Welcome back to another issue of Things That Don’t, a category more irregular than Cole’s bowels. In these installments I like to level my rage at the prevalence of stupidity or ignorance in movies and blast away at myths that get perpetuated on screen. Things blowing for no reason is lame and computers hacking databases through user interfaces is just plain dumb. This week, however, in honor of the excellent Star Trek movie, we’re looking at space. There’s a lot of misinformation about space and quite a few untruths even made it into this most recent adventure of the Enterprise crew. Without further delay, Things That Don’t… Happen in Space.
- Sound. Alien got this right back in 1979 – in space no one can hear you scream. Sound travels through air waves and space being a vacuum and all, sound can not travel through space. Sure, if you’re in a spaceship you’ll hear the sounds coming from within your own ship, but Chewbacca could be banging a drum on an exploding space liner behind you and you wouldn’t hear a thing.
- Hovering. The stationary satellite that hovers above major cities ready to read your newspaper or rain hellfire down upon you probably isn’t there. Nothing sits still in space. Things travel and they travel fast – the Earth itself is traveling through space at 65,000 mph and spinning at 1,000 mph. Keeping a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, that is stationary relative to the surface of the Earth, is difficult and generally not worth the trouble and generally only applicable directly over the equator.
- Falling into the Sun. On the grand cosmic scale of things, lots of junk crashes into other junk but even more stuff falls into orbit around things and just whips around space. Tossing nuclear weapons into space, or any other debris, will most likely result in those objects not making a line straight to a firey death, but rather they’ll end up floating somewhere for thousands of years.
- Exploding Bodies. For awesome visuals, not much competes with the idea of someone having their eyeballs shoot out of their heads and their stomach explode in a vacuum- but luckily enough for astronauts, this won’t happen. The mistake probably comes from putting things into a vacuum tube and sucking the air out – a violent reaction can result. However space is already a vacuum, there is no house nearby sucking. It’s just empty.
- Boiling Blood. First off, this isn’t a hot or cold thing. Liquids boil due to heat at specific temperatures – the blood in your body does not boil at 98° and space doesn’t make your blood hotter. It’s a pressure thing which who cares about, science is for nerds? Either way, don’t worry about it because your body is a pressurized system and is elastic so it will swell and prevent your blood from boiling. At least until the pressure does finally change, but by this point you’re already dead.
- Instantly Freezing. If you have to jump from one part of your ship to another without a suit, no worries mate, you won’t freeze. While space is, technically, cold as shit, the molecules are spread so far apart that there is very little heat transfer occurring. You might get a cold sensation in your mouth, though, and other moist areas will get a touch frosty sooner rather than later.
- Friction Burns & Hot Asteroids. We’ve all seen it – flames erupting around meteors and spaceships as they re-enter the atmosphere. Surely the friction is burning them up! Wrong. Actually, the only thing burning is the oxygen. Wave your hand through the air. Notice how you pushed the air out of the way and maybe rustled some papers? Now imagine slamming a big metal object through the air at thousands of miles per hour and the air has no place to go. The air is what burns and it actually burns a few feet in front of the object doing the pushing. So the spaceship doesn’t get scorched and meteors that hit the ground are pretty cool to the touch, considering they’re well below freezing temperatures in space. Picture an ice cube. Put a match near it. The exterior burns away but remove the match and the ice is still cold.
- Instant Death. You sure as hell don’t want to be stuck in space but there are a lot of ways to die faster, like being shot in the face with a phaser. Most astro-scientists (sounds cooler saying it this way) agree that a human body could exist in the vacuum of space for about 90 seconds before dying – of hypoxia, which is a loss of oxygen circulating through your body. The cold and pressure won’t kill you, at least not until you’re already dead. But provided you floated your bloated, swollen, blue skinned self (hey no one said this was pretty) into Dr. McCoy’s hands in under 2 minutes, he’d have a pretty good chance of having you return to normal almost immediately. Several real people have flirted with vacuums during mishaps and come out with no lasting injuries.
- Slow Lasers. Sure, it has to look good for the camera, but the fact of the matter is lasers are light weapons and they travel at the speed of light. There is no dodging or rolling out of the way of a laser. At short distances (say like a mile) the laser is virtually instantaneous.
- Humanoids. The universe is gigantic. There is almost 100% assuredly life out there somewhere. But the odds of it having 10 fingers, 10 toes and size 36C breasts are almost zero. In a universe of limitless possibilities, the idea that some organism would develop along the lines that we did are mathematically ludicrous.
- Gravity Stuff. Gravity happens in space. It just doesn’t happen like in the movies. On one hand, there is always gravity. If you gently placed something in space, it wouldn’t sit there. Gravity from some thing or things would eventually draw it away from where you left it. On the other hand, on every alien planet, everyone can just walk around and breath like normal. The odds of a planet having an atmosphere we can breath are mathematically improbable and the odds of us even being able to walk on it without being crushed by its pressure are also rather small. Hence, like the above point, if we ever find aliens, they’ll probably be squat little fat dudes with balls on their heads.
- Dog Fights. It makes for great TV, but there probably isn’t much room for dog fighting in space. First, in space, wings don’t matter for anything. A square will move around in space just as easily as an X-Wing. Wings are used for directing airflow to achieve lift, something not present in space. To effectively maneuver in space, pulling on the flight stick would actually have to fire dozens, if not more, of small thrusters located all over the aircraft, making any maneuvers fuel inefficient. The space shuttle itself rarely has to fire its engines and thrusters for more than a few seconds to completely reorient itself in space. Also, there are no brakes in space, just more thrusters. Because of this lack of a need to be aerodynamic, sleek spaceships make very little sense as they’re just wasting space by being designed that way. An efficient space vehicle will never need to enter atmosphere and thus could have any shape it needed, the best one being whatever most maximized space within the craft. And of course, laser weapons and torpedoes. Oh yeah – torpedoes in space…. They too would have to be covered in thrusters, rather than with wings and fins, to track objects through space. Isn’t science a party pooper?
So there you go. A few things that don’t really fly in space. When movies get it this wrong, I like to quote Mr. Spock: This shit ain’t logical, Jim.
What are some space myths you’ve seen in movies? Do they bother you?