Superman Breaks Fundamental Law of Physics: The Most Efficient Living Solar Cell

First Posted: Aug 02, 2014 07:03 AM EDT

Superman can fly, leap over buildings, and accomplish feats that are, well, pretty superhuman. Yet this superhero doesn't just defy logic with his spectacular feats; he also defies the fundamental physics law of the conservation of energy.

According to Superman comic lore, Clark Kent gets his energy from the electromagnetic radiation contained in the light from our sun. This energy gives him various super powers here on Earth, including superhuman strength and the power of flight. In other words, Superman is possibly the most efficient solar panel we've yet to encounter.

Unfortunately, though, there may be a flaw in Superman's solar cell efficiency, which is the measure of how much energy output solar cells give out for each unit of energy they absorb from the sun. The most efficient solar cells on Earth have a 44.7 percent efficiency, but Superman seems to smash that particular record to pieces.

 First, the researchers calculated the total energy used by Superman during a day of solar-power flight. Using a rough estimate of the area of Superman's body in contact with the sun's rays, they calculated that the hero absorbs about 1096 joules per second from the sun. Then, the team calculated the amount of energy Superman actually uses in flight in order to overcome drag forces; they found that for an eight our flight at an altitude of 30 km, he would use about 207 billion joules of energy. This means that Superman has a solar cell efficiency of 656,000 percent. In other words, he breaks the laws of physics.

"We wanted to look at how much energy Superman uses when he is flying-and how much more efficient he would need to be," said Jason Watson, a student involved in the study, in a news release. "To put it into context, a normal solar cell would need to be twice the size of a football pitch to acquire the amount of energy Superman would use during flight."

In fact, Superman seems to be generating energy rather than converting it. This means the superhero could, potentially, be one of the most efficient power sources on the planet.

"As Superman is so efficient, it would be good if he could use one of his other powers-such as his ability to fire lasers from his eyes-to supply us with energy here on Earth," said Watson.

The study is published online here.

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