Can You See My Doppler?

If you’re like me, you want to visit another planet someday.  Hopefully, someday you will.  In the meantime, there’s a video game called Mass Effect, which is probably the most scientifically accurate video game ever made.  Playing it, you almost feel like your living in an intergalactic society, landing on strange, alien planets, meeting strange, alien people.

It’s the sciency details that make this game seem so real.  You need elements like iridium and palladium to upgrade your weapons; I don’t remember anyone referencing iridium or palladium in a video game before.  And of course there’s the popular quote in reference to the laws of motion: “Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space!”

One of my favorite details is the presentation of the Doppler effect in faster than light travel.  Light waves coming from a ship will be stretched or compressed depending on whether it’s moving away from you or coming towards you, just as the sound of a train or ambulance is distorted when its moving away or towards you.  As light waves stretch, the color we see shifts towards red; compressed light shifts towards blue.

So a spaceship traveling faster than light will look blue to people ahead of it and red to people behind.  Actually, these color shifts would be much more than just red and blue; they’d go beyond infrared and ultraviolet, so a spaceship traveling faster than light is effectively invisible (a fact the game does mention at some point).

Scientists already use the red or blue shifts of other galaxies to determine their movement.  The degree of shifting even tells us how quickly those galaxies are moving relative to our own.  I don’t remember any other work of science fiction addressing the red/blue shifts of spacecraft, which is why—from a purely sciency point of view—Mass Effect is a really cool game.

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P.S.: If my little discussion on the scientific accuracy of Mass Effect doesn’t persuade you to buy it, than maybe this trailer will.  Mass Effect 3 comes out in March, 2012.

2 Responses to Can You See My Doppler?

  1. Ann Gimpel says:

    I’ve tried to leave you a response to your comment on my own blog, but Google just isn’t cooperating. Thanks for your kind comments about my blog. They’re much appreciated.
    In terms of OSC and Ender’s Game, I think he had the teachers manipulate the children because it was the only credible way he could have youngsters engage in intergalactic warfare. Remember, EG was written long before the advent of video gaming.
    Ann Gimpel

    Like

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