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Science fiction or science fact – answers

Pour yourself a refreshing cup of dilithium and enjoy the fine details of that quiz you just did

Published: Wednesday, 5th October 2016 at 10:21 am

1’s bones are covered in an unbreakable, fictional metal, albeit one with a long history. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was bound with "adamantine" chains, and the word "diamond" is derived from the Greek "adamastos".


Well, sort of. Dilithium does exist as a molecule formed from two lithium atoms, but the rare crystal element that allows Star Trek ships to travel at warp speeds does not.

They might run Data and other fictional androids, but a "neural net" is a real system in machine learning that tries to imitate the structure of animal brains. Essentially it runs problems through a large network of individual functions – like the cells in a brain – then looks at the result. The individual "cells" then tweak themselves and the problem is run again and again until the desired result is achieved.

Brown dwarfs” are failed stars that never hit the pressures necessary for fusion. They don’t "burn cold" in the way they seem to on Doctor Who, but they are colder than the human body, so you can touch with impunity.

This is the hand-wavy kinda-sorta-other dimension ships in Star Wars travel through when they want to move faster than light. It’s usually portrayed as adjacent and readily accessible from our own space, provided you have the right equipment. The idea is that while we can’t move faster than light in our own dimension, maybe another dimension has different rules of physics.

The Star Trek version of ‘hyperspace’ is equally fictional, but can do even more – from instantaneous interstellar communication to generating alternate realities. One interesting thing to note about how both Star Wars and Star Trek use their version of faster than light travel is that there is no time dilation. According to Einstein, a ship travelling at relativistic speeds would experience time at a slower rate than the people who were left behind, but the Enterprise doesn’t find thousands of years have passed every time they return to Earth for shore leave.

The Tardis travels through the Time Vortex like a raft in the rapids, and it features in the opening credits of every episode, but it doesn’t exist.

Not a place, but a mathematical model that combines space and time into a single continuum. We tend to think in traditional Euclidean terms – space has three dimensions, with time as the fourth – but "Minowski space" combines it all into one big... thing.

Even Einstein had trouble with this one, calling it “spooky action at a distance”. But to butcher an explanation for the sake of brevity, quantum entanglement is a process by which two particles become linked despite the distance between them. It's used in sci-fi, including the Mass Effect game, as a way of dealing with interstellar communication.

A staple of science fiction, ion drives are real: they use the Lorentz effect to accelerate ions then fire them out the back of a rocket. Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft was the first to use ion propulsion for exploration, and is currently orbiting Ceres in our solar system’s asteroid belt.

Yup, it’s a form of ion drive! It’s also a lost verse in Grease.

It’s a staple in the likes of Ghost in the Shell and Paprika but, terrifyingly, scientists have been able to reconstruct images and dreams from peoples' brains using an MRI machine.

Federation crew carry "phasers" because Star Trek writers realised normal lasers wouldn’t be able to do all the things the script required. For instance, there is no stun setting on a laser.

These crop up everywhere from videogames to Schwarzenegger films, and they are real, but they’re not quite portable yet. Essentially they’re guns that use electromagnets rather than explosions to fling projectiles at high speeds. The US navy has a really big one.


OK, so we're not at Jurassic Park levels yet, but "de-extinction" is a real field. Animals being brought back from oblivion include the Pyrenean ibex (briefly), and many scientists are hard at work on bringing back the woolly mammoth.


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