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MFF Special: Analyzing The Epic Space Tornado Fist-Fight in Geostorm

April 1, 2018

Happy April Fools’ Day – I wish this thing was real. I had fun writing it. 

While looking back at my cinematic watching life I can only think of several moments that have legitimately blown my mind. Here they are:

  1. Dolph Lundgren front kicking a massive ground worm into oblivion in Sandblaster
  2. Kurt Russell surfing in Escape From L.A.
  3. Kate Winslet’s 47-minute drum solo in Whiplash 2
  4. Sigourney Weaver nailing the behind the back basketball shot in Alien: Resurrection

There is a moment in Geostorm that features Gerard Butler going toe-to-toe with a space tornado that blew my mind. When I left the empty theater I knew I had to research the scene for my collection of dumb data. When I started digging into Geostorm I realized that the creators went out of their way to make it as realistic as possible and I couldn’t believe how much effort went into researching and filming the space tornado fight. They hired physicists and space tornado experts and created actual space like conditions that worked perfectly within the multi-million dollar sets. Here is the clip of the scene and a quick breakdown:

I’m going to punch that space tornado with a copper punching glove.

Gerald Butler is forced to go into space to stop the climate satellite (Dutch Boy) he created from destroying the world. Before he can turn off the systems that are “geostorming” earth he has to put on a spacesuit and confront a dangerous space tornado that is moving towards the station at an alarming rate. Butler knows that the funnel-shaped clouds of charged particles carry around 100,000 amperes and can reach speeds of over a million miles per hour. Thus, after doing some calculations he learns that by propelling the right thruster on his suit to a magnitude of 7.6 gigolowatts he can create enough clockwise speed to stop the tornado which is moving counterclockwise. The problem is that somebody on the “The Dutch Boy” sabotaged Butler’s suit before he left and only the left thruster works. This forces him to think quickly, and he flips himself upside down so his right thrusters propel his body counterclockwise at a speed of 250 spins per second. In the end, Butler manages to land ferocious right hooks that manage to change the direction of the tornado and safely guide it around the space station.

The math behind the tornado punching is 100% legit

At first, I thought the scene was gobbledygook so I decided to break it down (like I’ve done so many times) in an effort to figure out how it happened. After reading a lot of interviews and science journals I learned that a space tornado could, in fact, take place around the orbit of the space station (article here). Solar windstorms typically occur in earth’s outer atmosphere (ionosphere) and are responsible for the beautiful auroras that we see (Northern Lights). Also, since these storms are so electrically charged large conductors have been used by NASA to channel the electricity into satellites and space stations (article here). However, these tornados which occur frequently have been known to short-circuit satellites and disrupt GPS and cell signals (article here). The crazy thing is Gerry Butler said all of this stuff in the movie and I disregarded it because I thought it was all nonsense. Geostorm is more Contact or Arrival than Armageddon.

When Butler learns of the storm and the timeframe needed to stop the tornados he creates a “punching glove” comprised of rubber, cloth and bent copper plating that would be used to conduct a magnetic field (article here) that wouldn’t dissipate the energy of a storm (think of a head-on collision). What I appreciated most about his makeshift copper punching glove is how it worked as a magnetic conductor which pulled the storm away from the space station without causing it to suddenly halt the momentum which would be similar to a train hitting a massive concrete wall (think Toldeo 1973)

After watching the tornado punching clip many times I was able to gauge the distance between The Dutch Boy and the oncoming tornado. If you look at the curvature and polarity of earth’s surface in regards to the distance it’s clear the storm was roughly 178 kilometers away from the massive space station when Gerry Butler went outside to fight it. Here is the math that leads me to this distance:

14(x)∅/37 (circumference) divided by 8* over GaryBusey47‰. = 178 Kilometers.

So, with his hindered jetpack going upside down Butler had 23 seconds to travel 3000 feet in order to get a punching angle on the storm. The math works because tornadoes move at a very quick speed of 7,000 MPH which works perfectly with the speed of Butler’s jetpack and the angle he was traveling.

I was amazed to learn that the director built a spinning recreation of the storm in a massive set in England. Using the largest studio in Pinewood (pictures here) they made a spinning system that mathematically worked with the trajectory of Butler’s punching pattern. They actually put a stuntman upside down and worked out the process. When watching you will notice that Butler’s stuntman isn’t CGI during the upside down punching. They spun him in the correct trajectory then used a technology called “Super Spin” to speed it up and make it look like he was spinning 250 times per second. It’s no surprise they won the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and Production Design.

In the end, Gerry Butler saves the day via actual science and nobody expected it. I applaud Geostorm for its adherence to science and I hope people see it with new eyes now.

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