15 Lies We still believe about space

What does a black hole actually look like? What can travel faster than the speed of light? Here are the facts behind 15 lies you still believe about space.

15 – People don’t explode in the vacuum of space

Although very memorable, our heads would not inflate and blow up like in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Total Recall.. Our bodies are strong enough to resist the lack of pressure in space, and the difference in pressure isn’t enough to make us explode. We would definitely swell up though, to perhaps twice our size, but our skin in pretty tough, and can stretch enough to protect the organs within. This actually happened to an Astronaut in 1965 when his suit depressurized. He managed to survive nearly 90 seconds in these conditions without any permanent injury.

14 – You don’t freeze in space. The cold of space isn’t the most immediate threat that we sometimes see portrayed in movies. Although you would eventually freeze, your body temperature can keep you warm since there is nothing to pull heat away from your body. There are worse things to be exposed to in space such as radiation from the sun, decompression sickness, not to mention the liquids in your body will start to boil.

13 – Black holes don’t look like flat portals

Although they do in a lot of science fiction imagery, they are actually invisible spheres. They don’t suck you in either; they have gravity just like a planet does except it is much more forceful, that’s why you can’t travel close to one. The light around a black hole is actually the matter being pulled, which glows from radiation. This is called the accretion disc. The ‘Event Horizon Telescope’ is being built to get the first real images of a black hole.

12 – Comet tails aren’t following the comet

Comets actually have two tails – the gas and dust tails – and both of them are always pointing away from the sun. The gas ion tail is being pushed away from the comet by solar winds and the other tail is dust being pushed away by light. The tails get the larger the closer the comet gets to the sun, growing up to millions of kilometers long.

11 – The Earth is not a perfect sphere. Our planet actually bulges at the equator and is slightly squashed at each of the poles. Earth’s rotation combined with the effects of gravity is what causes the slight deformation. The Earth is more similar to an ‘oblate spheroid’ even though from space it looks like a perfectly round sphere. This is because the imperfections are so small compared to the size of the planet. There is only about 40km difference in size at the equator.

10 – There is no dark side of the moon. In reality both sides of the moon share the suns light equally. Each side has two weeks of day and two weeks of night.. More accurately called the “far side of the moon”, “dark side” meant only that it was unknown since we couldn’t see it from Earth. Although we can actually see about 59 per cent of the surface to do the elliptical orbit. The first humans to lay eyes on the far side were the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968.

9 – Asteroid belts aren’t really that dangerous

Contrary to scenes such as Han Solo navigating between asteroids in Star Wars, your chances of crashing into an asteroid is actually pretty small. This is because even though there are over 100,000 asteroids more than a kilometer wide, they are millions of kilometers apart. They might only crash into each other every few billion years. NASA estimates that a probe travelling through the asteroid belt has a one in a billion chance of hitting an asteroid. The mass of all the asteroids in the belt in our solar system is only about 4 per cent of our moon.

8 – Pluto isn’t named after the Disney character

Both were named the same year, but the planet was called Pluto a few months earlier. The name was the idea of an 11-year-old girl, Venetia Burney, who suggested the name of the Greek God of the Underworld to her grandfather while he was reading about the discovery. Her suggestion was passed on to the people that were supposed to name the new planet and it eventually won out. As for the dog Pluto, it is not confirmed but he might have been named after the planet. This is after Disney decided to change his original name, Rover.

7 – A Nuclear Weapon would not destroy an asteroid

In reality this would probably just cause it to break up into smaller pieces, which could still collide with the Earth causing huge problems. There is also the issue of blowing up the Asteroid too close to Earth just like in the movie ‘Deep Impact’. The asteroid would have to be blown up way before it hit Earth to avoid getting struck by the smaller pieces or being affected by the nuclear blast. There are plans on how to achieve this, but an alternative would be to divert the Asteroid off its path, rather than destroy it.

6 – The sun is not a ball of fire. It is a ball of gas, made of hydrogen and helium. The sun’s light doesn’t come from a chemical reaction like fire does. There is no oxygen in space for this to occur. Instead the sun uses nuclear fusion, a process where protons collide, converting hydrogen into helium. This produces energy, which comes out in the form of light. The sun has used up half its supply of hydrogen, but it still has another 5 billion years’ worth.

5 – The moon does have gravity. That’s how the astronauts were able to stand on its surface. It just has much less gravitational force than the Earth does. This is because the moon is less dense than Earth; it’s only 1.2 per cent the massif Earth, and mass is what determines how much gravitational pull an object has. All objects that have mass will have some gravity. The gravity on the moon is 1/6 that of Earth which is why you weigh less on its

surface. In fact the gravity is so low that it can be difficult to walk on the moon.

4 – SETI is not a part of NASA. The ‘Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence ‘did initially work with NASA, but now SETI is privately funded through donations. NASA did have their own programs to search for life in the universe but these ended and

SETI continued without them. Their aim is to monitor space for possible signals of intelligent life. These could be anything that is transmitted, like a radio signal. Unlike the opening of ‘Independence Day’ SETI has not yet confirmed that any signal has belonged to an advanced alien race.

3 – The burning up from re-entry isn’t from friction

When a spacecraft re-enters Earth’s atmosphere we see it “glow” from all the heat. Firstly it is supposed to do this. The craft is designed to use the air particles to slow down. This friction is not what is causing the majority of the heat. The air is actually compressing around the craft and when it does this it heats up. This causes the “wave” that you see around the craft, but the compressed air keeps this heat at a distance from the craft.

2 – Meteorites aren’t hot when they land. Although they do heat up when travelling through the atmosphere, similar to a spacecraft on re-entry, the heated outer layers will be stripped away. The Meteoroid has also been in the cold of space for millions of years – so falling through the atmosphere for a few minutes isn’t going to turn it into a ball of fire. By the time they land they aren’t going to be burning anything, and may even still have frost on them.

1 – It is possible to go ‘Faster than Light’

. Although not in the same way they do in Star Trek to reach distant galaxies, since it is impossible for anything with mass to go faster-than-light. However, when the universe was created, the ‘big-bang’ moved faster than light. Since the big bang was essentially “nothing” then there wasn’t any mass that had to move. Other particles can move faster than light while in water. Light only moves at 75 per cent its full speed but electrons have been known to outpace the light particles while underwater.

7 thoughts on “15 Lies We still believe about space

  1. your #1 fact is wrong.

    “fast” is a measurement of how much space is travelled in how much time. So to say that space expands faster than light is a misuse of the term, because space is not expanding /in/ space, so it can’t be said to have travelled any distance at all.

    also, it is more correct to say that the speed limit is equal to the speed that light travels in a vacuum. as you already noted, light can travel slower through different media. the universal speed limit is NOT tied to light. it is just that light is the easiest thing to measure against when we are talking about that speed.

    it’s kind of similar to how Americans like to measure things in football fields, because the exact number of meters doesn’t make any visceral sense.

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