Polar Express

Yesterday I went to see the Polar Express on the IMAX in Manchester; the first time I have seen an IMAX film. It was quite a nice seasonal film and probably benefited greatly from the 3D nature of the IMAX experience.

So why write about it here? What astronomy does it involve? Well, without wanting to spoil the plot, the main character travels to the north pole on a magical train on Christmas Eve. For most of the film I managed to suspend my disbelief as magic was quite clearly involved and therefore there was no need to strictly obey the laws of physics.

At one point in the film they cross the arctic circle, which, as far as I remember, they correctly give as latitude 66 degrees, 32 minutes North. That was good but then they spot, off in the distance, the North pole. My immediate thought was that the North pole should still be another 33.5 degrees of latitude away and should not be visible.

However, I wasn't entirely correct. When they finally reach the 'North pole', they discover that it is Santa's city (postal address: Santa Claus, North Pole HOH OHO, Canada) and at the very centre is a raised stage which is actually styled like a compass with four points - a nice touch is that all four of them are labelled south. So they didn't travel to the actual North pole, they went to the magnetic North pole which is currently at about 82 degrees North. Taking into account that the movie was set 'many years ago' (say 1900) and the movement of the magnetic pole, it is probably fair to say that the magnetic North pole would be at about 71 degrees North. So that only leaves around 5 degrees of latitude (around 500 km) between the arctic circle and the magnetic north pole; still a bit too far beyond the horizon even in the best circumstances. It must have been magic.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 06th Dec 2004 (17:12 UTC) | Permalink
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