Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Kip Thorne speaks about black holes, gravitational waves and 'Interstellar' Wednesday in Rockefeller Hall.

April 7, 2016

Renowned Astrophysicist Kip Thorne Explains Science Behind ‘Interstellar’

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World-renowned astrophysicist Prof. Kip Thorne, theoretical physics, the California Institute of Technology, described how black holes and the recent detection of gravitational waves contributed to his work on Academy-Award winning film, Interstellar, at a lecture Wednesday.

Thorne helped produce Interstellar and co-found the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which successfully detected gravitational waves for the first time in February, according to the University.

Thorne used Interstellar to explain gravity, black holes and the warping of time and space.

In the film, the black hole Gargantua can slow time due to an “enormous” gravitational pull, which Einstein’s theory of relativity predicts can warp space and time, according to Thorne.

“In Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, there’s a planet that’s in orbit near the horizon, near the surface of the black hole,” Thorne said. “On that planet, one hour of time passage is the same as seven years back on earth.”

Thorne also addressed critics who called the science behind Gargantua ‘impossible,’ saying that he modeled Gargantua on a spinning black hole to create a viable physical scenario.

“The whirling motion of space stabilizes an orbit, so you can get an orbit in principle as close to the [black hole’s event] horizon as you wish,” he said. “So it is possible, although it’s really pushing what’s very plausible.”

Throughout his involvement in Interstellar, Thorne said he aimed to represent science in the film accurately.

“The name of the game in this movie was to have a movie that does not violate any of the well-established laws of physics, and it does not,” Thorne said. “But you can stretch things as far as you wish as long as they are allowed. This is allowed, but very unlikely in the real universe.”

Thorne also spoke about his involvement in the monumental detection of gravitational waves — ripples in spacetime that stretch and squeeze space — which he said Einstein doubted would ever be detected by humans because of their incredibly small size.

The LIGO project — which took decades and involved over 1000 scientists, 75 institutions and 15 nations — used sets of mirrors to detect the small fluctuations in spacetime that the waves caused, according to Thorne.

Thorne attributed the project’s success to the work of his colleagues at LIGO.

“I’ve gotten a lot of fame as a result of this discovery, but it’s because I’m associated with a superb group of people working on the empirical simulations and the suburb set of experimenters and they really make me look good,” he said.

Thorne ended his lecture by celebrating the progress made in the field of physics since Einstein postulated his theory of general relativity a century ago.

“We’re at the end of the first hundred years,” Thorne said. “These years have been amazing in what we have learned about the universe and the next hundred years are likely to be more amazing.”