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The Physics of Lost’s Season 5 Finale [No Spoilers]

There are NO big spoilers in this post.

Just a quick question about some physics in the Season 5 Lost finale, “The Incident.” If you’ve been watching the past few seasons of Lost, you know that there are some weird issues with electromagnetism on the island. This made me assume that the field strengths in question are pretty huge, and finally in tonight’s episode we actually see measurements of the field in question, here’s a screenshot:

Lost Gauss Meter

20,000 Gauss! That sounds big—it must be if the pointer is in the red, right?

Well not quite… let’s switch units: 20kG = 2 Tesla which sounds less exciting, but don’t get me wrong it’s still pretty big. MRI machines run between 1.5-3 Tesla. This field strength is what you might expect from loudspeaker coils, or Neodymium magnets. These magnets may attract some forks, ruin CRT monitors, and fry pacemakers, but MRI machines seldom make the hospitals that hold them implode.

sidenote: a fantastic bit of information found via wikipedia. Apparently 16 Tesla is enough to levitate a frog, in case you were curious:

Using a giant magnetic field, scientists at the University of Nottingham and the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands have made a frog float in mid-air.

The levitation trick works because giant magnetic fields slightly distort the orbits of electrons in the frog’s atoms. The resulting electric current generates a magnetic field in the opposite direction to that of the magnet. A field of 16 teslas created an attractive force strong enough to make the frog float—until it made its escape. [read the article]

Back to the topic at hand: from where I stand it seems like the strength shown in the episode and the resulting damage don’t match up. Am I missing something?

Also, to state the obvious: I’m talking about a fictional event on a TV show, specifically a TV show that routinely asks its viewers for a little suspension of disbelief. This fake gauge could have just been the first one the set dressers were able to find on short notice.

What do you think?

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