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  • Science is coming.

  • [MUSIC]

  • The Game of Thrones universe is one of the most brilliantly complex and utterly FRUSTRATING

  • fictional universes ever created.

  • But it IS a fictional universe, and the only rule of a fictional universe is that it is

  • SELF-consistent. It doesn't have to agree with our science, or logic, or even our commonly

  • agreed-upon moral code that says killing people is not a good thing. There is only one god

  • in that universe, and his name is Gurm.

  • But despite that, many things in Game of Thrones can be linked to the real, ACTUAL world, drawing

  • inspiration as if through the thirsty roots of a weirwood tree. Many of these connections

  • are interpreted by fans, but some have been verified by the bearded one himself.

  • There are the many competing religious philosophies, the many, many, MANY similarities to real-life

  • historical characters or the fact that they LOOK like us? But we are not going to be talking

  • about those...

  • Here's where I would give you a spoilers warning, but . . . come on. You clicked on this. Spoilers

  • are coming.

  • Why are the seasons so crazy? In the Game of Thrones universe winters and summers are

  • known to last years at a time and apparently show up when they damn well please. We know

  • that the summer/winter cycle normally averages around 5 or 6 years apiece, and as the story

  • begins the most recent summer has stretched to nearly ten years. On Earth, seasons are

  • caused by our axial tilt leaning one side of Earth toward or away from the sun during

  • our annual trip around it, but George's world isn't so predictable.

  • The Maesters of the Citadel are the geeks of Westeros, who are supposed to calculate

  • when the next Polar Doom will arrive. Westeros isn't an industrial society, but the architecture,

  • metallurgy, and medicine we see in the Known World suggests that these guys are a fairly

  • scientific bunch.

  • Many theories have attempted to explain the reason for these seasons, but most of them

  • collapse faster than a Greyjoy's loyalty.

  • We know that the Westeros-ian world has a moon, and that it used to have two. Maybe

  • their moon isn't as large as ours so the planet's axis, unstabilized by lunar gravity, wobbles

  • like a broken top. But, according to astronomers, moons don't stabilize planets, rather a moonless

  • planet should spin more evenly than one with a moon.

  • Then what if its orbit, instead of a nearly circular ellipse, like ours, was extremely

  • elongated? Well that doesn't work either. While it could cause extreme seasons, they'd

  • still show up on a regular schedule. Even complex combinations of orbital stretches

  • and wobbles, like Earth's Milankovitch cycles, could be predicted by any society that knows

  • basic algebra.

  • Well, then maybe it's tugged on by the gravity of a neighboring planet, or its sun has a

  • variable output. George R.R. Martin did write his first novel about a planet falling away

  • from its parent star.

  • It's most likely that the Game of Thrones planet . . . it needs a name. Planet Hodor!

  • lives in a very strange solar system, around a pair of stars. Last April, a group of graduate

  • students from Johns Hopkins University published a paper showing that if the world of Game

  • of Thrones was subject to the complex dynamics of three celestial bodies orbiting each other,

  • predicting a planet's seasons would be impossible.

  • This has interesting implications for Tatooine . . ?

  • Of course, it could also be due to magic, which is cheating.

  • And what about that world anyway? At the amazing planetary science blog Generation Anthropocene,

  • Miles Traer and Mike Osborne have constructed a detailed geologic history of Westeros stretching

  • back more than 500 million years into the fictional past.

  • They determined that, since the North is cold enough to maintain a wall of ice, which we'll

  • come back to, year-round, it must be near this planet's Arctic circle, and since the

  • south is warm enough to be covered by deserts, which primarily exist near Earth's 30th parallel

  • that Planet Hodor has a radius of 4,297 miles or about 10% wider than Earth.

  • We know that the First Men crossed into Westeros on a land bridge near Dorne, and like Africa

  • and South America, the coastlines of Westeros and Essos seem to fit like puzzle pieces.

  • They were probably unzipped beginning 25 million years ago by a spreading rift, like the one

  • in the middle of our Atlantic Ocean.

  • And 40 million years ago, Westeros was likely covered by a huge ice sheet, which retreated

  • as glaciers, cutting the great valleys south of Winterfell and the Riverlands between Harrenhal

  • and The Twins.

  • The description of the jagged Black Mountains sounds a lot like our own Rocky Mountains,

  • which were born around 60-80 million years ago. This would also mark the birth of the

  • Mountains of the Moon and the high Westerlands, as north and south Westeros smashed together

  • just like the fault beneath the Himalayas.

  • That violent uplift is what exposed all that Lannister gold from its origin deep within

  • the crust. That era also would have borne the Iron Islands . . . but we have a different

  • iron to talk about.

  • Valyrian steel was an alloy forged in the ancient empire of the Valyrians, lighter and

  • stronger than regular steel, and whose secrets were lost during the Great Doom, when volcanoes

  • torched Valyria, and its dragons, into charcoal. That Valyrian steel was forged with dragon

  • fire, which is not actually a thing, but it's almost certainly a reference to Damscus steel,

  • an ancient steel alloy developed in India around 300 BC. Like Valyrian steel, the secrets

  • of its forgery were lost to history forever.

  • Speaking of dragon fire . . . what if dragons COULD exist? How COULD a living thing breathe

  • flames?

  • My buddy Kyle Hill came up with an interesting theory. Like the tiny bombardier beetle, dragons

  • could secrete reactive "hypergolic" chemicals that, when mixed, react violently and shoot

  • out of an orifice like rocket fuel.

  • And if dragons chewed on certain rocks and metals, which I imagine are like cupcakes

  • to them, they could coat their teeth in minerals, creating a spark with rows of deadly knife-like

  • flint and steel.

  • Unfortunately, our idea of a fire-breathing flying dragon is about to come crashing back

  • down to Earth, because physics. As Bran Stark found out the hard way, gravity seems to work

  • in Westeros just like it does here. And that means the Mother of Dragons' kids are grounded.

  • The largest bird that ever lived was the giant teratorn, with a wingspan of 7 meters. Not

  • big enough.

  • Dragons are probably more like pterosaurs. But even the largest of those, Quetzalcoatlus,

  • maxed out at 11 meters from wingtip to wingtip and 250 kg. But Daenarys' dragons are bigger

  • than that by the time they hit puberty, and dragon lore says they never stop growing.

  • Even with a pterosaur's hollow bones, ability to gallop on all fours to take off and huge

  • stretchy wings, even Hodor could figure out that the dragons don't work. Unless, yeah

  • . . . magic.

  • The Wall? Won't work. A sheer cliff of solid ice stacked 700 feet tall would melt at the

  • bottom under its own weight and would fall apart unless it was sloped

  • Wildfire? Works. "Greek Fire" was an ancient precursor to napalm made from petroleum, sulfur,

  • saltpeter and was the most potent weapon of its time. Add a little trimethyl borate, and

  • you've got a flaming death that's ready for St. Patrick's Day.

  • Milk of poppy? Works. Our opiate drugs from morphine to vicodin to even heroin are all

  • derived from the poppy plant.

  • Dire Wolf? Works. The extinct Canis dirus was the largest wolf to ever exist, covering

  • North and South America, thousands have been found in the La Brea Tar Pits alone.

  • Of course, the universe of Game of Thrones would live . . . or die . . . just fine whether

  • or not it agrees with our science. But by combining the two, as Raymond Chandler said,

  • The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art

  • from becoming ridiculous

  • What do you think? Does bringing science into a fantasy story kill the wonder like a guest

  • at the red wedding? Or does it help the fictional world . . . truly "exist" in our own? I think

  • it makes the story richer than a Lannister. Let me know what you think in the comments.

  • And remember, a Hanson always pay their debts. Subscribe, and I will pay you back with a

  • new video every week.

  • Valar Morcurious.

Science is coming.

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The Science of Game of Thrones

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    Bruce Lan   posted on 2014/05/24
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