How The Heck Did Jor-El Find Earth?

Strap in, we’re going back to science-town today. I have recently been plagued by a pressing question. Planetary detection has taken leaps and bounds in the past decade. It seems like every month (or yesterday to be specific) we hear about some awesome new planet discovered orbiting a faraway star. However our methods are still relatively crude; noticing our own Sun’s orbital family would actually prove quite challenging, and I’ll explain why in a minute because I think there is a precedent question that needs to be addressed: What kind of scientist is Jor-El?

Scientific specialty is a big deal. Every scientist out there is looking to make a name for themselves by fitting into a specific club but also having their own specific role within that group. For example, when people ask me what I do I usually say I’m a “scientist.” If they ask what I study I say “paleontology.” Usually the conversation ends there, but for the truly curious I could tell them that I’m a Cenozoic mammalian paleoecologist focusing on microwear texture analysis and stable isotope geochemistry. And what that really means for the purposes of this column is that I’m not fit to find a new planet for my infant son. So how can Jor-El?

Publish or perish... LITERALLY!

Oddly enough, Jor-El’s field is never specified in the comics. I’ve looked myself, and asked around, but he seems to just be a scientist. Although I suspect Jor-El is a planetary geologist. These are the folks that think about how geologic processes might work on other planets. This would give Jor-El knowledge of other nearby planets, but also some info on stellar evolution and the inner workings of Krypton itself, thus making it more feasible for him to predict Krypton’s imminent demise. What this likely wouldn’t have given him is knowledge on how to build a rocket. Launching satellites, probes, orbiters, landers, and rovers is an important component of planetary geological study, but the building of the rockets is left to rocket scientists.

It’s possible that Jor-El is multidisciplinary, which might explain why the science council doesn’t like him (all 3 scientists reading this just laughed, by the way) but academic scientist coupled with hardcore engineering is typically an unlikely pairing. He could also have help, but that almost seems to undermine the narrative (even if it has been explored in the comics). There’s just too much that needs to be known to be an expert in both fields, it’s beyond the scope a human lifespan to learn all there is. But Jor-El isn’t human, is he?

During the Renaissance there were men who arguably knew everything there was to know about science. They could also paint, and sculpt, and probably cook a mean omelet. This was possible because there was so little known and they had enough money, either from family or backers like the Medici, that they didn’t have to do anything but sit around and learn. As science progressed we learned enough that it became impossible for one person to hold everything in their head, which in some ways lead to the explosion of specialization seen amongst scientists today. Computers and the Internet help too.

"Hello, I'm here to do some science. I brought my lunch and these scrolls."

True ‘Renaissance men’ (or women) could be possible in the future thanks to those computers. If people like Ray Kurzweil are correct, computers will continue to advance to the point where they integrate with our biology making us all immortal cyborgs forever plugged into the Internet. This event of technological union is known as the Singularity. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized a post-Singularity society would have the ability for one person to attain all knowledge. Krypton is almost certainly at this point of technological achievement, so maybe Jor-El really is a planetary geologist AND a rocket scientists. Or maybe the original writers were correct and he really is simply a “scientist.”

Now that we know Jor-El is a crazy fantastic super scientist, we can tackle the question of just how he went about finding Earth. There are a few methods that we use today to find planets, mostly by indirectly inferring their presence by observing the behavior of their stars  (however, direct imaging is becoming more and more common). We may be orbiting within the gravity well of our star, but Newton’s third law tells us that as our sun pulls on planet Earth, planet Earth pulls back on the sun. The difference in mass means the Earth continues to orbit and the sun barely moves, but sun with sufficiently big planets will wobble noticeably enough for our telescopes to spot, thus telling us a planet is nearby. This probably wouldn’t work for our sun because our biggest planet, Jupiter, is far enough away to not make the sun wobble too much, and our closest planet, Mercury, is too small to have much gravitation influence. However, this method might work quite nicely for Krypton, which is a much bigger planet than Earth, except it’s orbiting an even more massive Red Giant star. Ironic that it might have been easier for us to find Krypton than the other way around.

We can also look at the star’s luminosity, i.e. how bright it is. If a big enough planet passes between us the star, the star dims a little bit. This might work for Jor-El, but it’s tough to say. None of the images of the rocket ever show it passing by Kryptonian satellites, and I seem to remember something about them not really having a space program. As far as I know we don’t have a lot of information on their atmospheric composition, so it’s possibly ground based telemetry works better for them than us, but that’s just speculation. I’ll bet Krypton just using some kind of really advanced gravitational lensing or one of the crystals lying around is good enough to directly image Earth, or at the very least Jupiter. But there’s one last thing I don’t quite get, and that’s how did Jor-El know about us here on planet Earth?

"Now remember, Lara, this is not to scale, but it's the blue one."

Some comics have Jor-El actually looking and seeing Cowboys riding around or something like that. Obviously that doesn’t work, but we have come up with a few ways to figure out if there are critters crawling around on new worlds. Fortunately, we are a loud species. We constantly blast radio and television signals out into space. There is some planet right at the edge of our communications bubble that is about to be blasted with I Love Lucy. We hope other galactic civilizations are just as loud, which is why we’re listening for them with projects like SETI. However, Jor-El found Earth by at least 1938, which was right after we’d really started broadcasting from space (Hilter’s speech at the Berlin Olympics was broadcast in 1936). These signals can only travel at the speed of light, yet I doubt Krypton is only 2 light years away (our closest star is about 4 light years away). And Jor-El would have had to discover us long before 1938 if that’s when the rocket finally landed. It’s a mystery for the ages to be sure, my theories run the gamut from Dyson spheres to Einstein-Rosen bridges, but instead of expounding I’ll stop here having sort of tackled the first two questions concerning Kal-El’s infant travels.

Krypton is assuredly in the “any sufficiently advanced science = magic” category of civilizations, so I know my analysis applying human scientific principles doesn’t really mean anything. But it’s also a fake planet and I had fun speculating. I hope you had fun too, and as I’ve learned you’re a clever bunch yourselves so give me your insight, analysis, and nitpicks in the comments!


Ryan Haupt really needed to let all that out, he still has questions, but a good scientist always should. Here him try to be a good scientist on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. Jack Knight told him.


    Maps from the GLC.

    • Yeah, I remember the Jack Knight storyline, but decided not to go with a Deus ex Starman.

      And I like the Green Lantern map idea, do we know if Krypton had contact with the GL corps?

    • Well done sir, you beat me to the Starman explanation.

    • It’s an explanation, but it would have made for a short column, no?

    • Tomar Re was their sector’s Lantern (which brings up another issue; if Krypton was in an entirely different sector they were a lot farther away than most people think) he knew about the impending destruction but he was blinded in battle on his way to deliver aid so he didn’t get there in time. It occurred to me as a solution this problem of how could he find Earth because of all the beings in Universe I figured the Guardians would have the best star maps with the most up to date information about the planets in their sectors.

      Also, I don’t know if you know this but Krypton was originally a counter-earth in the earliest stories which is how Jor-El probably knew of Earth in Siegel and Schuster’s original concept.

  2. Odd how it sounds like it’s a faux pas to have several disciplines when you’re a scientist, as it’s the complete opposite in the engineering world. For example, I graduated with an electrical engineering degree, but through my pro career, I’ve had to become super knowledgeable in mechanical and systems-based engineering as well. Though perhaps when you’re a designer, it is typical to be really focused on one discipline as well.

  3. Krypton is not a “fake planet”.

  4. Are the Kryptonians aware of the affects of the Yellow sun. If so, perhaps they had been charting all solar systems with yellow suns for ages.

    • In the original Golden Age continuity their powers didn’t come from yellow stars, all Kryptonians were just that hardcore, but with the updated explanation of a yellow sun it does make sense that they’d be searching yellow stars for planets first a foremost. Keeping those priorities straight!

  5. In comics there aren’t different fields. Just one all-encompassing “Science!” Reed Richards goes from building inter-stellar rockets to trying to cure Ben Grimm, often in the course of an afternoon.

    • I always liked the idea that Reed was a one off. He was the modern day Di Vinci. The master of everything. Whereas Stark had tech and Banner was an expert in radiation, Reed’s first power was knowing how to do everything. I think the early volumes of Ultimate Fantastic Four really caught onto that idea.

      I like to think of Jor-El as being more or less very like Reed.

  6. Ryan has a talent for captions!

  7. In the most recent origin story, Jor-El didn’t know about the Earth ahead of time. He programs the ship to scan for planets that contain life, and specfically to try to find one with a yellow sun because it would make Kal-El strong.

    In this scenario, I feel the real question is how fast was Kal-el’s ship moving and how long was it flying? Assuming that their are massive amounts of ightyears between Krypton and Earth, the ship would have to have been moving at impossible speeds or traveling for milienia.

    For pre-reboot continuity, I’m saying Jor-El used the phantom zone. It seems to negate all distance present in our world as prisoners can escape on Earth when they were imprisoned on Krypton. As the discovery of the Phantom Zones (another of Jor-El’s sceintific specialties) it seems likely he could have used it to send probes around the universe.

  8. You’re making me want to rush back home to flip through my old John Byrne reboot era Superman comics to see if they mention Jor-El’s scientific discipline. I feel like they don’t, but I really want to check now.

  9. Micro wormhole lensing!

    You can look through it to see the Earth, but you can’t use if for travel. Of course, if you have a transporter, then I assume travel is now possible too.

  10. I knew Star Trek would have the answer:

  11. Since Despair of the Endless basically planted the seed for Rao (Krypton’s sun) to destroy itself and Krypton, allowing for only one survivor to wallow forever in pain over the loss, I like to think that Dream was enisted to show Jor-El the location Earth while he slept.

  12. I suppose he might have been a philosopher – under the old definition; originally encompassing physics, astronomy, and biology. Is it really unlikely to see him as an academic philosopher (so to speak) and also a mechanic at home?

    “As science progressed we learned enough that it became impossible for one person to hold everything in their head”

    … but we can trim this mass of data down into just what is necessary. The epistemic demands on Jor-El’s mind can be reduced as long as he (1.) knows where to find out what he needs to know (reference chart, computer, calculations machinery); (2.) knows how to apply whatever principle/data he learns into the practical mechanical task.

  13. For a futuristic, and seemingly more advanced, society….The Kryptonians sure loved scrolls.

  14. What difference did it make what he studied? Here’s all Jor-El needed to know; Krypton is doomed and the web address to the Kryptonian version of Google.

    Why? Your opening line proves that an advanced society shares it’s information. Is there any reason to assume Krypton is different? Is there any reason to believe that the existence of earth was a mystery?

    • The difference it makes is it was something I wanted to write a column about. And Kryptoogle only works if someone else had already discovered the planet, which still necessitates the technology to do so, right?

  15. Didn’t brush up on your research? Krypton was always aware of Terra — specifically the House of El was. There was even a hybrid branch of Terran/Kryptonians who were Atlanteans.

    Recently, it was Kal-El’s scientist grandfather using a black hole power source experimenting with teleportation who re-discovered Earth.

    One family history was that prior to Zod’s destruction of Kyrypton’s moon — Superman’s mother Lara was an astronaut in the planet’s Space Program.

    • I was more interested in researching extrasolar planetary detection, and regardless of how long they’d known about Earth, they still had to find it in the first place.

  16. I always assumed that Kryptonian technology was akin to magic, and like a diviner can locate the ley lines of a planet, Kryptonians could detect zeta beams, and use their energies to guide starship navigation systems.

    I mean, Superman flew around space in his long johns without breathing apparatus. I threw down my science book on the way in.

    Either that or he collated Rannish and Thanagarian ship movement data to suggest the likely nexus of a future encounter, believing his son’s destiny was to avert such a war.

    Maybe Kal-el is simply one of many children, sent off to distant suns of various size and color, to see what effect alien conditions will have upon the clone-sons of the Last Living Kryptonian.

    Lobo disclosed the location as the result of losing a hand of three-card Kryptonian gin rummy rather than give up his space-cycle?

  17. Jor-El stood on the shoulders of his dad. I presume the Black Hole research turned Terra up.

  18. So Ryan, do Black Holes wobble? And perhaps Lara reminded Jor-El?

  19. on krypton, they have a super version of Google Sky and Google Maps…

  20. See some people would moan ‘its just a comic stop taking it so seriously’ but this article pointed out why the world needs men who think like Ryan. Because now the idea is out there I find it impossible to believe that nobody who read this article feels the same as me….we need a Young Jor-El: Di Vinci of Krypton. I mean seriously! The Space Renaissance man meeting Lara? No, nobody want to write that?

  21. Has anyone considered the Martian problem? Perhaps the planet Mars was an early biological testing ground of earlier Kryptonian civilizations, leaving behind the shape shifting Martians.

  22. Over thing….

  23. Damn auto correct. I meant to type “over thinking”. Just nevermind…ha.

  24. Don’t listen to these naysayers, Ryan. We need more guys like you. This stuff should be challenged. It makes for more interesting story refinement. I have almost no interest in science, but I always find these articles good food for thought.

    I do have a friend who is really into science (particularly astronomy), and he’s always remained a casual reader because he just can’t get past all the ridiculous “comic book science”. I’ll be in the middle of telling him all about the lastest awesome story I’m reading, and he’ll get caught up on the smallest scientific inaccuracy. Drives me nuts. I should start sending him these links.

  25. This was a great article, it’s great to see other people think about this stuff.

    My theory would be: Since they had a way to reach earth quickly they must have worm hole technology. So he could set up a satellite to open worm holes to solar systems and listen for signs of civilization (radio waves, etc.).

    As for building the rocket, I think if a civilization is advanced enough you wouldn’t need to be a specialist to work on rockets it would probably be more akin to working on cars for us.

    • 1) Love the idea of opening a wormhole just to point a radio telescope at it, that’s good stuff.

      2) The more advanced cars have gotten the less people can work on their own vehicle. I built model rockets as a kid, but I couldn’t build a infant life-support system. Just a thought.

  26. Great column. Generally speaking, you can group the answers to “how did Jor-El find Earth?” into one of three categories:

    1) Someone else told him where it was (Jack Knight in Starman; some random alien that Kevin J. Anderson made up in The Last Days of Krypton)

    2) He guessed (current origin)

    3) He just knew, because … magic? (Golden/Silver Age origin)

    None of these explanations involve him studying the stars and finding Earth himself, which, as you have so eloquently pointed out, he couldn’t do.

  27. I like the idea that Jor-el found Earth because of radio broadcasts from 1938:

    “My son will have super powers to help the humans! That will come in handy against those Martian invaders who attacked that Orson Welles fellow!”