Can the Sun Power Superman the Man of Steel in Principle

superman flight

With the debut of the Superman movie, many people have taken a newfound interest in the characteristics of the Man of Steel from the planet Krypton. I am often asked by my nephews about this immensely powerful being that they sometimes catch on morning cartoons, and see in some of their favorite video games. So popular is the Man of Steel, that there've been crossovers involving powerful characters from other universes, such as the Incredible Hulk. 

The Man of Steel is out on video now, and depicts the ultimate alien hero from the defunct planet Krypton, who is widely considered to be the greatest hero of all time. 

superman vs hulk

What is the true range of his powers? What happened to his real parents? Am I going to get powers like that when I grow up? Luckily, I am able to answer most of these questions - even the most advanced one that the oldest nephew (he's eight) asked me one day: can Superman's powers really work that way, by absorbing yellow sunlight?

A brilliant question, when you think about it. And one that can, with the principles of physics, be answered. Anyone who has ever seen Superman (also called Kal-el and Clark Kent) is quite aware of the extent of his otherworldly power. 

It is explained in the comics that he obtains this energy as a result of his Kryptonian physiology, which absorbs yellow sunlight and manifests a range of abilities as a result. However, when we consider that the amount of energy that strikes the earth is just 1360 Watts per meter, and the surface area of Superman's skin is around 1.4 meters (the same as a large man), then it seems clear that he there simply isn't enough energy available to account for his world-wrecking strength, his nuclear-furnace heat vision, the virtually impregnable bioelectric field that accounts for his durability, and the gamut of his other powers.

Just think about it: you as a human absorb much of the sunlight landing on your skin; your skin reradiates it as infrared and you are warmed by the fraction that travels into your body. Now, because the area of your human skin is small compared to your volume, you don't lose as much heat as a child, for example - nor do you gain as much.

If we are to believe the comic books, this is the same amount of energy that Clark absorbs - yet, he uses it to throw around aircraft carriers and throw rocks into orbit (if you know which one requires more strength, then you're probably a physicist). So his powers just can't feasibly work as a result of the energy the sun provides at the current 93 million mile distance from the earth.

Is there a way that we might rectify this, however? Yes! Because, although the sun most certainly cannot supply Kal-El with the energy necessary to account for his profound feats (that is, he cannot be a battery that depends on solar absorption to supply him with the energy he uses; even if he operates at a 100 percent rate of conversion - which is impossible because of entropy), solar light can serve as a key for energy that is already intrinsic to his body. 

That is, all the energy that Clark uses to power his physique and abilities is already a property of his Kryptonian physiology - and light with a wavelength of 590 nanometers (the very definition of yellow) comprises a resonance level. When yellow light is incident, his body responds by unleashing a host of latent abilities.

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