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Bright Sun and Crescent Earth from the Space Station

Bright Sun and Crescent Earth from the Space Station. Credit: STS-129 Crew, NASA

10 Biggest lies Hollywood has told you about Space

I’m an Astrophysicist. I’m also a big arthouse cinema enthusiast. This leaves me with the obvious topic to write about: botched science in blockbuster movies. Let’s begin, shall we?

Petra Kohutova is Postdoc fellow at RoCS - Rosseland Centre for Solar Physics, UiO. Photo: UiO

This article was written by Petra Kohutova

1. The Sun looks like a yellow ball of fire 

No, the Sun is in fact a ball of ionised gas. As for the colour, the Earth’s atmosphere makes it look yellow via process known as Thomson scattering. If viewed from the space, the Sun would appear white. This is also clearly visible in photos taken from the International Space Station, for example.
(Guilty: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

2. You will turn into a human balloon if your spacesuit gets damaged 

You know, just like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Total Recall. Actually, it turns out the human skin is strong enough to withstand brief exposure to vacuum due to spacesuit damage. Also, contrary to popular belief, you wouldn’t freeze instantly in space. You’re more likely to overheat because the vacuum means the heat of your body has nowhere to go and cannot be transported away via thermal conduction and convection.
(Guilty: Mission to Mars, Sunshine, Total Recall, Outland… You name it.)

3. Nuking an asteroid will destroy it 

It will just shatter it into fragments which would spread out the impact over the entire hemisphere and prevent any evacuation strategies. The guys in Armageddon would do mankind a bigger service if they painted a portion of the asteroid white for the radiation pressure to offset its trajectory. Well, that and by refusing to make the movie in the first place.
(Guilty: Armageddon)

4. You can hear sound in space 

You can’t hear anything in space. Space is essentially a vacuum. This means there is no medium for the sound to travel through.
(Guilty: Attack of the Clones)

5. There is zero gravity in space 

The gravitational acceleration at the International Space Station is around 90% of its value on the Earth’s surface. The astronauts in the orbit float around because they are in free fall around the Earth. This is where the movie Gravitycrashes and burns as far as basic mechanics is concerned. Orbits with different altitudes have different speeds and hence moving between orbits is not straightforward. To get to a certain place, you cannot just push yourself in its direction, you have to account for the difference in orbital velocities between you and your target.
(Guilty: Gravity)

6. If you fire at a spacecraft, it explodes 

As I said, there is no air in space. Explosion is a rapid exothermic reaction with oxygen. No oxygen means no explosion, unlike what the creators of The Last Jedi would have you believe. I guess they needed to blow the $10 million CGI budget somewhere.
(Guilty: The entire Star Wars franchise)

7. It is dangerous to fly through an asteroid belt

Given the average density of the asteroid belt, a spaceship would have about 0.0001% chance of being hit by an asteroid during the transit.
(Guilty: Passengers)

8. Dust storms on Mars can destroy equipment 

The winds in the strongest Martian storms reach about 100 km/h which is not unusual to see during regular storms on Earth. Events classified as hurricanes usually reach wind speeds that are twice as big. Additionally, the Martian atmosphere is 100 times less dense compared to the Earth. As it’s the kinetic energy of the air that matters, the wind speed has to be an order of magnitude higher on the Mars to do comparable damage. The probability of a Martian storm strong enough to destroy any major equipment is virtually zero. Dear Andy Weir, I’ve got a bone to pick.
(Guilty: The Martian)

9. Alien computers run Windows 

How else would Earthlings be able to write a malware forcing an alien mothership to bring down its shields?  So much for a superior form of intelligence.
(Guilty: Independence Day)

10. Female astronauts wear cute underwear under their spacesuits 

Nope. They wear diapers. (Guilty: Gravity)