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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"Darn your sinister attraction!"
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March 15 2006

The Signal, Season 2, Show 4. The new edition of The Signal is out.

"Features include: The Firefly Timeline; The Virtual Seasons; Music Section (This week: River's Turn by David Newman); and most of the usual regular features."

At the time of posting, the permalink for the show is incorrect (it claims to be, and links to, show 3). So I've linked to the home page for now.

FYI, in their rundown of upcoming Serenity showings at the top of the show, based on the list at Can't Stop The Serenity, they put Stirling in England, when it's actually in Scotland. It just says "UK" on CSTS, which I assume is the cause of the confusion.
Wow. This sounds really professional! Seems influenced by how NPR does their news programming.

I have wondered how Joss explained time in the show. As explained in the program, time for each planet would be very subjective, but it also seems they somehow keep time as it would have been on the Earth That Was, so that there's subjective time for each planet, and then a standard time that humanity as a whole seems to use. Of course, the theory of relativity makes this null and void, but Whedon's often repeated he disgregards science beyond how it helps him tell a story, and travelling from Beaumond to Hera is like a plane trip from Utah to Virginia.

We're to assume I suppose that there's no faster-than-light travel in the course of the series, so all these planets have to either be in the same solar system, or several solar systems in very close proximity. However, gravitational pull would cause difficulty in planets orbiting stars close to one another without one star adversely causing instability to another star's planetary orbits. If one were to actually lay the laws of physics on Firefly/Serenity, you'd have a result similar to The Physics of Santa Claus and it might be as funny. Maybe someday I'll try to write that.

Mal's sense of time is not very accurate. He often speaks in absolutes and generalizations. Time accuracy is very low on his priorities. I kinda like that about him.

[ edited by ZachsMind on 2006-03-15 08:40 ]
Of course, the theory of relativity makes this null and void

The theory of relativity wouldn't make having a standard time null and void. What makes you say that?
Because time passes differently for different observers travelling at different speeds. There is no absolute concept of time which is the same for all observers.

(I think.)
It's true there is no absolute concept of time in the physical sense but that doesn't stop us just deciding on one reference-frame and making it a universal standard (maybe the time-frame of the Alliance HQ planet as with Greenwich Mean Time back in the day). Obviously though, people's true ages would be pretty hard to keep track of if they did a lot of travelling at high fractions of c (days really would be 'a vestigial mode of time measurement' ;). Maybe everyone would have a 'true' age (as in subjective relatavistic time experienced since birth) and a 'Versal Coordinated Time age (like the Queen ;).

Can't remember the episode but Mal mentions that 'it's 10 in the morning there' (or similar) when they're about to make planet-fall so it would seem that there definitely is a ship time and then a local time for each planet/moon in the 'verse. So jet-lag'd be a bitch but a standard time is perfectly acceptable.

Also, I thought Serenity definitively answered the single/many solar systems question with 'a new solar system, dozens of planets, hundreds of moons' and yeah it may be a virtual impossibility to have so many planets orbiting one sun (especially since it looks pretty similar to Sol i.e. main sequence not a giant star or some kind of exotic matter) but, y'know, Joss, with the science ? Not so much.
Yes, wasn't there something about Joss and science? "Run away! Run away!" Which I think sums it up pretty well.
I may have that reference inexact though. It is early here in my time zone.

[ edited by Lioness on 2006-03-15 15:12 ]
Obviously though, people's true ages would be pretty hard to keep track of if they did a lot of travelling at high fractions of c

I don't think the speeds depicted in Firefly are fast enough for that to make a huge difference to the passengers. Yes their ship clock would fall behind gradually, but I'm not sure it would be by enough for them to care.

I just tried a rough calculation based on the journey time of 18 hours Wash gives in Out Of Gas, and came up with a figure of 3 seconds for the difference between 'ship time' and 'standard time'. Assuming someone spent their whole life (I used 80 years) travelling at that speed, they'd only be something like 32 hours ahead of standard time when they died. If I haven't messed up (and it's quite possible I have!) then I think time dilation can be ignored in FF.
Yes, wasn't there something about Joss and science? "Run away! Run away!" Which I think sums it up pretty well.
I may have that reference inexact though. It is early here in my time zone.


I saw Joss being interviewed on a documentary the other day, and they asked him about science, and he's like "Oh. Uhm. I created the hellmouth. You know, vampires, demons, no scientific explaination because it's a hell mouth!". Or words to that effect.

And I'm cool with that. It's all about the story for me. If you actually take apart Firefly from a scientific point of view, it makes no actual sense in reality.
Yeah, gossi, but it sure is fun (if that's what floats yer boat) though I also enjoy Firefly and Serenity for their stories and characters, not science. Well, more fun than work anyway ;).

That seems short Grounded. Even at 0.1c I make gamma something like 1.005 so that (by my also very possibly wrong calculations ;) Wash's experienced 18 hour burn would actually be about (64800 * 1.005) or 65124 seconds (i.e. the crew will be ~ 324 seconds younger than a stationary observer). Right enough I don't think we ever find out how fast Serenity can go so it's all pure speculation (though some significant fraction of lightspeed seems reasonable given the distances involved) and this assumes constant velocities (because I don't have the maths for anything more complex ;).
Your calculation seems fine, but I didn't go with 0.1c. At that speed, an 18 hour journey translates to almost 2000 million km. That seemed too great a distance to me considering the FF system is supposed to be densely populated. Instead, I started by assuming a distance of 200 million km, which results in a speed of 0.01c.
Mmmmmm. Sexy geek talk...
Blimey ! Wish i'd worn my best pocket protector now ;).

That's a good point grounded. Assuming a distance from the time probably makes more sense than just assuming (which is what I did ;).

That said, in our own system Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are all further than 2000 million km from Earth so I guess those kinds of distances are at least possible but a) one of the blue-hands mentions something like 88 million km as if it's a long way and b) all those planets are probably too far from the sun to sustain our kind of life (though, again, the 'verse has most/all of the planets having more or less the same climate which seems a bit unlikely given their necessarily different orbits, or in other words, Joss - 0, Science - approx. One bajillion) so I reckon your assumption is more plausible and relativistic effects would make, as near as damnit, no difference to the crew.
"though, again, the 'verse has most/all of the planets having more or less the same climate which seems a bit unlikely given their necessarily different orbits, or in other words, Joss - 0, Science - approx. One bajillion"

The only Science I know is the v-e-r-y s-i-m-p-l-e kind, so take this for what it is worth. I had always assumed that the emphasis on moons had been to get around those pesky little problems of only so many planets being able to occupy orbits within the limits of the distance from the sun that would make them habitable. I purposely stop anymore thought about it at that point because intuition tells me that beyond that thought is where unhappiness and dissatisfaction lie in wait. ;-)
Personally I think the biggest distances should be at most about twice the distance of Mars to the Sun (assuming the radius of possible life around this sun extends to Mars, and then you could have planets exactly on opposing sides of the Sun), which is 500 million km. However in Out of Gas they don't neccesarily cross the entire system, so I guess 200 million km is a good estimate.

Anyway I think even if people travelled at 0.1c they would not bother with a personal clock. Sure to get the clocks correct they would have to adjust their watches after each trip, but in total peoples ages according to the "standard" time and according to their own time differs by at most half a year (if you get to be 100), which I wouldn't bother about for deciding how old I am (most people look at least half a year younger or older than their real age anyway).

I know Joss doesn't really care about the physics of his universe (didn't he once say in a webchat session we could ask anything as long as it wasn't math?) but on the other hand he didn't want travel faster than light or sound in space, because that was impossible. This always confuses me a bit.

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