Mass Effect and Some Applicable Science
It is 2017 and Mass Effect Andromeda has been released. The setting of this grand science fiction game is the distant galaxy Andromeda some 2.5 million light years away from our own.
In this article some of the science and things will be discussed rather than the actual game. In this way, it will allow you to still play the game and not have anything spoiled what so ever. So therefore, we will begin.
It is important that you keep in mind that this article and it’s primary function is to see if real world science can be applied to an incredible game. There is an odd satisfaction in knowing that the developers of a game might have or accidentally applied real world concepts and principles to make the lore of their game.
One type of scanner that is used in game.
The technology in Mass Effect Andromeda is definitely impressive. Completely incomparable to our technology today. A large part of the game is scanners. Scanners are used to gain information about planets and local wildlife as well as foreign technology.
From the wiki it states “the Panoptes system uses a transmitted accelerator mass spectrometer (TRAMS) creating a ‘snapshot’ of an object’s components, atomic weight, and radioactivity, and allows me to produce a more in-depth analysis. For biological materials, the Panoptes system switches to an electrospray ionization system so plants or animals can be scanned without causing radiation damage.”
While intimidating at first and quite literally a garbled mess of scientific lingo, it may hold scientific merit. Accelerator mass spectrometry is a very real practice used by scientists to measure long-lived radionuclides that occur naturally in our environment.
The material which they would like analyze is loaded into the ion source where it is bombarded with cesium ions that are made from a hot spherical ionizer. These ions are then focused onto the sample, which generates negative ions which are then sent down the beam towards the first magnet. At the end of the line after mirrors and the specific selection of ions, the elements of interest are then able to be noted.
It is interesting to see that this is the method the wiki uses to describe scanners. While current technology does not allow for a portable accelerator mass spectrometry device, we will just assume something caused that to become portable within the plot line of the previous games. The technology that we found on Mars propelled our technology forward.
Perhaps the discovery of alien artifacts on Mars gave us the necessary technological advancement to have the scanners as described by the wiki. While the accelerator mass spectrometer is an actual thing, the transmitted aspect of Mass Effect Andromeda scanners may not be. But with the benefit of the doubt, I will allow for the lore to influence my analysis.
So therefore the scanners use a form of accelerator mass spectrometer to gather information from planets as well as plants and other biological agents by analyzing the retrieved ions.
Technology: FTL Drives
You had the appetizers, now comes the entrée!
How amazing would it be if we had star ships that could travel faster than the speed of light. In Mass Effect Andromeda, ships rely on the fictional Element 0. This is a major plot device for the entire series as it is used in the FTL Drives on ships and Mass Relays. This Element 0 has the ability to increase or decrease the mass of an object allowing it to travel at FTL speeds. As no object with mass can get achieve the speed of light without an infinite amount of energy.
Even though they use Element 0 we can perhaps put a spin on the story so that it can favor science. While we currently aren’t capable of traveling at light speeds it is still a very interesting thing to think about. A theorised method of faster than light travel is called a Alcubierre Warp Drive. The basic principle is to contract space in front of the ship while expanding it behind.
Theoretically this would cause the ship to move without moving! You might be asking, “How can something move without moving?”. Well in the case of the Alcubierre Drive space is the thing moving not the ship. A ‘warp bubble’ is formed around the ship making the space in the bubble move forward relative to the distortion of the space around it. The ship sits inside the region where space is unmoved so technically it doesn’t move.
The ‘blanket’ that lies in the universe. Often times you can see this as depictions of the effect of gravity where they have a picture of a star that is over a 2 dimensional sheet which dips down simulating the strength of gravity. It is in fact showing the warping of spacetime as well.
Since the region of space inside the bubble isn’t affected or essentially isn’t moving, the ship is pushed and pulled along. It is theorized that since traditional methods of propulsion are not being used, it could be possible to accelerate a ship to beyond light speed without the need of an infinite energy source.
If you aren’t aware that in order to increase the speed of an object you must increase the energy that was necessary to accelerate from the previous acceleration. For example, in order to accelerate your car from 50 mph to 51 mph, you need more energy than if you were accelerating from 49 mph to 50 mph. So imagine the amount of energy needed to get to the speed of light or even just close to it.
Some other effects of FTL travel may be negated because of the warping effect. Something called time dilation is a well observed phenomenon. From Einstein’s theory of relativity, the closer an object gets to the speed of light the slower time occurs. We are able to note such phenomenon without getting close to the speed of light.
Let’s say a jet is travelling past a farm at jet speeds. The pilot has his watch ready to time how long it takes him to fly over his buddies farm. His friend, Farmer Joe, is also on the ground with a watch. The jet soars quickly past the farm and the watches automatically stop the moment the jet clears the farm. The man in the jet says “Wow it only took me 1 second!”. To which the farmer replies “No it took you 1.6 seconds!” They then continue to argue because they didn’t have a physics class available in high school. Note that that isn’t an accurate calculation.
The jet was going significantly faster relative to the farmer who was standing still on the ground. Do you know what this means? If you want to stay young forever, better start running as fast as you can! Okay maybe you won’t live forever, nor would you experience any noticeable or even quantifiable time dilation but the science is still there.
Something more noticeable, let’s say you are in a spaceship that is traveling at only 80% the speed of light and you soar through space for 9 years. The time that would be experience by the people on the spaceship would be roughly 7 years. Yet this is where is gets interesting. The time that would have passed on Earth by all of your friends would by 11 years! While you had only aged 7 years your friends had aged 11! Due that trip enough times and you’d be the youngest of the group if you aren’t already.
However with a drive such as the Alcubierre drive it is being argued whether or not time dilation would be in play here. Since objects experience time as they move across spacetime. Using this warp drive makes it so that the region inside doesn’t move.
Let’s do some fun math! Or at least I think it’s fun. In the game, the large Ark colony ship left the Milky Way Galaxy and started its journey to the Andromeda Galaxy. It took the beautiful ship 634 years to make the journey.
Keep in mind that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2,537,000 light years. So if they were traveling at the speed of light it would take 2,537,000 years! Thankfully they have FTL warp drives which allows them to chop off a hefty percentage of the time.
From now on I will put the math in italic font for separation from normal text.
In order to calculate the speeds in increments of the speed of light we will perform simple math. Do you recall the formula d=v * t ? (d = distance, v = velocity, t = time)
This formula allows us to calculate any of the variables as long as we have the other two. Right now we have our distance which is 2,537,000 light years and we have our time 634 years. So let’s plug it in.
2,537,000 light years = v * 634 years
2,537,000 light years / 634 years = v
V = 4001.57728707 times the speed of light
We can also do something different with our calculations. Something that should always be done after completing some math is to check it. Let us convert the light years into standard miles.
Light travels 6 trillion miles in one year.
6,000,000,000,000 * 2,537,000 years = 15,222,000,000,000,000,000 miles
We now have our total distance in miles which we will keep in scientific notation 1.5222e+19
Lastly in order to check our work we will calculate the time it would take for the Ark ship to reach the Andromeda galaxy. We already know the time it took so we are looking for a number close to that. 634. We will be using the newly calculated values.
The first value is the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy in miles. The second is the speed the ark would travel in one year going the FTL velocity we calculated of 4,001 times the speed of light.
15,222,000,000,000,000,000 miles / 2.4009464e+16 miles/year = 633.999993 years
We have calculated the factor of light at which the ship traveled to the Andromeda Galaxy. We have checked our work, and lastly I would like to leave you with some interesting notes that will hopefully provide an interesting perspective on just how fast this ship is going. I will leave out the math because I think we did enough for today.
Light takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Earth. At the speeds calculated it would take only .12460791367 seconds.
- The Milky Way Galaxy is 100,000 light years across. It would only take only 24.990145526 years.
- The distance from the Earth to the moon is 238,900 miles. It takes astronauts about 3 days. However at the FTL speeds achieved by the Ark, you could make 3,120 trips in only 1 second!
- The distance from Los Angeles to New York is 2,791 miles. The trip is about 41 hours driving. At the superluminal speeds you could make the trip 260,501 times in a single second.
That is all for this article. I hope you enjoyed it thoroughly and thought it was interesting. I find it fun to apply science to fictional games and especially science fiction. For some reason it gives me the thought that it could be possible one day.
If you want to have a look at the wiki for Mass Effect Andromeda here is the link http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Mass_Effect:_Andromeda
The images used in the article were sequestered from google images.