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'UFO' Movie Delves into Math of Universe Navigation (Exclusive Clip)

In a new clip from the upcoming movie "UFO," releasing digitally and on DVD Sept. 4, characters discuss how aliens could use physical constants to navigate across space.

In the movie, Gillian Anderson (known for "The X Files") stars as a mathematics professor, and the other leads include Alex Sharp as a college student investigating UFO sightings near U.S. airports with his girlfriend (played by Ella Purnell), as an FBI agent (played by David Strathairn) pursues them. The film's science advisor (who has a cameo in this clip!) was Space.com columnist Paul Sutter.

The clip, embedded above, discusses a novel idea for space travel: If a fundamental constant of the universe called the fine structure constant was different in different locations, beings could use the changing constant to navigate through space.

The fine structure constant relates to the strength of the electromagnetic force between elementary particles. Research has at times suggested that this constant might vary across the universe — so space travelers could use it to triangulate their location, the characters discuss in the clip. That process could work similarly to how pulsar navigation would work, she adds. In that method, navigators would observe the regularly pulsing neutron stars to figure out their own locations. (A pulsar navigation experiment was recently tested on the International Space Station.)

While we're not sure exactly how navigation by fundamental constant fits in to the movie's suspenseful UFO-spotting premise, we're eager to find out.

Email Sarah Lewin at slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com

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Sarah Lewin
SPACE.COM ASSOCIATE EDITOR — Sarah started writing for Space.com in June of 2015. Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.