The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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The Core

Saw The Core on Friday night with some friends, and rather enjoyed it. Yes, the science in it is nothing short of awful, but the movie and the actors don't take themselves too seriously for the most part, and that saves it. For example, the impossible material they make the drilling ship out of is called "unobtainium". The sequence where the space shuttle Endeavor lands in Los Angeles, thanks to magnetic interference was very well done (if a little on the eery side now). Stanley Tucci plays the prissy genius who actually is a genius, and Tcheky Karyo plays a good guy for once!

That said, while there were three science consultants in the credits, they must have been locked in a closet the whole time. Even when they try to explain actual science, like how the Earth's magnetic field protects us from cosmic rays and charged particles from the Sun, it's done in the most awkward, mishmash way possible. Which may not be completely the fault of the film-makers to be honest. On CBC radio this morning they were talking to a real scientist (I didn't hear exactly what he was, unlike in comics books real ones tend to specialize) and he wasn't making a very good job explaining what was wrong with the movie. For example, he started referring to the polarity of the Earth's magnetic field reversing (as it does at irregular intervals, north becomes south) without any real explanation of what that meant. I could follow him, but I'm sure most people were lost. They should have gotten me to do it.

Minor spoilers to follow. For the sake of the story I could accept the completely flawed premise, but at one point they realize one of their nuclear weapons (200 megatons) isn't powerful enough, and they decide to add some more plutonium. So, as near as I can figure, they pull out some of the vehicle's fuel rods and just drop them on top of the bomb!

Now, plutonium isn't gunpowder. You can't just add more and get a bigger bang. Nuclear weapons are precision instruments, carefully machined and engineered to create and sustain a chain reaction when detonated. Extra plutonium lying around outside isn't going to do jack squat, it'll just be blown apart in the explosion.

Plus, such a high yield device has to be a fusion weapon (H-bomb), rather than a pure fission one. An H-bomb consists of a small fission weapon (plutonium) next to layers of thermonuclear materials (mixture of deuterium and tritium) wrapped in a plastic. When the fission bomb detonates, the X-ray flash, running ahead of the shock wave, vaporizes the plastic and turns it into a plasma, which exerts tremendous force on the deuterium and tritium and initiates the fusion reaction. The neat thing about H-bombs is that there's no limit to how big you can make them, once the fusion reaction starts it'll spread into all the thermonuclear material present. Extra plutonium still doesn't count, through.

It was still a fun movie, which is all you can really ask for.


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