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[KIDS] Space: when the movies lie!

Space Myths | Readorium

A new version of Hubble’s famous “Pillars of Creation” photograph.

Space. It’s dark and mysterious, and an awesome place to set your movies, stories and games. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy flying past bright blue planets and burning stars in a spaceship?

But did you know that movies and books get a lot of things wrong about space? If you really were in space, you might notice some of these things:

The planets don’t go around the sun in perfect circles

While it’s true that planets revolve around the sun in specific paths (called orbits), these paths aren’t really circles. The work of 17th century scientists Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton shows us that these orbits are ellipses or ovals. They’re nearly circles, but not exactly!

Actually, Kepler and Newton’s work are only approximations, meaning they aren’t exact. To fully describe a planet’s orbit, you need to use Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, but that’s way too complicated to talk about in just one post!

Explosions won’t make any sound in space

Movies like Star Wars and Star Trek show exciting fight scenes in space, full of huge, loud explosions. But science tells us that these explosions won’t actually make any noise!

Sound travels by making matter vibrate. Matter is any substance that surrounds us: air, water, soil, wood, anything like that. Space is actually pretty empty. Between the stars, planets and floating rocks, space mainly contains miles and miles of, well, nothing. This means that there’s nothing to vibrate, and so nothing for sound to travel through!

So next time you watch a battle in space on TV, remember that even though it might look flashy, in real life, it wouldn’t make any noise!

Some of the stars you see might not exist anymore

Stars are really far away. Really, really far away. Think about it this way. The closest star to Earth (other than the sun), is named Proxima Centauri. The light coming from it would take more than four years to reach us! And remember light can travel at around 186 thousand miles per second. I’m sure you can do the math, but this means that Proxima Centauri is pretty far away…

Now if that’s how far the closest star is from us, can you imagine how far the others are? Some stars are so distant, that by the time their light reaches us, they may already have burned up and disappeared!

Think about that the next time you look at the night sky. You may actually be looking at the ghosts of long-dead stars!

Fun fact: Creators of some recent movies, like The Martian and Intersteller, spoke to scientists while making the movies, to try and get their facts straight!


Space Myths | Readorium


Orbit: the curved path an object in space makes when moving around another

Approximation: a number that’s not exact, but a very good guess

Theory of General Relativity: A scientific theory describing how gravity, space and time are related.

Matter: Any physical substance.


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