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In Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Galactus devastated a few planets before he came to Earth. Mr. Fantastic sees the surfaces of these planets in real time. That’s not really how telescopes work. Light takes a LONG time to travel across the galaxy and what we see is what it looked like millions of years ago. The fact that Richards could pull up an image in the present time shows he has some crazy Clarketech signal-to-image reconstruction system.

Am I remembering this correctly? Is there any more detail on this computer and is it using some type of tachyon technology?

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    xkcd.com/1342
    – Sneftel
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:40
  • I would rather know more about the nonsensical (but somehow scary-looking) math formulas floating in those jittery windows. Sep 9, 2023 at 11:12
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    Light may be faster in the Marvel universe. Super light! Sep 9, 2023 at 12:56
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    When there's no problem with the Silver Surfer travelling faster than light ... Sep 9, 2023 at 17:57
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    @HagenvonEitzen - On a magic surfboard, no less
    – Valorum
    Sep 10, 2023 at 19:56

4 Answers 4

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The film's novelisation indicates that these planets are "not far" from Earth.

He pointed to a large monitor to his right and scrolled through a series of satellite photos of dead and barren planets not far from Earth’s solar system. Each photo was worse than the one before, showing lifeless landscapes, dried-up oceans, and ruined atmospheres.

The implication seems to be that they're being viewed pretty much in realtime and simply aren't that far away, unlike our own universe where some of these stars are actually tens or hundreds of light years away.

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    "not that far away" in astronomical terms is probably a few dozen light years, I'd say. But even if those planets were at the same distance as the Sun is to Earth, you'd still view them with 8 minutes of delay, a far cry from "pretty much in realtime" I'm afraid. Sep 8, 2023 at 23:32
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    @Blueriver - I don't think anyone has ever accused the Marvel people of making films that are scientifically accurate
    – Valorum
    Sep 9, 2023 at 6:43
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    @Blueriver: Hollywood does not care about this problem. Expecting them to do so is doomed to failure. They aren't being deliberately inaccurate - if they were, someone would rebel against that style of film making. They just have no idea that there's a problem, and don't care as long as their films sell tickets. Sep 9, 2023 at 20:46
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    @Valorum The answer by LogicDictates mentioned that the distances to the mentioned stars are known. About 870 light years, 25 light years, and 17 light years. So light from them should take those decades or centuries to reach Earth. If those stars were only light minutes or light hours from Earth, Earth would be torn from its orbit around the Sun and all its water boiled away, making it a dead planet long before Galacticus arrived or the protagonists were even born. Sep 9, 2023 at 21:39
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    The real answer is that these films are not scientifically accurate and have never claimed to be so.
    – Tom
    Sep 10, 2023 at 19:48
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Is the scene in the video clip below the one you're thinking of?

REED RICHARDS: I've been cross-referencing the Surfer's radiation through every astronomical database. Altair Seven... Rigel Three... Vega Six.

BEN GRIMM: He's been to all these planets?

REED RICHARDS: And now they're lifeless. Barren. Some even shattered. Everywhere the Surfer goes, eight days later, the planet dies.

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007)

If it is, no timescale was given as to when exactly those planets died, so those images could conceivably be showing us how they looked decades, centuries, or even millennia in the past. The plot doesn't obviously require those specific planets to have died recently; only for their deaths to have been linked to the Silver Surfer recently.

Also, Reed said he'd been cross-referencing "every astronomical database," which implies that he wasn't relying solely on data gathered by his own instruments, but was making use of data gathered by other astronomers. In my mind at least, that lowers the probability that "crazy Clarketech" was required to capture those images, as other astronomers would be less likely to have such technology.

And it wouldn't necessarily take millions of years for the light from those planets to reach Earth. In the real world, Rigel is approximately 870 light-years from Earth, while Vega and Altair are approximately 25 and 17 light-years away, respectively. They might not be that close in the fictional universe the film is set it, but then again, they might be closer for all we know.


My DVD copy of the film has two audio commentaries. I checked the portions of those commentaries that play over the scene in question and neither offers any insight as regards how long ago those planets died, or the specific nature of the technology used to capture those images. Nonetheless, I transcribed what was said in case it's of interest:

TIM STORY: Well, of course this was a necessary piece of information in showing that the Surfer has been to many galaxies and the fact that Reed Richards has found out this information by his many gadgets and vast knowledge of what the solar system is made out of. So we definitely used this scene to primarily show that the craters are actually going into the centre of the Earth, and the fact that there are many, and hopefully give the audience an insight on what's happening.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) - audio commentary by director Tim Story

DON PAYNE: Once again, I wanted Reed's character to be not only more of a leader, but more of a genius. I mean, he's supposed to be the smartest man in the world, and in the first film he was kind of fumfering and failing and stumbling, and here I wanted him to actually be solving problems and figuring things out and saving the world, with his intellect. This is Reed using his intellect, realising that the craters are appearing in a mathematical sequence.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) - audio commentary by producer Avi Arad, writer Don Payne and film editors Peter S. Elliot and William Hoy

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    Worth adding, in the Marvel universe, FTL travel is very much a thing, and it's possible that he simply has access to tools and data gathered via other means than real-world physics. Sep 8, 2023 at 15:11
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    "making use of data gathered by other astronomers" Under real world physics, no Earthly database would have the information sooner than his telescopes would observe it, and no non-Earthly database could be contacted faster than light from the actual location would reach his telescopes, so this doesn't change the time frame. It does help explain why they could have such clear images of things that happened far away and long ago, though. Sep 8, 2023 at 16:12
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    @GrandOpener - I thought it was worth emphasising that for two reasons: 1) Regardless of the level of technology used to capture those images, if Reed was using data gathered by other astronomers, then he can't take full credit for it. (Perhaps not any, since there was no indication that he gathered any of that data with his own instruments.) 2) If that data was gathered in part or in whole by other astronomers, it seems less likely that "crazy Clarketech" (quoting the OP) was required to do so. Sep 8, 2023 at 17:47
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    @LogicDictates No, considering the limitations of current and near future astronomical instruments in the real universe, the information from Earth astronomers would have to come from instruments using "Clarketech" invented by some super genius. Or, as my answer suggests, more like "Smithtech". Sep 9, 2023 at 21:32
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    @M. A. Golding - You'd certainly need better telescopes than exist in reality to view planets in other star systems with that level of detail. The crucial point (in relation to the question) though is that you wouldn't need telescopes that could also view those planets as they appeared in the present. Viewing them as they appeared years in the past is sufficient for the purposes of what was shown in the film. I'm not ruling out the possibility that those planets only died recently; just pointing out that there's nothing in the film that specifically indicates or necessitates that. Sep 9, 2023 at 21:49
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This (viewing distant parts of space in real-time) is a long-running and common issue throughout Marvel and other superhero comics for decades.

When explicated, the usual justifications are some kind of FTL scanning technology, or distant surveillance satellites that transmit data by FTL means. Here's an example from Thor #25 (2022) in which Iron Man tells Reed Richards:

I have a network of deep space satellites slaved to my internal mainframe. They constantly sweep for activity in places explored or not.

Iron Man describes his network of deep space satellites from Thor #25

In the logic of comic-book sci-fi, potentially satellites like that could beam information back to earth in real-time using tachyons or something similar.

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What Mr. Fantastic needs is not weird Clarkean technology but more like weird Smithian technology.

In early science fiction it was a rather common idea that that a telescope X light years away from planet A could see events that happened on planet A X years in the past. Of course, human scale events couldn't be detected at such distances by even super duper telescopes for various reasons. For example, as light rays reflected from a object travel further and further away and spread out more and more, eventually even a telescope a light year wide wouldn't pick up even a single photon reflected off that object.

But it was a common idea to travel faster than light far enough from Earth to catch up with the light of a historic event and view it in a super telescope. That idea may have been used for the last time in the Star Trek episode "The Squire of Gothos" Jan. 12 1967, as a speculation by the protagonists to explain why Trelane knows a lot about Earth centuries ago but nothing about Earth in Kirk's era.

And as I remember, in E.E. Smith's Skylark series started a century ago, the protagonists learned to use not only electromagnetic radiation, but deeper forms of radiation, not just "first order radiation" but "second order radiation" and so on down to fifth and sixth order radiation, and those forms of radiation traveled much faster than light.

They could use those forms of radiation as "spy rays" to detect anything which their enemies were doing at the present. Sort of like using radar to see what someone was doing but using different orders of radiation instead of electromagnetic radiation.

And they could use those forms of radiation to form a sort of "telescope" out of energy at any desired distance from a planet and detect anything which happened on on that planet any desired time in the past.

I'm not certain that was how they learned of past events, but they did have a way of viewing and listening to past events, even events which happened inside rooms with opaque walls, locked doors, and shuttered windows.

So possibly Mr. Fantastic has some way of using fictional faster than light forms of radiation to study alien worlds many light years away, and possibly he has shared that knowledge with Earth astronomers in the MCU. No doubt he could make money selling such instruments.

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  • "possibly he has shared that knowledge with Earth astronomers in the MCU. No doubt he could make money selling such instruments." Reed was established as being virtually broke in the first film, with a lot of unpaid bills, so that doesn't seem very likely. Sep 9, 2023 at 21:51

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