The Core

The Science of The Core

“The Core”, 2003, Paramount Pictures, Director: Jon Amiel.
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, D.J. Qualls

The Core movie

GOALS: Use Next Generation Science Standards: Science & Engineering Practices, to:

Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

Ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

Evaluate a question to determine if it is testable and relevant.

Ask and/or evaluate questions that challenge the premise(s) of an argument, the interpretation of a data set, or the suitability of the design

Next Gen Science Standards

Textbook Conceptual Physics, 2009, Hewitt. Chapter 36 Magnetism

Website resources

Magnetism – magnetic fields, origins of Earth’s magnetic field

Dante’s-Inferno – The spherical nature of the Earth, exploration of hypothetical hollow Earth, the change in gravity as one descends deeper into the Earth, the antipodes

Earth’s layered structure – What are the layers of our world? How are they characterized?

Here we can see mantle convection within the Earth.

Types of radiation: alpha, beta and gamma particles – The Sun gives off many types of radiation, which travel through space, and hit the Earth. These types include alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays. (the latter are not really particles, but a super high frequency of light, aka electromagnetic radiation)

The electromagnetic spectrum – Visible light is only a tiny fraction of what our sun emits; we’ll learn about all the parts of the EM spectrum here.

Literary and scientific context

Before we judge the physics in this movie too harshly, let’s view it in context.

The first major story to address this idea was Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, first section – Inferno. Hell is literally a vast underground cavern. The narrator travels through the center of the Earth and out the other side, towards Mount Purgatory.  Dante’s Inferno

Dantes Inferno 1

Ludvig Holberg


In Ludvig Holberg’s 1741 novel Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (Niels Klim’s Underground Travels), Nicolai Klim falls through a cave while spelunking and spends several years living on a smaller globe within our Earth, with fantastic creatures.

In 1864 the classic novel “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” was written by the great Jules Verne. The story involves German professor Otto Lidenbrock who believes there are volcanic tubes going toward the centre of the Earth. He, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans descend into the Icelandic volcano Snæfellsjökull, encountering many adventures, including prehistoric animals and natural hazards, before eventually coming to the surface again in southern Italy, at the Stromboli volcano. In the book, the characters didn’t literally travel to the center of the Earth (Verne envisioned them actually going nearly 100 miles deep, and finding a continent wide subterranean world.)

This book was modernized in 1959 with the classic science fiction film, Journey to the Center of the Earth, directed by Henry Levin, starring James Mason and Pat Boone. In this movie, the characters are said to have actually travelled to near the center of the Earth itself.

1959 Journey to the center of the Earth – Trailer

At the Earth’s Core is a 1976 fantasy-science fiction film produced by Britain’s Amicus Productions, directed by Kevin Connor and starred Doug McClure, Peter Cushing and Caroline Munro. Based on the novel At the Earth’s Core, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan), the first book of his Pellucidar series. The poster alone gives you a good idea of the physics involved 😉

At the Earth's Core movie poster

Analysis of “The Core”

Answer the following questions, by the noted due dates. Here is a rubric to help guide you.

The Core movie rubric

Due Friday 4/29

Here are three great sources for analyzing science in “The Core” :

The Core Good Science and Bad Science in the Movie

Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy: The Core

The Core Science Analysis: Intuitor

1. According to the film, why did people with pacemakers die? How do pacemakers actually work?   How does a pacemaker work? NIH


2. We see a bizarre change in bird behavior in Trafalgar Square, London. According to this movie, what is the cause of this?

3. In real life, how would a big change in the Earth’s magnetic field affect the behavior of birds (or other animals sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field) See the links below for question 4.

4. How do birds sense the magnetic field? Magnetoreception

Magnetoreception: A Sense of Mystery – The-Scientist.Com

Would a dramatic change in the Earth’s magnetic field affect creatures that rely on it during migration? PBS NOVA

5. We see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, over Washington D.C.
Where is the aurora usually seen? What causes it? The movie claims it is caused by high altitude static discharge; is that correct?

Follow the energy coming at us from the sun – most is deflected – but notice where some of it is rerouted right towards earth?


6. Around 24 minutes in: They describe Earth’s magnetic field, and state that it protects the Earth from Cosmic radiation, and from microwaves.
What specifically does the magnetic field actually protect us from?
What would really happen if Earth’s magnetic field was weakened?

7. Do Earth’s magnetic north and south poles ever flip? If so, how often? What might the consequences be? When are they due to flip again?



Due Monday 5/2

8. Scene at the 24 minute mark: “I’m combining high-frequency pulse lasers with resonance tube ultrasonics. If you’ve ever seen ultrasonic waves break up a kidney stone on the Discovery Channel, it’s the same deal here.”
How do doctors use sound waves to pulverize kidney stones?


9. Scene at the 31 minute mark: “OK, here we have a concrete block, and in back of that, we have a two-inch steel plate. – We’re ready. And we are… firing. –  Voila! ”  {Laser beam cuts through the concrete and steel plate, but the black box is untouched!} “That’s impossible.”  “[Braz] I combined the crystals in a tungsten-titanium matrix at supercool temperatures, and that’s what did the trick.” “What do you call this material?”  “Well, its real name has 37 syllables. I call it Unobtanium.”

What real-world materials protected the space shuttle from extreme heat it encounters during re-entry.  Space shuttle tiles: Thermal protection system

10. Why do you think that the scriptwriters called the material in this movie “unobtanium”?

Unobtainium (Wikipedia)
Unobtainium – TvTropes

11. How can we use sound waves to study the interior of the Earth?



12. At one time they describe the visual system as being like a super CAT-scan, at another time they describe it as being an “MRI scanner”….could either of those technologies actually be used in this way? {See the 3 “Bad science” links presented above}

Due Wednesday, May 4

13. What are the layers of our Earth made of? How deep are they? What is their temperature     https://kaiserscience.wordpress.com/earth-science/earths-layered-structure/

14. Are there electrical currents within the Earth? If so, how are they made?     https://kaiserscience.wordpress.com/physics/electromagnetism/magnetism/

15. What inside the Earth is actually creating Earth’s magnetic field? https://kaiserscience.wordpress.com/physics/electromagnetism/magnetism/

16. “Still think the water-launch was a good idea? Yes, yes, I chose this location because the crust is thin here. The downside is… there’s lots of seismic activity.”
What is a “trench”? Why did the launch from the Marinaras Trench, instead of from on land?

This famous infographic (zoom in!) let’s you see how deep it really is

How deep is the trench?

17. They travel inside a giant geode. What is a geode? How do they form?



Due Friday May 6

18. Describe the various forms of carbon – including diamonds!



19. In the movie, micowaves from the sun break through the Earth’s decaying magnetic field over San Francisco –

“…and now with this horrific breaking news, we go live to San Francisco, where Leo Jacks has the story. [Leo] Yes, Claire, it’s hard to believe that half of San Francisco is in ruins today following the most devastating and the most baffling event in our nation’s history. Uh, it’s a horrific situation here. Thousands are dead. Many are missing.”

Microwaves are a form of EM {electromagnetism.} Math aside, check out these diagrams. What are EM waves made of?  Light is a moving electromagnetic field!

20. Microwaves are just one part of the EM spectrum. Name all the major parts of the EM spectrum

21. Write a few sentences about microwaves in particular. Electromagnetic spectrum

22. How are microwaves useful in “structural health monitoring”?   Electromagnetic spectrum

23. Is this movie scientifically plausible? Are there, in fact, dangerous amounts of microwave radiation in space, all around us? Does Earth’s magnetic field have any effect on microwaves? {See the initial 3 “Bad science” links presented above}

— Physical Science Questions —




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