Red Winged Black Bird on a fence post in a field.

How Superman Flies


Category: General

I caught part of a show on the National Geographic Channel about the character Superman. They debated the possible explanations for Superman?s flight (The Science of Superman). This debate surprised me for two reasons. First, the explanation is exceedingly obvious. Second, Superman is, in fact, a fictional character (like Tom Sawyer or Winston Churchill).

For those who can?t see this blindingly obvious explanation, I?ll make it more obvious through various thought-experiments that gradually lead to understanding.

Imagine a solid, rubber ball that fits easily into your hand. Now, picture yourself holding the ball above a sand box. Gravity pulls the ball down toward the sand but your hand blocks the way. The ball has Potential Energy.

At the same time, the particles in the ball move around and bump into one another. This is Heat Energy. Various chemical bonds hold the particles together and keeps them from flying off in every direction. Those atoms do really want to fly off everywhere. The average direction and energy of the particle motion all balance out to sit there atop your hand.

When you remove your hand from beneath the ball, the ball goes straight down toward the sand. This is Kinetic Energy. While the ball is falling, the average direction and energy of the ball?s particles is downward. This means that the ball is moving downward even though some of its particles still want to move elsewhere.

Finally, the ball hits the sand. Some of the kinetic energy of the ball transfers directly to sand grains which then are moved out of the way. The rest of the kinetic energy transfers to the sand as heat. Again, the average kinetic energy of the particles of the ball balance out and the ball is stationary. The particles still want to fly off in all directions but they are held together by the chemical bonds of the rubber.

What would happen if you could take the transferred energy from the sand and put it back into the ball? Would the ball have enough energy to move back up to its starting point? Yes, it would have the energy, but the average direction of all the particles would still be stationary because there would not be a force, like gravity, to align them all upward. With the extra energy, some of the particles would have the energy needed to break the chemical bonds and the rubber ball would degrade as some of the particles flew off in all directions.

What?s this got to do with Krypton?s favorite son? I?m getting to that.

We all know that Superman gets his super powers from exposure to our sun. He?s fast, strong, impervious to bullets, has heat vision and cold breath, and he can fly. All these things have to do with energy. He gets and stores solar energy. He redirects it, as necessary, to perform his feats. Heat vision and cold breath are easy to understand, but how are the other powers a result of this heat?

Remember from the ball experiment that motion and heat are related, and so is the average direction of the particles in a substance. If Superman can control not only the heat energy but also the alignment of his particles, everything else makes sense (keeping in mind that we?re talking about a fictional character.)

The bad guy fires a bullet into Mr. Kent?s chest. Bullets normally do damage by causing massive displacement trauma to the body?s tissues. You?ll remember that the rubber ball displaced the sand when it hit in the experiment above. What if the sand was able to maintain its particle alignment with greater heat energy than the kinetic energy of the bullet? The bullet would experience a collision and bounce off.

Now Superman has to lift an airplane. Our normal muscles work by adding chemicals inside the muscle cells which chemically change the structure of the cell and cause the molecules of the cell to curl up shorter (a way over-simplified description.) The Man of Steel can do even better. He can realign all the particles in his body and apply all that stored solar energy. That would definitely account for super strength.

Finally, there is the matter of running speed and flight. These can be lumped together because the mechanism is the same. Again we have an object, Superman?s body, to which we have added energy. What happens if we align the particles so the average direction of the particles is forward? That object goes forward. If we align the particles upward, the body goes up.

To give another, more human example, consider the typical martial artist. You?ve seen the fellows who can punch with lightning speed and run theirs fists through things one?s fist should not normally puncture. These guys practice every day for many years. They train their body to apply the muscles needed to do the punch while removing any muscle activity that would inhibit the punch. Arms, after all, have muscles on both sides and if there is any activity from the muscle opposite the one you are using, it causes and inefficiency.

So basically, all of Superman?s powers are based on two things. He can store large quantities of solar energy and he can align the particles of his body as needed. This makes me wonder, of course, what happens if you give him too much energy like when we heated the rubber ball?

I would ask one small favor of you good readers. Please do not give this information to the students at Maharishi International University in Vedic City Iowa. As soon as they figure out that this is the secret of levitation, we?ll be scraping them off the ceilings for months.

One last note: the copyrights and tradmarks on the various above-mentioned topics belong to their respective owners.

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