Saturday, May 31, 2008

No point at all

From the evidence of Final Crisis #1, it seems Grant Morrison doesn't know what a Lagrange point is.

Lagrange points (or libration points) are areas formed by the orbit of one body around another, positions in which gravitational forces are balanced so that things put at those points tend to stay there, relative to the other bodies of the orbital system. A celestial body by itself doesn't have "a Lagrange point" as such; you need two bodies in an orbital relationship. There isn't one Lagrange point in such an orbital system but five of them, all moving with the orbiting body in fixed relationships. This diagram should make it clearer than words alone could do:

The two bodies shown above could be the Sun and the Earth, or the Earth and the Moon. The Sun–Earth L4 and L5 points lie 60° ahead of and behind the Earth as it orbits the Sun; the Earth–Moon L4 and L5 points lie 60° ahead of and behind the Moon as it orbits the Earth. Because things put in libration points tend to stay in those positions relative to their bigger neighbors, they've been considered as potentially useful places to put space stations or other orbiting hardware. As it is, they tend to collect interplanetary dust.

Morrison seems to get that "Lagrange point" has some relationship with a planet's gravitational field, but the term doesn't quite make sense the way he uses it here. (He might instead have used a term like "the Lagrangian zone" to indicate "a spherical zone as far away from the planet as its Lagrangian points" or "out to the Trojan points" which is a more colloquial term for the L4 and L5 points.) The subsequent lines about "no one must enter or leave the gravity well" and "dust for radiation prints" are equally senseless for different reasons, except to reinforce the conceit of this being a cosmic police procedural, and to tip us off that none of this should be taken seriously.

It disappoints me when a writer I otherwise admire immensely devotes time and attention to promoting crackpot pseudoscientific drivel, Whitley Strieber UFO abduction books, and supposed Mayan astrological forecasts while not knowing real scientific concepts and terms. It's okay for him to throw in a misused word just because it sounds sciencetastic. After all, who would know what a scienceish word actually means? Unless you were a practitioner of scienceism or something.


  1. Maybe Morrison could have used the term "Roche limit", in regards to Earth. That sort of refers to gravity (well, gravity versus tidal forces), and that would be a set distance from the planet.

    Of course, that assumes, as someone else noted, that the person killing gods can't escape through some method outside of normal space.

  2. Yeah, that makes the gravity well reference even sillier...when we're talking about the murder of an entity from a group that has Boom Tubes and the Mobius Chair and phasing circuits and matter threshholds at their disposal. Even Batman can summon up a Boom Tube with a literal snap of his fingers these days -- in the quite wonderful JLA Classified #1-3 arc -- so this stuff should be considered commonplace. Discovering the body is a little late to think sealing off the crime scene will do anything to detain the alleged perp, unless you assume he or she is fleeing on foot.

    "Roche limit" could work, but as with the Lagrange references it's describing a circumstantial condition of a planet that still wouldn't have enough relevance to the kind of cosmic police procedure that scene was trying to portray. And why would Guardians from Oa use the terminology of 19th Century European astronomers anyway? But it would work nonetheless, if only GM had found his inner Gardner Fox or John Broome and played up the science facts Silver Age style, rather than using real words for set dressing as if they were meaningless technobabble. It just irks me that he would take the extra care to get this right if it were a reference to kabbalah or astrology.

    I could easily go off on a wholly separate nerd rant about how the whole "GLs as uniformed cops on the beat" doesn't make a whole lot of sense either, but I'm worried Mark is about to beat me up and steal my lunch money...


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