Green Lantern has for decades guarded Earth and beyond from evil in the pages of comic books but the cosmic superhero is about to face his greatest challenge: can he make it on the big screen? Tracy McConnell reports on the science of Green Lantern.

In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight! Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light! — Green Lantern Corps oath.

Of all the Education Officers at the Planetarium, I am probably the one that most rightly deserves the mantel of “Geek”; having a not so secret penchant for sci-fi TV shows and movies, and a small proud collection of comic books at home. When It was suggested that I write an article looking at the upcoming movie The Green Lantern, and its encompassing concepts I jumped at the chance!

This new comic book character adaptation has a distinctly “out of this world” feel about it, so I do feel justified in writing about it here even if it doesn’t have a lot of actual astronomy incorporated. There are a few of the concepts from the Green Lantern Universe which are worthy of scientific curiosity and questioning. We won’t be getting into the actual story presented in the movie as I wouldn’t want to spoil opening night for anyone (myself included), 17 June 2011 for any interested readers, for more information and trailers go to the movie’s official site. Just so you know, there are NO SPOILERS in this article.

For those not at all familiar with this universe, the Green Lanterns, are basically galactic police officers recruited from the Universe’s civilisations. Green Lanterns have a range of superpowers, granted to them by a Power Ring. These rings are powered by the Central Battery. The Green Lantern Corps was created by a race of humanoid aliens from a planet called Maltus, where they had evolved into immortal beings of great power. One of these aliens conducted a forbidden experiment with grave consequences. It was finally decided that the consequence would be accelerated entropy.  Entropy is a condidtion that is difficult to explain without getting heavily into thermodynamics but it basically comes down to an irreversible loss or waste of energy through heat, from a system. As that energy is lost in an unproductive way, we have to consider it in any calculations, such as calculating the lifespan of the Universe from the amount of energy present at the Big Bang, and the work that energy has done in expanding and creating the known Universe. Entropy represents decay.

With regards to the Green Lantern Universe, this accelerated entropy (or increase in lost energy) was responsible shortening the life of the universe lifespan by a billion years, not terribly much in the great scheme of things, seeing as our Solar System alone is estimated at about 5 billion years old and the entire universe is estimated to be almost 14 billion years old.

The rest of the Maltusians moved to the planet Oa to the “centre of the known universe”, where they proclaimed themselves the “Guardians of the Universe”. The idea that there could be a planet at the centre of the known Universe is controversial. Planets by definition orbit stars. Does this not mean that a star should be at the centre of the known Universe, with the planet Oa orbiting it? If this is the case, can we consider the centre of the universe to be a certain size, in which the Oa system of star and planet are found? No. Consider that the Big Bang occurred and the result was the expansion of the Universe equally in all directions, there would be no material left in the position of the original bang, which could then form either stars or planets. A good visualisation for the expanding universe is an inflating balloon. If you consider the universe and its expansion to be the surface of the balloon, then the centre of the universe where the Big Bang originated would be at the centre of the balloon.

The Guardians fractured into different factions, one of which eventually created the Green Lantern Corps as a means righting the damage caused by that rogue scientist back on Maltus and to protect life from other such threats. They recruited 7200 sentient beings from planets throughout the universe to be the Green Lanterns, who would be responsible for protecting and patrolling the 3600 Sectors of the Universe. Earth is in Sector 2814 (note that these sectors are not recognised by Terrestrial astronomy). How big is a sector? Well, the observable Universe contains about 80 billion galaxies, so on average a sector contains more than 22 million galaxies!

Image of exo planets

Science has revealed exoplanets everywhere we look. (Image credit: NASA)

So astronomically speaking, that is a lot of stars. Let’s say, each sector only had one inhabitable planet although I’m pretty sure the Green Lantern Universe operates on the idea of many more than that we would still be looking at a lot of inhabitable planets in the universe. So far our technology, telescopes and satellites have found well over 500 exoplanets in orbit around other stars in our own galaxy alone, but no obvious signs of life yet or even habitable planets, so I think the sheer numbers involved in the comic Universe may be a little extreme. There have been a few articles on the blog that tell you about some of these discovered planets, see this LINK for more details.

The Guardians armed the Green Lantern Corps with the Power Rings, items of inconceivably advanced technology, which allowed the wearer to turn thought into reality, project green beams of energy in any shape or size that they can imagine. The ring also came with force field, communications, and flight abilities.

How crazy is the idea that something in a ring or the size of a ring, could allow you to achieve these kinds of “powers” or results? Well according to Moore’s Law, which details the long term history of computer hardware development, basically every couple years we can fit twice as much memory/data/info in the same space. The technology improves at an exponential rate. Just consider the memory size of your flash drive or Mp3 player today versus the one you had five years ago. Or for those of us a bit older the size of a floppy disc (2 Mb) versus the first 256 Mb flash drive (consider both physical size and memory size) I’m not saying we will be able to achieve self-propelled flight or a giant fist of light in another 50 years, but who knows!

Another interesting concept involved in the Lantern-verse is the Emotional Spectrum, relating the different colours and light in the universe to different aspects of humanity which drive us to survive. According to the comics, in the beginning there was black, the void of space, into which white light appeared. The white light is seen as the creator of all things, and the black would be the end of all things, death. From the white light came the seven parts of what is known as the Emotional Spectrum in the Green Lantern universe, which are represented by the seven contributing colours ROY G BIV; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. Centrally-placed green is seen as the balance of all the other colours and is thought of as willpower. For a more comprehensive breakdown of this can be found under this LINK! Eventually there are Lanterns and rings for each colour.

There is obviously a lot more to it, much of which is detailed in the history of the Green Lantern Corps, and I’m not sure how deep the back story goes in the movie, some of you may just have to take up comic book reading to fill in the blanks. Or quiz your local geeky friend. I have to say that I know exactly where I, and a number of said geeks are going to be on 17 June 2011 and there will be large amounts popcorn and chocolate involved, and I personally will be enjoying and a lovely view of Ryan Reynolds, repeatedly getting shirtless!

Please feel free to leave your comments below, I look forward to reading them.

Article by Tracy McConnell.


9 Comments

Tom · February 5, 2016 at 01:56

Of all the superheroes I think Green Lantern is a great thought to play with in real-world application, especially non-lethal-combat scenarios.

Tom · July 2, 2014 at 18:38

The Green Lantern is an evolving comic character. I like real science for its sobriety; however, even a comic character can have an analysis done on a reality meter.

There is a sense of disproportion with the creation of stories, powers and physical abilities with the comic-verse. Once broken down… you find the information, energy or plausible mechanics more difficult than the task at hand for a character.

Can a rigorous application of science and the engineering disciplines bring these imaginative speculations into our real world?

More likely, we will come up with something better… or the original problem will be superseded by contemporary events.

Just for laughs; a New England writer on Merv Griffin was worried that with spy satellites, romantic couples would be exposed every time a ‘tryst’ would happen on a field of haystacks.
Reality: Internet porn with amateur content is more common than any attempt of space command to ‘inspect’ haystacks for amorous couples!

And there are a million examples of how far technology has gone beyond the mild imaginations of science fiction wirters from just 50 years ago.

Paul von der Fecht · May 24, 2011 at 06:14

An excellent article, and well done on avoiding any very frustrating spoilers. With 22 million galaxies to look after, each lantern must be kept pretty busy!

Mike · May 10, 2011 at 21:29

So… you’ll be star-gazing in one form or another!

    Tracy · May 11, 2011 at 08:03

    I’m always open to star gazing of any kind 🙂 thanks for commenting.

Thilina Heenatigala · May 10, 2011 at 10:01

Love the article. SciFi FTW!

    Tracy · May 10, 2011 at 13:56

    Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Always SciFi FTW but sometimes Science FTW too 🙂

Buffie · May 10, 2011 at 07:04

I have to admit after reading this article I have found a new appreciation for sci-fi. I will definately be at the premier of “Green Lantern” with a new perspective AND looking out for “shirtless Ryan Reynolds”…..

    Tracy · May 10, 2011 at 13:53

    As will most of the female half of the species. It may be “Wolverine” all over again. Glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.