James Kakalios: Finally, Science Explains Why No One Can Lift Thor’s HammerPosted: November 13, 2014
James Kakalios writes: These are exciting days for physics, with several recent experimental observations providing important information on some of the most important mysteries of nature. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN has found the Higgs boson, the last missing particle in the Standard Model, advancing our understanding of the origin of the mass of fundamental particles. The discovery by astrophysicists that the expansion of the universe is accelerating implies that 75% of the universe is composed of “dark energy.” And a recent trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron suggests an explanation for the long-standing open question: can the Hulk lift Thor’s hammer?
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The scene in question aired Oct. 28 during an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. In this clip, the Avengers are relaxing in their street clothes in Tony Stark’s penthouse apartment, and are discussing the “enchantment” on Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, which stipulates that it can only be lifted by those “deemed worthy,” and whoever does so will “possess the power of Thor.” Thor places his hammer on a coffee table (actually, as shown below, it is resting partially on some books on the table), and various heroes attempt to pick up the hammer, to no avail. Thor then hefts the hammer and casually flips it into the air.
And thus one proposal for why the hammer is unliftable is put to rest. Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, has speculated that, if Mjolnir is composed of neutron star matter, the densest material in the universe outside of a black hole, then it would weigh as much as three hundred billion elephants.
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Water has a density of one gram per cubic centimeter, and lead has a density of eleven grams per cubic centimeter, but they pale compared to neutron star matter, which has a density of one hundred million million grams per cubic centimeter. In this case Mjolnir would weigh roughly twelve thousand trillion pounds. I know Tony Stark is rich, but even if he could buy a coffee table that could support such a weight, I can’t imagine any book, even an impenetrable physics text, that could bear up under this force. No, we must look elsewhere for an explanation as to why only Thor (and a few select others—more on this in a moment) can raise Mjolnir.
Norse mythology and Marvel Comics tell us that Mjolnir is composed of “uru metal,” forged ages ago by the blacksmith Etri in the heart of a dying star. Presumably uru metal is magical in nature, and thus conveys the enchantment placed on it by Thor’s father, Odin. But in this matter we are not concerned with the fantasy of myths or comic books, but the real world of Hollywood movies.
In the 2011 film Thor, the Norse “gods” are identified as a race of alien beings, whose science is so advanced compared to twenty-first century Earth that their abilities appear not unlike magic to us (explicitly invoking Arthur C. Clarke’s third law). In this case, we can speculate as to the properties that uru metal must have in order to account for the experimental evidence in the Thor and Avengers films.
In the first Thor film, when Odin prepares to banish his wayward son to Earth, he whispers to the hammer: “whoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” In these days of interactive, voice recognition software in smartphones, such reprogramming of the hammer’s operating system through speech commands hardly counts as ‘magic.’ But how the nanotech embedded within the hammer executes Odin’s instructions does defy present-day science.
In the Avengers: Age of Ultron clip, Tony Stark speculates that there is a biosensor in the hammer’s shaft that recognizes when Thor has grasped Mjolnir. He is correct, in a sense—though it is not Thor’s fingerprints that the hammer is reading. Most likely it is…(read more)
Jim Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Physics of Superheroes and The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, both by Gotham Books.
- CWRU Theoretical Physicists Suggest Dark Matter May Be Massive (scitechdaily.com)
- Physicists Resurrect an Old, Strange Dark Matter Theory (science.slashdot.org)
- Avengers: Age Of Ultron: “You’re All Not Worthy” [VIDEO] (hiphopwired.com)
- Marvel Officially Releases AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON Preview From AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (comicbookmovie.com)
- A General Equilibrium Theorem for the Economy of Giving. (arXiv:1411.1929v1 [q-fin.GN]) (arxiv.org)
- What the extended Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer reveals (vox.com)
- Newswire: You can now buy Porco Rosso’s sunglasses (avclub.com)
- Stephen Hawking: Higgs Boson Could Destroy the Universe (learning-mind.com)
- Minuscule mistake? Discovered Higgs boson may appear to be a techni-higgs, scientists say (peoplestrusttoronto.wordpress.com)
- Higgs Boson Being Questioned Once More in a Tug of War of Legitimacy (designntrend.com)