|Only tachyons can save us now!|
Note to the Reader: For those of you who haven't seen Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, yet are serious enough about it that you want even the most trivial plot details kept secret until you actually watch the movie, what follows will be a bit of a spoiler. (A rough calculation makes us think there are about three of you out there.) For the rest of you, don't worry, this little detail won't ruin anything.
So, Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, is sitting in his lab trying to think of a way to separate an alien from his cosmic surfboard when he gets an idea. "A tachyon burst!" he exclaims.
Fast-forward a few scenes. A series of devices capable of delivering said burst are built, one is activated, and the aforementioned alien, known as the Silver Surfer, is cleanly knocked from his board.
Now, would this really work? Tachyons are theoretical particles believed to travel faster than the speed of light. Trying to think about what effect they would have on a liquid-silver alien can be thoroughly mind-bending—would they send him back in time or even arrive at their target in the past, thus having no effect whatsoever? So, we appealed to University of Washington physicist and science fiction author John G. Cramer, who has the scientific and imaginative chops to handle such questions.
First, Cramer notes that knocking the surfer off his board would require a transfer of momentum. And while the momentum of the hypothetical tachyon beam would be relatively small, there might be another, more dramatic effect. "The delivery of energy would be much more efficient than the delivery of momentum," Cramer says, "so it seems more likely they would blow the Silver Surfer apart rather than knock him around."
Instead, Cramer proposed another, decidedly less-sexy idea. "I think a cannonball or an artillery shell would work a lot better."
So, Mr. Fantastic, next time you try to save the world, do it the old-fashioned way.—Gregory Mone