I haven’t let my inner science nerd out to play in a while…

Rewatched several of the Marvel movies yesterday (Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers, and as of writing I’m considering whether to watch an Iron Man, though that will be difficult seeing as Netflix doesn’t have them), because it’ll be a little while before I can go see Thor 2. I have to say, at first I thought the Tesseract was just a bit of technobabble, throwing out a science-y sounding word, but the more I think about it, the more it works for me.

The key is, there are a couple of mentions of “dark energy” in The Avengers in relation to the Tesseract. Like a tesseract, dark energy is a real scientific term; it refers to a hypothetical form of energy that is causing the observed expansion of the universe (hence “dark”–we can deduce its existence from observing its effects, but have yet to detect it or confirm its source). Dark energy appears to permeate all of space and act on space itself, causing it to expand. It is very weak, which is why it hasn’t completely shredded the universe; even as space expands, gravity is strong enough to hold structures like galaxies, stars, and planets together, let alone the much stronger electromagnetic and nuclear forces holding together smaller structures such as atomic nuclei, molecules, and people. Despite this weakness, because there is just so much space, dark energy ends up being the majority of all energy in the universe.

Which brings us to the Tesseract, which appears to draw on dark energy to generate power. Of course, the amount of dark energy in a region of space as small as that cube wouldn’t be enough to run an EZ Bake Oven, let alone power a Nazi super-science army, but the name gives a clue to how it could work.

In real life, a tesseract is a four-dimensional cubic prism; that is, it has the same relationship to a cube as a cube has to a square. If you do the math, you’ll find that it has a total “surface volume” eight times that of a single cubical “face,” but still, eight times that tiny cube is only slightly less tiny. However, thanks to Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time, in science fiction “tesseract” has a second meaning: a four-dimensional fold in space that connects two points that are very distant three-dimensionally. Given what the tesseract does when Red Skull activates it at the end of Captain America, and that it enables the opening of a gate for the Chitauri to invade Earth in The Avengers, it seems pretty likely that this is the definition meant.

At which point it makes total sense that it is able to tap vast amounts of dark energy. We have no idea how much space it’s capable of folding up, but given that the Chitauri expect to conquer the universe, we can assume it’s a lot. Now it can access the dark energy of vast swaths of interstellar space, folding them up so that they can all be accessed through that one little cube.

Which leads to another fun thought: what if someone mass-produced them? As it stands, there is enough dark energy in the universe to keep it expanding forever. If the “quintessence” theory of dark energy is correct, then the amount of dark energy in the universe is actually increasing over time; eventually there will be nothing else, and space will shred itself completely. Using up the dark energy of interstellar space seems like a good idea, to keep the universe from flying apart. On the other hand, use up too much, and you eventually hit a point where there’s more gravity than dark energy, and the universe starts to collapse in on itself. You could set a pretty interesting story in a universe where that’s starting to happen, and people are faced with choosing between giving up their main energy source or dooming the universe–but obvious as the answer is, it isn’t easy, because it’s a very slow doom that none living will see.

Too on the nose, perhaps?

5 thoughts on “I haven’t let my inner science nerd out to play in a while…

  1. Actually, I thought of a story it matches even better. It's called Saga of Soul and found here: http://www.sagaofsoul.com/ . Basically, a science-nerd becomes a magical girl (and is in way over her head for most of her early adventures), but there's a nasty detail about magic that nobody's telling her–every time it is used it brings the universe closer to destruction. Her mentor figure is of a faction dedicated to gaining enough influence over worlds to make sure magic is never used there again (via use of powerful magic of course), and the villains (aside from the ones who just want to kill everyone) include at least two evil empires who just want to have everything under their control. They are clearly aware of the effects of using magic, but the story hasn't yet had a chance to answer the question of how they justify it (the mentor figure's opinion that they're just some combination of stupid and sticking their fingers in their ears going la-la-la probably can't be trusted).

    It's a very interesting story and I do recommend it.

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  2. No one is mass producing the Cosmic Cube. Nobody created the Cosmic Cube. The Universe does not contain the Cube, the Cube contains the Universe. Remember that scene in Futurama where “this box contains our own universe” and is played for laughs? There's a reason the Cube is so powerful: they're taking the premise seriously. That's why it's practically a wish granting device, you are literally telling the Universe itself what to do.

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  3. I'm assuming this is information from the comics? Because there's no trace of it in the movies (admittedly, I still have not seen Thor 2). If it is from the comics, then it doesn't really apply–there's no reason to assume that the Tesseract and the Cosmic Cube from the comics are the same thing–they look similar, and have similar plot roles, but they exist in entirely different universes. Of course if this is all info from Thor 2, then your point holds.

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