October 30, 2008

Pressing question that I'm too lazy to Google

Despite that fact that I was totally the shit in science in like eighth grade (seriously I was totally that girl until calculus got involved), I don't know the answer to this: is an "energy signature" a legitimately useful thing, or is it ubiquitous comic book schmiency bullshit? Or C), is it a sometimes legitimately useful thing in specific situations that is used by comic book writers in bullshitty ways all the damn time? I'm guessing that one. Anyway, your insight is welcome.


JC said...

(Looks around the room, waiting for someone else to answer...)

Elwood said...

(reading a comic book hidden in my PeeChee folder...)

Kirk Warren said...

Depends on what an "energy signature" is. We can use x-rays and other useful processes to view distant stars and see what kind of make up they are based on the "energy signatures" they have, such as how much helium, hydrogen, iron, etc they are made up of and find out their age as well.

Similarly, "energy signatures", depending on how you define them, could be used to describe the radiation given off by objects or tell you the composition of various physical pheonomenon on Earth adn in the universe.

Now, if you mean tracking some super villain by his glider's energy signature, that starts pushing it, but you could see exhaust and other particulates making up some kind of trail to find them, depending on what was going on.

It would really come down to what was going on, but if it's mostly related to the energy / radiation given off by an object, I think a lot of the bullshitty type generic inventions created in comics could be applicable. Maybe not on the scale and precision that they have, but theoretically sound.

Evie said...

Thanks Kirk! I and any of my other semi-ignorant readers appreciate it. It's just used so damn much in so many dubiously generic circumstances, I feel like they might as well mix it up with other vague terms like "aura" or "residue" or "carbon footprint" or something.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest that while, as Kirk says, it's theoretically possible that someone might have cause to use this terminology, it'd be a very poor-fitting metaphor. Scientists think of themselves as detectives, they talk about fingerprints and smoking guns: clues. But a signature isn't a clue, it's total proof, and it's easy. You don't even have to detect it, you just sort of have to check to see that it matches, tick it off on your list and go punch out the bad guy.

I can't see it being a useful way to talk. Most of the stuff Kirk points out that we can tell about strange objects with our instruments are like "it's hot, it's bright, it's green, it's made out of iron, it's radioactive"...not signatures, just data. I can't imagine anyone talking about "finding an energy signature" rather than saying something like "Jesus it's radioactive in here, we must be right on top of it", it'd be like saying "the lightbulb's malfunctioning" when really you mean "it's burnt out."

But then I am just a guy on the Internet with insomnia, and I could be wrong. However the term implies an ease of measurement and detection which is also pretty koo-koo if you think about it: after all we don't have tricorders, we have chem labs for hire and mines filled with government Windex, and determining whether or not something has some collection of identifying attributes sufficiently abstract or tenuous to merit the name "energy signature" sounds suspiciously like work, to me.

So I guess: possible, but extremely doubtful.

Have fun voting!