The Wondering Earth in the Eyes of a Chinese Astrophysicist

This is Lijun Gou, an astrophysicist at National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC). Since the Chinese New Year about two week ago, one of the new blockbuster movies, named the Wandering Earth, has been shown in the theatre. As a matter of fact, I have been eager to watch the movie for a while. According to my friends who have watched it during the private release organized by the film partner, the movie is gorgeous and attractive. So, as soon as the movie was on, I went to see it. As said, the movie was quite impressive, and it can be said to be the best Chinese sci-fi movie I have ever seen.


The whole movie was based on a short story with the same title by Mr. Cixin Liu, a famous Chinese Three-body Problem author, in which it lays out an unprecedented crisis: the Sun has become unstable, and within a hundred years, it will expand to consume the Earth, and the entire solar system will be gone. The Earth’s governments rally and unite to face the problem, and come up with a novel solution: they plan to move the planet with 10,000 gigantic engines, and blast it out of its orbit and off on a hundred-generation journey to a new home, a star named as Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light years away. The idea is to use Jupiter’s gravitational well to pick up speed for the trip, but a malfunction of the Earth engine system leaves the planet caught in Jupiter’s gravity, and gradually being pulled toward destruction. The distance between them is decreasing. In order to prevent the Earth from colliding with Jupiter, they all failed after trying a series of ground methods. The rescue team on the ground came up with a new way to use the high-energy gas stream ejected by one planetary engine to ignite the great Red Spot on the surface of the Jupiter, in the hope of producing super-strong shock wave, which can push the earth away. However, due to the lack of power of the planetary engine, the Chinese astronaut Peiqiang Liu finally ignited the space station by supplementing the energy, so that the Red Spot was successfully ignited, releasing a super shock wave, and the earth was successfully saved.


By and large, the plot-line is quite simple, and there are so many loopholes in the story. However, the special effects are so realistic, and vividly display the catastrophic scenes of the end of the world that the Earth encountered during the wandering process. I can say that it is a quality movie, which is comparable to many Hollywood blockbusters, e.g. the Martian, and Passages etc. As the first Chinese sci-fi movie, I am excited to see that it really exceeds my expectations.


Of course, as a scientist, it is also fun to look into some of its science knowledge involved in the movie, e.g. whether it is possible to stop the Earth’s rotation? Is it possible to push the Earth away from its current orbit with some gigantic engines? Is it also possible to ignite the great Red Spot area on the surface of the Jupiter, hence pushing the earth away from destruction by the Jupiter’s gravitational force? Is the

Alpha Centauri system good for our new home? Actually, the simple estimates show no for the first three questions. There is not enough power currently for our human being to stop the Earth’s rotation and push our earth away, and it is also hard to save our Earth from destruction by igniting the great Red Spot on the Jupiter. As to the Proxima Centauri, it is also not the best choice for our Earth. One of the reasons is that the habitable zone suffers from the frequent stellar storms from the host star. Also one planet has been found around the Proxima Centauri in 2016, and I don’t think it is easy to harbour a second planet within its habitable zone. From the science perspective, there are also so many loopholes. However, it is still a milestone in Chinese movie history. As the first Chinese sci-fi movie, I see a bright prospect in the Chinese movie industry in the future although there is still a long way to go.


Wish the movie good luck!


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