Cosmic Queries: Super Powers

Photo Credit: Sergey Nivens/iStock/Thinkstock

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About This Episode

If Superman followed the laws of physics, how could he fly? Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chuck Nice answer this and other questions from our fans about super powers, from the scientifically sound, to the supremely silly. Geek out as we take a realistic look at flight, super sight, super speed, telekinetics, telepathy, invulnerability, energy absorption, mastery of magnetism and more through the eyes of your own personal astrophysicist. Find out what super power you’d need to successfully traverse the multiverse, and whether there’s anything remotely feasible about the way Doctor Who’s TARDIS travels through time. You’ll also learn why using more than 10% of our brain wouldn’t give us super powers like in the movie Lucy. Neil answers questions about Thor’s Hammer, Batman vs. Iron Man, Lois Lane’s prenatal concerns, which super power he’d want, and which super heroes he thinks are most and least believable according to physics. Plus, Neil and Chuck come up with a new super power for the Man of Steel that will leave you gasping for breath.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Super Powers.

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  • Taxil Necrobane

    Alright, this is a wonderful episode! I can’t remember a time Neil cracked up so much from Chuck commenting on Batman and Robin and the implications of the two of them living together was funny. Although Chuck cracking up over superman’s farts was just as long and as funny. Although I will add people have commented on them LONG before anyone said about Bert and Ernie being together. Chuck, You are mostly wrong. Tony stark had his A.R.C. reactor on the outside his chest, it was connected to a magnet inside his chest to keep the shrapnel from tearing his heart apart. Later he got Doctor Strange (who is a heart surgeon) to perform the operation to remove the shrapnel safely. The Thing and the Fantastic Four was originally created by being exposed to mysterious energy from deep space. The new origins is that they attempted and succeeded in travel into another universe and the forces there turned them into what they are now. I don’t think that superman has super farts as a power.

    10/10 for this episode. Please make more of this kind of episodes than drama producing ones.

  • Luke Stacey

    i couldn’t stop laughing at the mental image of superman using his butt as a flamethrower

    • Taxil Necrobane

      More like a jet engine back flame! Might also explain how he flies!

      • tony

        I was thinking the same thing! It wouldn’t need to be ignited to provide thrust, so no-one would see any rocket flames. To avoid being offensive, he could start with a jump to get to a higher altitude before firing his second stage. It would be really inconvenient for to have to pull down his pants so there is probably a strategically located hole in just the right position. That could also explain why he wears a cape…

        • Taxil Necrobane

          Oh my god! That would explain how he does it! I’m laughing so much right now….

    • Taxil Necrobane

      More like a jet engine back flame! Might also explain how he flies!

  • Thor’s hammer weight was a herd of 300-billion elephants. Here is the original tweet from 2013:

  • Jesse Brown

    Tyson im a huge nerd but mighty mouse? Come on MAAAN! Batman all the way! And yes Iron Man would beat him, however remember Bruce Wayne has a mind like yours that he uses for strategy while tony stark has ego and physics on the brain. Both equal minds used for different things so it could be hard to say who wins. Remember batman wears advanced suits as well. Anyways done on this. Lets hear a show on biohacking!

  • Alfredo Cavalcanti Segundo

    The funniest episode ever.
    Chuck Marijuana performance and superman ass as a flamethrower made me laught very loud at the bus. Some people thinking that I’m crazy, for sure!

    Love you guys, keep the amazing work! 🙂

  • KeithinCA

    But Superman can get into orbit. If he jumped then the initial force required would destroy whatever he was standing on.

  • wayne

    haha good show

  • Brandon Neal

    You are both right about Thor’s Hammer. The Hammer is 6 lbs for Thor. I have no expertise on this matter. It just makes sense.

  • Brandon Neal

    You are both right about the Hammer. It is 6 lbs for Thor, maybe?

    • Tyler Richardson

      The reason Thor can lift it isn’t because it’s heavy or because Thor is very strong. only people who are worthy of the power of Thor can lift the hammer, it probably only weighs 6 pounds to everybody, some people just can’t lift it.

    • I read somewhere on the Internet Machine a fan theory that Thor’s Hammer is a fixed point in space-time. And he has the power/ability to move the Universe around it.

      It doesn’t crush Loki when Thor pins him with the Hammer. Thor simply places it in the space above his chest and Loki can’t move it. Also why Hulk’s feet was breaking the ground around him, because of the force he was applying trying to lift it. It’s not really about weight, it’s just an immoveable point. Eh???

  • C Phillips

    If Thor’s hammer weighed that much, all matter in the vicinity would experience massive gravitational distortion. Also simply swinging the hammer, even if you were strong enough to do so, would cause the surface the wielder was standing on to ripple or probably just fuse into glass, or maybe your legs would just drive right through the surface, instead of the hammer moving. Finally, if you actually swung and hit someone with the hammer, moving at a speed fast enough to hit someone with superhuman speed, it would likely vaporize them completely, or just tear straight through them?

  • Johnny Le

    I would say Lois Lane would be dead long before the baby comes out. Spock poses no danger to his mother.

  • Kevin Withrow

    If Superman’s powers come from the sun, then would his baby have any powers while in utero? Pretty dark in there I would imagine.

  • Shanzy Cantrell

    The Chuck Marijuana performance is ignorant. We get this stigma from Cheech & Chong, 90s and 00s “stoner” movies. I have never met anyone that actually acts that way when they’re smoking. Ok, its cool to always resort back to that stigma but why don’t we look at how medicinal marijuana is saving kids lives. Lets look at how more business woman are coming out and saying they would rather smoke a bowl than drink. Lets look at how many other “successful” people are advocates and don’t act that way.
    Just sayin..

  • Devin

    There is another explanation of Thors Hammer that is equally as cool as Dr. Tyson’s.

    Marvel – which publishes the Thor comics – issued a “Thor’s Hammer” trading card in 1991 that states Mjolnir is made of Uru and weighs precisely 42.3 pounds. That’s lighter than a herd of 300 billion mice, much less a herd of 300 billion elephants. But it raises a different science question.

    Using the dimensions and weight on Marvel’s trading card, Mathaudhu estimates thatthe density of Mjolnir is about 2.13 grams (g) per cubic centimeter (cc). That makes it even lighter than aluminum, which has a density of 2.71 g/cc. So what could possibly be that light and strong?

    Mathaudhu has a theory.

    “Perhaps Uru is the ‘holy grail’ of high-pressure physics: a form of metallic hydrogen,” Mathaudhu says. “Some predictions of the density of metallic hydrogen fall into this range, it requires extreme conditions to form, and could be a tremendous energy source. It’s thought to be present at the core of planets, such as Jupiter, and at the core of suns – which are stars, after all.”


  • Krzysztof Kotarba

    when I was a kid… I used to run in backyard jumping all over the place with blanket on my back trying to fly…

  • Krzysztof Kotarba

    Chuck is killing in this episode…

  • Shaonline

    This is my first time posting a comment but I just heard the episode and couldn’t resist. Dr. Tyson thought the Incredible Hulk was the most unrealistic superhero because the change in mass seems most impossible. I want to point to the human uterus which increases in size from 7.5´ 5 ´ 2.5 cm in non-pregnant state to 35 ´ 25 ´ 20 cm at term; in weight from 50 gm in non-pregnant state to 1000 gm at term and in capacity from 4 ml in non-pregnant state to 4000 ml at term. The process reverses at delivery so that in 4-6 weeks the uterus reverts almost to non pregnant size. Sure the timescale is different but it points out that tremendous changes increases and decreases in mass are possible. Now add a little superhero magic and it’s done.

  • In which the scientist breaks the comedian with science.

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