Space, Lies, And Video Tape: The Top Three Myths We All Believed And Why They're Wrong

Friday, 08 June 2018 - 1:21PM
Space
Physics
Friday, 08 June 2018 - 1:21PM
Space, Lies, And Video Tape: The Top Three Myths We All Believed And Why They're Wrong
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If you've ever dreamed of going to space, you've probably picked up all kinds of neat little factoids – like how the US spent millions of dollars on a pen that could operate in zero gravity, while the Russians just gave their astronauts pencils. Well, not only are you wrong about the pen(cil) being mightier than the government-issued sword, there's no such thing as "zero gravity." Turns out space is a lot more complicated (and interesting) than sci-fi movies let on.

First, let's deal with the persistent misunderstanding surrounding the idea of "zero-g." If you're anywhere in the universe, you're being affected by gravity in some way. Now, you might rightly point at the astronauts in the International Space Station and ask how they're floating around, apparently weightless. The mind-blowing answer is that those astronauts are still subject to about 80% of the gravity that you are, and only appear weightless because they're in constant free-fall, plummeting toward the Earth along with the ISS. They just keep missing the planet. Here's astronomer Michelle Thaller to explain:



Second, how about the idea that getting sucked out an airlock will cook you alive with unfiltered cosmic radiation? In reality, it'd be more like a human chemistry experiment gone terribly wrong. (Although that fate's not much better.) According to astronaut Chris Hadfield, the extreme temperatures of space alone (hundreds of degrees in sunlight, negative hundreds in the shade) would freeze and burn you while your lungs deflated and your blood boiled due to the pressure difference. You wouldn't last long enough to worry about gamma or X-rays.



Lastly, there's the old question of "Is there sound in space?" This one is pretty obvious to anyone who understands what sound really is (spoiler: it's vibrations in air particles, and there's no air in space), but Hollywood movies and TV shows like The Expanse still insist on including the sound of explosions and lasers firing in the void. Just to lay this one to rest, Hadfield frames it as follows: the Sun is a constant, ongoing explosion more powerful than all the atom bombs we've ever made. If we could hear anything in space, it would be drowned out by the sound of Sun.

Now, go tell your friends so the world can be a little less wrong.
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