slow down its rotation and actually spin it in the other direction. As Einstein clearly predicted, that caused the earth to go back in time, of course.  There are so many things theoretically wrong about this that disproving it would not be interesting.  But I wanted to pick on it anyway, and so I came up with the Superman Hypothesis that concentrates on one very small part of it.  Here goes.

The Hypothesis: According to the comic books, Superman gets his power from the earth’s yellow sun. I contend that he cannot absorb enough energy from the sun over his time on the earth to stop the rotation of the earth.

Some points of clarification and assumptions:

  1. I’m not talking about how Superman absorbs energy from the sun. Let’s just assume he’s 100% efficient and there is no energy lost through the atmosphere.  And he can absorb any frequency of the sun’s rays.
  2. I’m not talking about how Superman can actually move the earth.  Is he grabbing a tree or something?  I don’t know, don’t really care.  Just assume he can transfer energy with 100% efficiency into the earth.
  3. I’m even going to assume that he’s not expending energy doing anything else the entire time he’s been on the earth. I assuming that he can store the energy perfectly efficiency for his time on earth, say 30 years.
  4. Following the lead of the first three points, where possible, make assumptions that err on the side of the Man of Steel.

Basically, we boiled it down to this: is the amount of energy from the sun that can be absorbed by a person at the earth’s surface over 30 years greater than the kinetic energy of a rotating earth?  If not, how much more is the kinetic energy of the rotating earth?

After much discussion, I finally did it while at my in-law’s house for Christmas.  I’ll post the spreadsheet later…

Update: Ok, the spreadsheet is here.  Sorry for the delay.  The assumed or given (i.e., looked up on the internet) numbers are at the top, the calculated numbers are at the bottom.

One assumption I made was that the earth is homogenously dense (which it’s clearly not).  That simplified the calculation of the kinetic energy of the earth to be just the kinetic energy of a rotating evenly dense sphere.  Because the earth is actually denser at the center, this assumption actually overestimates the kinetic energy of the rotating earth (more mass moving at at the extremities of the earth means more energy).  While this assumption doesn’t err on the side of the Man of Steel, he still wasn’t close.

And my calculated answer?  It would take 1 x 1017 Supermen to make it happen.

And an addendum to the hypothesis…

The Superman Hyphothesis Addendum: If you converted all of the math of Superman to energy (with E=mc2), you would still not have enough energy to stop the rotation of the earth.

I calculated it would take 3.4 x 1010 Supermen to do it.