Blastr: Other than that, Spock, how was the movie?

By Phil Plait | January 27, 2011 2:37 pm

I write a (more or less) monthly column for Blastr, the SyFy channel’s portal for science fiction, fact, and speculation. My articles deal with the science of science fiction, and in that vein my latest is the Top Five astronomy screwups in movies that should’ve known better.

I know, that might seem like an impossible choice, which is why I added that last bit. Picking the five worst mistakes would look like this:

5) Armageddon
4) Armageddon
3) Armageddon
2) Armageddon, and
1) Armageddon

(and I’m not sure there exist enough integers to cover all of that movie’s mistakes).

So I modified it by picking movies that really shouldn’t have made the gaffes in the first place. My number one pick was a mistake that really, in the scheme of things, wasn’t so bad, but given the movie itself… well, you’ll just have to go over there and read it for yourself.

And I know my audience: there’s probably not a single person on the planet who agrees with me on the list, whether it’s the choices or the order. Love it? Hate it? Leave a comment, and maybe I’ll do another article: "Movies That Should’ve Known Better, 6 – 10".


Related posts:

Blastr: I was a zombie for science
Big budget movies that got their science right
Master of Blastr


MORE ABOUT: Blastr

Comments (109)

  1. Lee

    Definitely off base on the asteroid field comment as some have pointed out. No reason it can’t be more dense in some far off solar system you’ve never seen. Planetary collision that hasn’t had time to re-coalesce or something…though how the big space worm would have had time to evolve in that case would be a bit less obvious. Maybe it’s a flying space worm that just found a nice dry cave and took up residence. :)

  2. Sir Craig

    Wow – with the exception of the Clone Wars jab, you certainly didn’t look for the easy ones. In defense of The Empire Strikes Back, although Han says it’s an asteroid field, it is just as likely many of those asteroids are of recent origin, given the Empire’s propensity for bombing the living daylights out of everything okay now I’ll shut up.

    On edit: Dammit, Lee, you said the same thing I did, only faster…

  3. Jeff in Tucson

    Armageddon was at least a thousand times more scientifically accurate than The Core. But, to be fair, The Core didn’t really set the bar very high. Just sayin’.

  4. I think probably the most common astronomical flub has to be the appearence of the Moon:

    1) If it appears, the Moon is almost always full, and usually stays full for weeks on end. I don’t think I have EVER seen a gibbous Moon in a movie.

    2) 60% of movie/TV Moon images are the Apollo 11 view of the Eastern hemisphere (centred on Mare Crisium) which is never seen from Earth – and in fact, must be copyright to NASA and cost money to use, when any competent cameraman with a long zoom lens could take a correct one out of the window for nothing.

  5. Rory Kent

    I disagree on the first one. It’s not Trek’s greatest moment, but I don’t think it’s that heinous on the scale of things.
    I also question whether it’s actually a mistake. We don’t know the properties of warp travel, or its effect on relativity, so it’s hard to say it’s outright wrong. At the time I remember thinking of relativistic time dilation and how, if you go faster than the speed of light (which the Enterprise is doing), you get a complex number as your answer. Maybe the significance
    of that in the land of Trek is that time goes not just slowly, but backward.

    UPDATE: Oops, didn’t actually read that part of the article. *facepalm* Still doesn’t seem to bad, though…

    All the others are pretty much spot on, though.

  6. Levi in NY

    Actually, NASA, being part of the federal government, doesn’t charge for use of its images, or even have copyright on most of them.

    http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/policies.html#Guidelines

  7. Craig

    To be fair to Ellie Arroway in Contact, it does not semantically follow that when she says “there would be literally millions of civilizations out there” that she must be talking only about our galaxy. One can assume that, but it does not necessarily follow.

    Further, when you apply her odds of life to our galaxy, you get a very small chance of life. However when you multiple her odds by the total potential number of stars in the universe, say a top end estimate of 10^24 (http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEM75BS1VED_index_0.html) and you do get millions of civilizations.

    I’d suggest her astronomy was certainly good. Perhaps her grammar could have been tweaked to provide less ambiguity.

  8. It is worth noting that the only reason Armageddon happened was because Bruce Willis had a contractual obligation to Disney.

    He got stuck with that because he walked off another Disney film a few years earlier. That’ll teach ya Bruce (or did it just get your Mercury Rising? Bwah ha!)

    Other than that, there is no excuse for it – except for the fact that Owen Wilson gets a noble death scene, which doesn’t happen in any other movie, and is unlikely to happen ever again.

  9. Sam H

    @Craig: Exactly! Even when I first saw the movie when I was in the 6th grade (BTW, I’m still in high school) I knew she didn’t mean that literally. She was simply putting the points of the Drake equation into her own words, showing childlike excitement at the possibility of a universe filled with life, which had been her lifelong passion ever since those moments with her father pointing out objects in the sunset, working amateur radios and…watching meteors. :(

    Dangit, that is simply my favourite movie ever. :D Even the epic scale of Avatar, 2001 and Lord of the Rings doesn’t match the beauty of that storyline and concept. And on many points the novel was even better. The ending is so shocking, unexpected, bittersweet and…beautiful that it just left me saying “wow” when I closed the cover. And that closing line is so utterly true for every human being, regardless of religion, race, or where we are in life:

    “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is made bearable only through love.”

    As for Armageddon, the constant, unrealistic monochromatic blue of space and the rapid switching of camera angles was enough for me to quit watching halfway through. I just hope that Transformers 3 will have a better plot than the last one, and from what I’ve seen in the teaser the plot idea is much more believable than oil rig astronauts. Besides, it’s in 3D :)

  10. Ari

    No, no, no. The big mistake in Contact, the one that always kills my immersion in the movie is the meteor shower flashback scene. The one where young Ellie looks through her *telescope* at a meteor shower. Gah. Compared with Armageddon, of course, a drop in the bucket. But in a movie heavily versed in the culture of astronomy based on a book written by an astronomer, that’s just pathetic. Interestingly, when I googled the script located online to refresh my memory of the scene, it doesn’t appear to be present (the dad seems to die in a car accident). I guess someone decided to make things a little “cooler”.

  11. Joseph G

    Phil: Shoot, NOW you tell us you’ve been writing another column ;) Do you have any Big List of publications you contribute to or master page of links so that us Plaitophiles don’t miss any of your columns n’ contributions?
    And might I suggest a post tag along the lines of “publications” (or “stuff I wrote that can only be read at this one location”? :)

    Also, I don’t want to know what a cooked Tribble smells like. Ugh.

  12. breadbox

    Cool column! While I always enjoy the endless dissection of the failure of movies to care about decent science accuracy, this one was a fun change of pace. I didn’t foresee any of the gripes you listed. (Though I agree it was a waste to spend two of your five points on Star Wars, a movie series that doesn’t come close to getting much of anything in science correct.)

  13. CB

    Yeah, it was a cool article, and I really like the premise of restricting only to films that “should have known better”, but I too don’t see how Star Wars counts as such a film. The films never even tried to say or show anything scientifically accurate, or even science-y techno-babel for things that don’t exist like Star Trek.

    On the other hand, the “seismic charges” thing really did take a cudgel to the suspension of disbelief. Okay, you have sounds in space because it’s more exciting in an action sequence, but don’t explicitly refer to the sounds in space please?!

  14. The bad science that runs rampant in movies has been there throughout the history of cinema. The first Star Wars trilogy – I mean the second Star Wars trilogy – I should say, the first Star Wars trilogy released, beginning with the fourth episode – I mean the first one – you know “A New Hope”, is just riddled with bad science as are all the rest of them.

    I love those movies, the first three – beginning with “A New Hope” despite the bad science because the story and the eye candy were so good that the bad science (and the bad acting) was not enough to ruin it.

    Almost all movies are over the top in some way. Every single episode of “The Twilight Zone” is classic. They are wonderful. I can easily over look the bad science because those shows are so damn good. “Lost In Space”, on the other hand, was so bad that the bad science is just one more thing in a long list of failings.

    We have to face it. As fascinating and exciting as outer space can be as a setting for a movie, there isn’t much out there. That’s why it’s called “space”. No useful gravity, no sound, no advanced life (that we will ever contact),no pressure, nothing to breathe, no place to go, no nothing. So you have to do something to make space a “place”.

    I can suspend disbelief in order to let in the story…if the story is good. If the story is bad, the bad science just makes it worse.

  15. I watched part of ‘Armageddon’ (as much as I could stand) relatively recently, after years of having heard it being laughed at on the Internet. The root of its troubles, I concluded, was that it couldn’t make up its mind what genre it wanted to be. Was it science fiction? Was it a disaster movie? Was it slapstick comedy? I love a good blend, but ‘Armageddon’ didn’t blend – it just flipped from one to the other in an incoherent way.

    (That, and annoying characters.)

  16. John

    What I like is spaceships banking to put the lift vector to the pilots head

  17. Trebuchet

    Not Sci-Fi (or SyFy, whatever that is) but the most cringeworthy movie scene of all time for me was Indiana Jones climbing onto the submerging submarine and subsequently emerging, dripping wet, some hundreds of miles away.

    It’s really all about the “willing suspension of disbelief”. Raiders of the Lost Ark is ridiculous right from the start, but I’m quite willing to suspend my disbelief except for that one scene. It wrecks the whole movie. The same applies to Star Wars/Trek. The scene has to just not break the suspension. The asteroid field pretty much did that, however.

  18. Snowshoe the Canuck

    Since a tribble just eats and reproduces, cooked tribble would be offal.

  19. Technogeek

    Darths and Droids apparently came up with a justification for why the seismic charges worked, which as far as technobabble goes is hardly the worst offender.

    http://darthsanddroids.net/episodes/0294.html

  20. Mike

    I’m not sure there exist enough integers to cover all of that movie’s mistakes

    Well, if you use a uint64_t, you could have up to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 mistakes listed. IMDB tells me that Armageddon is 151 minutes, or 9,060 seconds, giving them room for approximately 2,036,064,467,296,860 mistakes per second. Surely they managed to make less than 50 mistakes per femtosecond? Even the full-length 1080p blu-ray of the movie, at 24 frames per second, would have to be making about 41 million mistakes per pixel!

  21. Joseph G

    One that I’d add is the scene in Sunshine (yeah, I know, restarting the Sun with a giant nuke that probably has less power then a small solar flare) where they’re trying to jump from one ship to the other, and they cover themselves in insulation to keep from freezing to death. Meh? I don’t recall the specifics of the scene, I think one guy made it and the other one didn’t. He froze solid, instantly, and then was blasted to plasma when he floated out beyond the shadow of the ship’s sunshield. Apparently jumping into a vacuum without a space-suit isn’t their big concern, it’s hypothermia? I guess this is another case of the “space is cold” misconception, but it’s a particularly egregious one.

    The visuals in that film were great, and the ship was even somewhat believable, and I liked the music… But yeah, impossible physics all over the place.

  22. Eric C

    It wasn’t the Big E that went sailing around the sun in ST4, it was the HMS Bounty.

    I need to go re-watch Contact now.

  23. NAW

    Well, I watch a bunch of B-‘science fiction movies’. So the mistakes in these newer movies don’t really bother me.

    But knowing you are a fan of MST3k, just repeat to yourself “It is just a movie, I should really just relax.”

    But too bad someone didn’t throw the E.T. thing at them as they were “remaking it”. They could have “fixed” the moon the same as they “fixed” the guns.

  24. Christine P.

    @Trebuchet – If you watch Raiders again, I believe there is a brief scene where the submarine crew elects NOT to submerge fully so that they can make better time, or something. So although Indy would have had to survive a long voyage, he didn’t have to hold his breath for hours. :-)

  25. Daniel J. Andrews

    The Star Wars movie (the one where Vader/Skywalker is an annoying little kid) detail that ruined it for me was that flying slave-driver who owned Skywalker and his mom. His wings beat fast enough to provide a nice breeze if you sat near his armpits, but certainly not fast enough to lift him into the air. The heavy reliance on animated characters didn’t help either. At least I saw that new series for free and only wasted my time, not my money.

    Edit: I thought some of the items in the new Star Trek movie might have made the list.

  26. alfaniner

    Now I will probably have to look again, but I believe the moon was in a different spot in E.T. in the second scene in the back yard. I recall noticing it at the time, and thinking if it had been in the same spot in the scene it may be due to it being a different time of night. Although the phase was the same (does it change all that much in one night?)

    I would agree that it should not have gone from crescent to full in what appeared to be no more than a couple days, but who’s to argue with an iconic scene?

  27. Thameron

    That asteroid field could have been a destroyed moon in orbit around a planet similar to Saturn’s rings. Certainly it is not the least of their crimes and as for Contact I think any use of jumping instantaneously from one star system to another is a total copout. Even from the Sagan himself.

  28. David S

    The novelization of Raiders says that Indy uses his whip to tie himself to the back of the periscope of the sub. Novelizations are usually based on early versions of the script, so it’s likely this was originally in (or planned for) the film but cut for time or other reasons later on.

  29. Neal

    I’m not sure there exist enough integers to cover all of that movie’s mistakes

    If you can’t count them all, switch to real numbers.

  30. Charlie in Dayton

    “Movies That Should Have Known Better 6 – 10″ ???

    Hell, I’ll settle for 2 – 5…

    Someday when I’m walking around Hollywood, I’m gonna get Bruce Willis to sign a birthday card for the BA…if that don’t bring on a cerebral hemorrage, nothing will…(ahem)…

  31. Messier Tidy Upper

    Larger asteroid fields / belts than found in our solar aystem are known – such as Zeta Leporis here :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeta_Leporis#Asteroid_belt

    & HD 69830 there :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HD_69830#Asteroid_belt

    & this one – or ten – over here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/24/when-worlds-really-do-collide/

    So, yeah, I don’t have too much issue with that Star Wars scene. 8)

    Plus just think of all the protoplanetary disks we know of Vega, Fomalhaut and Beta Pictoris to name the best known three then there’s asteroids that get broken up around white dwarf stars etc .. to consider!

    Additionally, many space art illustrations present asteroid belts as being *very* thickly populated – and there are trojan asterioids around Jove and Neptune and so on to consider too.

    Personally, I like to think of the asteroid field Han, Leia & crew flew throgh in that movie as being Hoth trojans. Perhaps after a major collision within that zone or some imperial target practice? ;-)

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    OTOH, while I don’t have trouble with asteroid field thing I *do* find this line :

    “..and these blast points too precise to be anything other than the work of Imperial Stormtroopers.”

    (Or something very much like that said by Ben Kenobi in the Original Star Wars movie, now Episode IV – ‘A New Hope.’)

    After which, naturally, those well trained and equipped military Fett clones seem unable to hit a barn door with a shotgun from point blank range to be be pretty funny! ;-)

  33. Messier Tidy Upper

    Thinking Star Wars movie mistakes see :

    http://www.moviemistakes.com/film1226/page2

    for quite a listing.

    Oh & there’s this also example via this blog :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/08/10/when-worlds-collide/

    Of a major asteroid producing smash-up to think about around HD 172555 where an object the size of our Moon slammed into a planet the size of Mercury as well! ;-)

    Plus there’s this pulverized planet :

    http://www.universetoday.com/11652/dead-star-found-polluted-by-earthlike-planet/

    suggested for the white dwarf star GD 362. Easy to imagine something like that producing an asteroid field like the Hoth system one, even if it does only last for a brief few million or hundred thousand million years. ;-)

    As for Armageddon at least it makes a good drinking game of “Spot the science error, take a swig!” Although, the one thing with it that really wish they had got right – if only NASA had built some awesome better-than-shuttle spacecraft like those and had them kept under wraps somewhere ready for almost instant use.. If only. Sigh.

    ************

    PS. have I said “nice article there” already BA? No? Well, nice article there BA! :-),

  34. Bobby

    Shame on me, I actually never thought about #2. And I guess now I’ll start seeing it everywhere. And by all means, do the 6-10 list.
    Speaking of such nagging mistakes, they’re not only limited to astronomy. Take Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Morgana le Fay pops out of a 13-century-long hybernation in a matroska doll and starts speaking in perfect modern day English? Come on…

  35. JMW

    Empire Strikes Back asteroid field = Death Star weapons testing range

    Hm. On edit, that doesn’t account for the wildly divergent trajectories.

  36. Mount

    You kinda confused me when you said “SyFy” and “science fiction” in the same sentence.

    Also digging the Firefly reference at the very end.

  37. ggremlin

    Excellent List, you didn’t take any cheap shots and took some of the biggest and best sci-fi movies to task. But didn’t Contact have a scene with a large asteroid field in the Vega system after her first jump?

    Congratulations by the way, you have lasted on Blastr far longer than I expected.

  38. Steffen

    It may not be directly astronomy fail, but the worst science ever shown is in “The Core”, in my humble opinion.

    The geology department at my university once went to this movie. The whole department. Beforehand, they had some drinks (so everybody was in a good mood, and without some intoxication, this movie is unbearable). They were very, very amused.

  39. gia

    Oh, for goodness’ sake, when will the scientific community stop whining about that movie!? It has been 13 years, ENOUGH ALREADY! It was made to look cool, not to look realistic. It never had any pretentions to be realistic. Unless you haven’t noticed, an awful lot of movies out there deliberately ignore reality just because the fantasy version is cooler. It does make them bad movies – they fulfill their role to be entertaining. If you’re looking for an educational, mostly scientifically correct movie you can go and watch Apollo 13. However, this more than a decade long whine makes you look like a really pathetic party-spoiler who doesn’t want people to have fun. Unlike you, I have lived in a society that stifled any idea about fiction that was not realistic – it’s called Communism, people – and that society was dull, grey and boring. So stop being such a twit about it and have a dose of imagination, it’ll do you good.

  40. sHx

    I enjoyed Armageddon as much as I enjoyed Star Wars (the first one, not the second first one).

    Do I mean one is wildly underrated while the other is astronomically overrated? You tell me.

    In terms of scientific content, there was more science and more accurate science in Armageddon than there was in Star Wars.

  41. George

    Sorry for a blog-jack here, but I really hope Discover stops truncating your blog posts in its RSS feed. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple years and usually do it via RSS. Stripping out content turns that into content I don’t get to read most of the time.

  42. Gary

    I hardly ever watch sci-fi movies now, I just read the novels as they are much more realistic, like the brilliant Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, or works by Greg Bear, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Hal Clements and writers who really know their science. What they put on the screen is mostly just pseudoscientific rubbish with the predictable cliches and ridiculously contrived plots that come from lazy ignorant writing.

  43. sHx

    May I also add that Armageddon suffered an image problem, without which it would have rated far higher in the estimation of some people, including Phil Plait and NASA, even if the errors remained same.

    In the movie, they didn’t send members of the military or NASA astronauts into space. They sent oil-riggers! Oi, oil! They might as well have sent coal-miners.

    That also explains why Armageddon is still dismissed with disdain. The movie is ‘anti-scientific’ not because of the number of errors it contains but because it made a single massive error: it was not on the message from the start.

    I ask everyone to reflect on this a little, please.

  44. I suspected Armageddon was going to be one of the most ridiculous movies ever made, and when I finally made the mistake of blowing a few bucks on an afternoon matinee, my fears were more than confirmed. Here’s the review I submitted to NetFlix:

    “Armageddon” went head-to-head against “Deep Impact” in the theatres, and I chose to see “Deep Impact” first, since it seemed to be a more thoughtful, serious look at the possibility of a comet impacting Earth. After surviving the disappointment of “Deep Impact,” I thought, “How bad could ARMAGEDDON possibly be? Sure, the science might be bad, but it’s probably just a lot of rollicking good fun.” How WRONG I was! Apparently the producers of this movie felt there was no need to speak with technical or scientific consultants; I can’t imagine anyone but male high school dropouts enjoying this film. Sure, there’s a lot of explosions, flashing lights, Aerosmith, cheesy sets, flag-waving, and clouds of testosterone pouring off the screen, and if that’s your cup of tea, go get this movie. But if you’ve got an IQ of at least 90, avoid “Armageddon” like the plague.

    So, what about Deep Impact? Well, although it was a much more serious film and not NEARLY as ridiculous as Armageddon, it had some MAJOR flaws:

    1: Astonomer discovers the Killer Comet when it’s months away, plots its trajectory, and BAM: It’s gonna hit Earth! We’re DOOMED! Except that everyone knows comets can be a little like bottle rockets when they’re outgassing, and their precise trajectories are not so certain over such long periods of time.

    2: Said astronomer is shown rushing in his vehicle with the evidence of impending doom stored on a diskette, when suddenly he’s killed in a collision with another vehicle, and the diskette goes flying out the window! What purpose does this plot twist serve? None whatsoever, since the information is discovered later.

    3: Carefully-selected survivors are herded into a huge underground bunker to wait out the Deep Impact, presumably so they can rebuild civilization later on. It sure would’ve been cool to get a glimpse inside of that bunker to see how everyone was going to live, but such footage would’ve probably caused the film’s budget to spiral out of control.

    4: But not to worry, because finally the larger chunk of the comet is blown up at the last minute, and the fragments disintegrate harmlessly in Earth’s atmosphere. Well, we all know THAT isn’t exactly the way things would turn out, since the kinetic energy of the comet would still be there, and standing outside with all those fragments burning “harmlessly” in the atmosphere would be a little like standing in an oven that’s been set to BROIL.

  45. Debating the science content in Star Wars is as silly as debating the science content of a fairy-tale, because that’s what Star Wars is; a fairy-tale. It has princesses, heroes, magic swords, and it even tells you it’s a fairy-tale when it begins with an analog of “Once upon a time….”

  46. BruceGee

    (Cross-posted on Blastr) Here’s my theory on the asteroid field in SW: Occasionally, an asteroid that lands on a planet lets loose the larvae of gigantic interstellar rock-eating space worms. (The movie “Tremors” depicts this happening here.) Assuming the creatures don’t get killed off by Kevin Bacon, they eventually reproduce and destroy the planet’s physical integrity like a maggot-ridden apple. After the planet collapses into a pile of rubble, they go dormant, for millions of years if necessary, until the asteroid they lurk on crashes into another planet and begins the cycle over again. (Or until they wake up when someone flies a spaceship into one of them.) Thus, two problems are solved at the same time!

  47. I’d suggest “hexology” as the term to use for a collection of six, since it maintains the Greek etymology. For the same reason, the term for a foursome is tetralogy, not quadrology. By contrast, “sexology” is a mix of Latin and Greek. (I’ve studied both.)

  48. Jeremy

    When I saw Star Trek IV I REALLY expected you to mention the fact that they increase their speed by “sling shotting” around the sun. That of course is impossible and the out speed would be identical to the in speed (plus the thrust from their warp engines)

  49. Dunc

    If you think Armageddon has the worst mistakes, you clearly haven’t seen Earthstorm. It’s hilarious.

  50. sHx

    @44

    “How WRONG I was! Apparently the producers of this movie [Armageddon] felt there was no need to speak with technical or scientific consultants; I can’t imagine anyone but male high school dropouts enjoying this film.”

    Firstly, thirteen years on and you are still wrong. Apparently, the film-makers did consult with the experts. Here is the standard disclaimer that I suspect comes with every movie that buys expertise from NASA: “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s cooperation and assistance does not reflect an endorsement of the contents of the film or the treatment of the characters depicted therein.” It is in the credits.

    Secondly, you have little imagination. If a movie is that bad, get off your butt and walk out. That’s the greatest insult you can make to any film-maker. You don’t get your money back, of course, but nobody chains you to the seat. By the look of it you didn’t do that. That does not reflect badly on your IQ, gender and level of education, you should hope.

    Movie-talk is highly judgmental stuff. For decades, I’ve thought Star Wars (the first one, not the second first one) is extremely over-rated, but I don’t go judging other peoples IQ for liking it so much.

  51. Your biggest mistake, sir, is including Attack of the Clones in a list of “great” sci-fi movies.

    Ahem.

    There are three (3), count ‘em, three (III) Star Wars movies. (Well, two and a half.) That other trilogy is an obvious incursion into our universe from some alternate, and gawd-awful, teen angst reality.

  52. sHx

    @31

    MTU, I’ve a question about Zeta Leporis.

    You mentioned that star and its asteroid belt several months ago here on a BA thread, when I speculated that every star should be assumed to have a planetary system (excluding the binaries and other ‘chaotic’ systems of course). I ended that talk saying, IIRC, Zeta Leporis is a young star (100 million years-old) and the belt can grow up and get its act together.

    Later, it occurred to me that the planetary systems are born at the same time as their stars. Zeta Leporis’s asteroid belt is either a failed planetary system, or the result of a collision between its planets. I am not discounting the possibility that there may yet be a planet around the star.

    My question is, is it to late for planets to form around Zeta Leporis? Or is 100 million years still too early for that? Can that asteroid belt or something similar be sufficiently disturbed that it rolls into a planet/planets over the next 100 million years?

    Thanks in advance, mate.

  53. vel

    putting something like this anywhere near the crap that the Syphy channel makes is rather amusing in a very ironic sort of way.

  54. @49. sHx Says: Yadda, yadda

    Chill out man… 13 years isn’t too long to hold a grudge. I still plan to trash Top Gun on my website one day. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  55. sHx

    @53

    ????

    What’s up with Top Gun? It’s been 25 years and I still haven’t seen it.

  56. Michael Swanson

    I don’t let the asteroid field in Empire bother me as much. Maybe they call them “asteroids” when it is in fact a rubble field from a recent collision. Leia’s the one who calls them that, and what does she know about astronomy? She’s a diplomat and military leader. And maybe 3PO takes her at her word when he spouts the “odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field.” What does he know? He’s a translator. Maybe it’s very near Hoth, so that explains how they get there in five minutes at sublight speed.

    The part that gets me is that, at sublight speed, they travel to nearby star system in less than, I dunno, 50,000 years?

    (Yes, I’ve wasted time thinking about all this. The damn movie came out when I was nine, and is the closest thing to religious experience I had in my childhood. I saw it a hundred times before I was 20.)

  57. Peter F

    Phil (and everyone else): curious if you’ve seen the new teaser trailer for this upcoming web-based “hard science” series, L5, which seems intriguing. Their website claims that they are going to great pains to at least try to make the science part of their science fiction story realistic…

    Synopsis:

    “Imagine returning from an exhausting adventure only to find that your home is abandoned, empty. Not just your home, but your neighborhood, your city, in fact, everyone, everywhere, seems to be missing. This is what happens to the crew of the first manned mission to Barnard’s Star – they return after awakening from suspended animation to find that their ship-board AI has sent them on a relativistic tour of the stellar neighborhood while they slumbered, dilating time so severely that nearly 200 years have passed on Earth. After coming to, they discover their vessel is adrift at LaGrange point 5, within visual range of a vast O’neill cylinder-colony. The night side of the Earth shows no lights, and no one answers their calls across all frequencies.”

    http://www.l5-series.com/

  58. Chris A.

    Surely, the least plausible aspect of the Star Wars movies is that, upon encountering any other sentient species, Jar-Jar Binks would have been allowed to live.

    Most. Annoying. Character. EVER.

  59. The Beer

    BA: Why do you constantly attack Armagedon with such viscousness?? It had Bruce Willis, it was action packed space flying, it had a love story, and some comedy. It had it all! Ok, so the ‘tweaked’ a few realities… like using an atom bomb where they would have required a 10 M-T anti matter bomb for that effect…. or that they flew the shuttles like barnstormers…..or that they drilled 1,000 ft instead of 2 miles deep….or that the Russians have a space station that could have been better assembled with gum, duct tape, and a lincoln log set….. But that and a few other minor things… bbaaaahhh! Crazy talk!

    Be forwarned… you start going after Starship Troopers like this and we’ll have words!

  60. Daniel Thrasher

    A frequent misconception: “The Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” is NOT an error. This is explained in the extended universe novels.

    The Kessel Run is a route through an area of space containing many closely packed black holes and frequent Imperial patrols. Safe routes take longer distances, dangerous routes takes less, and depending on how close to the black holes the pilot is willing to fly, possibly considerably less.

    It’s the same as bragging that you drove from New York to LA in less miles than your friend. Which makes sense: you took a better route.

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Kessel_Run

    (though, it is changed to units of time in the radio play/novelization so….whatever)

  61. sHx

    @59

    The Beer, ha ha! LOL stuff that.

    Star Wars (the first one, not the second first one) has almost every one of those ‘tweaks’, too. I assume that’s what you’re implying tongue-in-cheek.

    Re: Starship Troopers
    It really has a devoted fan base. I once had the temerity to suggest the Guardian should have left it out of its top 25 Sci-Fi films. Oh, boy, did I regret that?

    Armageddon’s bad reputation has little to do with scientific inaccuracies. Its bad reputation stems from the fact that the producers chose to make heroes out of oil-riggers.

    And it also has a scene (a very funny scene IMHO) with our world-saving hero practicing his golfing skills… on protesters aboard a nearby Greenpeace boat!

    You can’t do that and expect to get an easy passage from BA. That’s crazy!

    @58
    Chris, for me the least plausible aspect of Star Wars series has always been the all-terrain boots that R2D2 is wearing. It is so fr**kking distracting even if I can’t see his feet! The thought alone is enough to distract.

  62. Mittop

    Now I am going to be a bit nitpicky. I have always wondered about the explosions in space thing. At first I was always of the school of thought that no pressure no sound school and so no sound in space.

    But then I wondered, what perspective are we getting the sound from.

    So, in the case of Obi Wan in his ship, when the shockwave passes his ship, and exerts a force on it, and with the ship pressurized with atmosphere, wouldn’t he hear a sound?

  63. Joseph G

    @#24 Christine P: That actually makes sense – U-Boats of that time were extremely slow and had limited range when submerged and operating on battery power. They often ran on the surface until they had reason to submerge (for instance, if an enemy aircraft was spotted).

  64. Joseph G

    @Messier Tidy Upper: Good point about the asteroid field – they never said it was OUR asteroid belt, after all. And who knows what it might have looked like near earth during the heavy bombardment period?

    The “precise Stormtrooper” bit is of course legendary. I wonder if the supervisor of the manufacture of those wonky blaster rifles wound up getting fed to the Sarlacc? :)

  65. Joseph G

    @62 Mittop: Pencil me in under the “curious about explosions in space” column. After all, on an astronomical scale we do often see bow shocks and shockwaves. I’ve always wondered how the speed of sound is calculated in a gas as tenuous as the interstellar medium?

  66. Mittop

    @65 Joseph: Great question. I started thinking about it in these terms. “If the shockwave in space could actually damage the ship, then wouldn’t that wave potentially transfer as sound waves within the ship?”

  67. Roger

    I always find it funny that when some catastophic, end of the world, anomoly is going to occur, there is always one person who just happens to have the idea, and perhaps wrote a paper one time, that will save the whole world. SyFy is famous for that event hough I like watching some of the movies. Impact was one. A piece of a brown dwarf core hits the moon, doubles its mass and throws it out of orbit. There is one person on earth who happened to have tried an “anti-gravity” device. They throw a misson together in meer weeks and they save the earth and put the moon back into a stable orbit. It drives me nuts. It’s one of those, “it vile and disgusting, but I can’t look away” type situations. Meteor is another one. All the main characters in both of these movies seem to be involved in every life of death situation and the world is always saved within seconds of the end. If they could’ve made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs or less, these things would never happen. It’s a love/hate thing.

  68. CB

    BTW, Cracked.com of all places has an actual adequate explanation for the “precise Stormtrooper” bit, in that it evokes actual human psychology to explain the behavior, rather than relying on patch one layer of ridiculous with another.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_18858_the-biggest-star-wars-plot-hole-explained-by-science.html

  69. ” Armageddon” officially became the 2nd worst movie with the release of “2012”, the worst of all time.

  70. CB

    The Kessel Run retcon makes no sense. Cutting corners and taking an optimal route is an advantage in many races, but only to the extent that it saves you time, which is what determines the winner and is what is reported. You wouldn’t brag to your friend about how you got from NY to LA in fewer miles by taking back roads if your friend took the Interstate and still got there two days ahead of you! A shorter route only guarantees faster if you’re assuming all the ships travel at the same speed. Which makes no sense, as the Millenium Falcon is shown leaving other light-speed-equipped ships in the space-dust in flat, open space. It’s a fast ship, which is what he was bragging about.

    The only explanation that makes sense (other than writer/director error) is that Han was simply spouting BS to try to impress what he thought were a couple of country bumpkins. There’s some evidence, too, since one version of the script said, after the Kessel Run line, that Ben Kenobi “reacts to Solo’s stupid attempt to impress them with obvious misinformation.”

    Trying to make it so that every line in Star Wars has to be literally true, and characters aren’t allowed to have been wrong, is just silly.

  71. Daniel Thrasher

    @70

    Just because the Kessel Run retcon doesnt make sense to *you* doesnt mean it doesnt make sense.

    The standard route is not only longer, but slower because of certain sections requiring you to go slow or crash.

    Saying you did the route faster states nothing. You could be an idiot flying through dangerous areas, riskign being caught by patrols, etc.

    Saying you did it a shorter distance states that you’re skilled, because there’s very few ways the distance can be decreased.

    Has was boasting about his abilities as a pilot, both at flying, and at avoiding the authorities.

    The retcon itself makes sense. Whether it was necessary or not due to the changes found in the novelization/radio play is debatable.

  72. Joseph G

    @CB: I love cracked.com, and I remember that article. But IIRC, the gist of it was that humans tend to be inaccurate in actual combat situations, particularly close-combat when you can see peoples’ faces. But that would still seem to imply that the Stormtroopers weren’t trained to overcome this weakness (what happened to the Evil Empire and threatening to kill peoples’ families if they didn’t perform at 110%?)
    Those combat droids from episodes 1 – 3 appeared to be even worse shots, and they were BUILT specifically to shoot people :P

    And about the Kessel run thing – I agree with the “trying to impress the bumpkins” explanation. It seems very much the sort of thing a character like Han would try to do.
    I suppose you could try to argue that a ship with more power could cut closer to those black holes then an underpowered ship, but in reality, as long as you don’t hit the event horizon, any speed you lose moving away from a black hole you’ll have gained moving toward it. You’ve got no more danger of “accidentally” falling into a black hole then you have falling into the sun. If your navigation computers are worth jack squat, you should be fine :P

    I also find it difficult to believe that there would be “smuggling routes” in space. It’s not like the surface of the earth where borders are two-dimensional. It’d be practically impossible to screen one area of space (particularly one that measures parsecs in size) from another, even if you do have a bunch of black holes and star destroyers at your disposal. This is also something that bothers me about Star Trek – you have talk of “minefields” and such. Unless you have several hundred octillion thermonuclear mines at your disposal, you might as well try to stop the wind with a chickenwire fence.

  73. sHx

    @Brad Hurley

    ” Armageddon” officially became the 2nd worst movie with the release of “2012″, the worst of all time.

    Thank gods for our officials from outer planet 9!

  74. NoAstronomer

    @CB #70

    Indeed! The question Solo is responding to is “Is she a fast ship?”, not “Are you a hot-dog pilot?”.

    @63. Joseph G

    But if the uboat were running on the surface they would have a bridge watch posted to make sure they didn’t run into anything. Jones would surely have been spotted – there not being many hiding places on the deck of a submarine.

  75. Joseph G

    According to my dubious math, if you wanted to fence off just one square parsec of space, and you wanted to have one mine per square mile (reasonable, as nukes don’t give you the same air blast effect in space – you’d be relying on radiation alone), you’d need over 3.6 x 10 28 mines – so my 100 octillion estimate was actually LOW by many orders of magnitude…
    Even if you converted the entire mass of earth to uranium and tritium, you’d be wayyyy short on mines.

    @74: Maybe the watch officer just didn’t think to turn around? :P

  76. Joseph G

    Dammit, why does my superscript never show up? 10 28
    Is there a way to write that that doesn’t require ss?

  77. Robert Gibson

    Either 10^28 or 10E28.

  78. CB

    Saying you did the route shorter states nothing. You could be an idiot flying through dangerous areas — in fact this is kinda implied by the need to cut corners close to black holes in order to do the “shortest route” thing — or risking being caught by patrols. And still going slower. But heck, if time doesn’t matter, and safety is our primary measure of success, then obviously the longest route that goes well around all physical obstacles and Empire patrols would be best. “The Kessel Roundabout”.

    But that’s only half of it.

    Han was boasting about his ship, and how fast it was. Obi Wan: “If it’s a fast ship” Han: “Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?” Sure, he was also being boastful as a pilot, but the whole point of the conversation is that the MF is fast.

    “Fast ship? My ship is able to maneuver closely around black holes and take an optimal route through the Kessel Run, even though this does not guarantee minimal arrival time!”

    That boast makes no sense.

    And the retcon was never necessary, changes in the novel not having anything to do with it.

    Here’s the explanation: Han used the wrong units. It was BS.

    Like http://www.blueharvest.net/scoops/anh-script.shtml says:

    BEN: Yes, indeed. If it’s a fast ship.

    HAN: Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?

    BEN: Should I have?

    HAN: It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve
    parsecs!

    Ben reacts to Solo’s stupid attempt to impress them with
    obvious misinformation.

    See? That makes sense, and no ridiculous retcon required.

  79. Joseph G

    Ohh, that’s right. Thanks.

  80. CB

    @ Joseph G:

    I love cracked.com, and I remember that article. But IIRC, the gist of it was that humans tend to be inaccurate in actual combat situations, particularly close-combat when you can see peoples’ faces. But that would still seem to imply that the Stormtroopers weren’t trained to overcome this weakness (what happened to the Evil Empire and threatening to kill peoples’ families if they didn’t perform at 110%?)

    A good point, but our own military trains soldiers to overcome this weakness and it hasn’t worked completely — many soldiers never even end up firing their weapons. Sure threats would help, but before the Stormtroopers were all rectonned into being Jango Fett clones (with no families?) they were just normal people and as long as they have plausible deniability for why they missed, there will probably be the same effect.

    I mean it does only go so far to explain why they never hit anything. There had to be at least one “screw those rebels they’re sub-human” SS-officer wannabe in the waves of ‘troopers they faced. :)

    Like the ones who shot all those poor Jawas!

    Those combat droids from episodes 1 – 3 appeared to be even worse shots, and they were BUILT specifically to shoot people :P

    Multiple answers come to mind:
    1) They seemed to kinda have personalities, maybe they were programmed with emotions and they too were vulnerable to the sympathy problem. Maybe it was easy for them to shoot other droids but not people!
    2) Just one of many, many ways those movies were awful.
    3) What do you mean episodes 1-3?

    :)

  81. Joseph G

    @CB: I don’t think the stormtroopers were Jango clones by the time the Empire really became the empire, though. So you’re probably right. Still, Chewbacca doesn’t look at all human, and he’s a huge target :P

    Anyway, by episode 1-3 I mean whichever of those movies had the CGI battle droids that the Jedi (hell, Jar Jar too) mowed down like toothpicks. I honestly can’t remember.

    Look, in all seriousness, I love Star Wars as much as the next guy, but apparently George Lucas didn’t bother to consult actual military experts on how to take cover in a firefight, because even the Rebels were hanging out in the middle of the hallway, blasting away. He had to make their aim awful. If either side could shoot for jack, those scenes would be over in about 3 seconds.

    Unrelated – To clarify, when I was earlier talking about fencing off a parsec of space, I meant building a “fence” of mines one parsec by one parsec in size.

  82. CB

    @ Joseph G:
    Chewbacca is fuzzy and cuddly, like a Saint Bernard, with B.O. and a gun! Eh, okay, you got me here.

    The thing is, in that opening scene of A New Hope, it didn’t last very long and the rebels got gunned down pretty quick. So it showed the stormtroopers as pretty dangerous.

    And yeah, he couldn’t have them actually be accurate and shoot down the heroes of the story. But you still got the sense that when Han goes around the corner and there’s like twenty troopers, that he really did have to run for his life. There was tension involved.

    All three prequels had scads of the stupid battle droids, and yeah they got mowed down. The heroes would charge at the horde of droids and never take a scratch. They’d chat and make jokes while slaughtering them. Most scenes they were in, it’d have made no difference if they hadn’t even been there. Tension? Ha!

    Which is why what I meant by “What do you mean episodes 1-3?” is that I sometimes like to pretend the prequels never happened, so I can remember Star Wars as those kinda cheesy but actually good sci-fantasy movies with good drama and characters I cared about. :)

  83. Messier Tidy Upper

    @52. sHx Says:

    MTU, I’ve a question about Zeta Leporis.
    You mentioned that star and its asteroid belt several months ago here on a BA thread, when I speculated that every star should be assumed to have a planetary system (excluding the binaries and other ‘chaotic’ systems of course).
    {Emphasis added.]

    I could be mistaken here but I think the assumption is that most but *NOT all* stars will have exoplanets around them.

    Hot supermassive O & B type stars emit huge amounts of destructive radiation (mostly UV I think?) in strong stellar winds and these winds will blow away the protoplanetary disks (or proplyds as these are known for short) from which planets form.

    Not only do these supermassive O-type stars destroy their own chances of hosting planets but their nearby presence may also literally blow away the proplyds of *other* nearby still-forming stars potentially leaving otherwise perfectly life-suitable sun-like stars (& red dwarfs and Sirian and Procyonese type stars) without planets. This destructive process has even been obseved I think in the case of some such stars in the Orion nebula.

    Our own solar system may have had a lucky escape from this – there is a sharp cut off in the Edgeworth-Kuiper cometary disk – termed the Kuiper Cliff – which may have been produced by the infant Solar system being perilously near an O-type star back when it was forming! (Recall reading an article in an astronomy magazine on that – but I can’t find it now to quote the exact details alas.)

    Plus planets can *also* fail to form because another star is too close or passes through the forming system which disrupts the material or via the same mechanism Jupiter’s gravity prevented the formation of a planet in the asteroid belt. (See “Kirkwood gaps”, resonance, boosting velocities of planetesimals to the level where collisions are too destructive rather than constructive. Another longer story again.)

    Gravitational interactions between forming protoplanets can also prove highly destructive ejecting some worlds into space while sending others into the Sun and planetary migration can produce Hot Jupiters that that go all the way from where they formed to the point where they fall into their stars. I guess that be covering the “binary” and “chaotic” exceptions younoted -although it is also possible for planets to exist in double star systems with several known examples.

    Then too, planetary formation may be badly affected by the absence of “metals” (in astronomical parlence any element above helium!) with many older stars beleived to be formed in an era when only gases existed that didn’t freeze solid and few if any

    Also planetary formation may be badly affected by the presence of “metals” (in astronomical parlence any element above helium!) with many older stars beleived to be formed in an era when only light elemts existed that did not build many if any proplyds and planets. Most ancient globular clusters and low metallicity (Sub-dwraf) stars seem devoid of exoplanets so far after several astronomical surveys.

    Although one contested rare exception to that is the super-ancient “Genesis / Methuselah” pulsar planet – PSR B 1620-26 b – orbiting a pulsar-white dwarf binary in the globular cluster M4.

    End Part I – Part II to follow later.

  84. Messier Tidy Upper

    Continued – Part II :

    So there are a few reasons why many stars may not have planets – what that percentage is, is I think still quiote amystery and something we’re learning more on withevery exoplanetary discovery – and in this case non-discovery too.

    # @52. sHx :

    Also I ended that talk saying, IIRC, Zeta Leporis is a young star (100 million years-old) and the belt can grow up and get its act together.

    It may be young but it may also be just that bit too old nonetheless. If it has passed its T-Tauri stage of planetary formation as may well have happened then the much of the dust and gas in the disk might have been blown away leaving the sytsem unable tokeep accreting into planets. Or so I’d guess, I’m not 100% but more like 75% sure on that.

    Later, it occurred to me that the planetary systems are born at the same time as their stars. Zeta Leporis’s asteroid belt is either a failed planetary system, or the result of a collision between its planets. I am not discounting the possibility that there may yet be a planet around the star.

    Nor am I! I hope there are still small planets in that system.

    But I first read about in Zeta leporis as a failed planetary system in Ray Villard and Lynette R. Cook’s excellent Infinite Worlds book which seemed less hopeful of that prospect. I’ll see if I can find the exact quote later.

    My question is, is it to late for planets to form around Zeta Leporis? Or is 100 million years still too early for that? Can that asteroid belt or something similar be sufficiently disturbed that it rolls into a planet/planets over the next 100 million years? Thanks in advance, mate.

    No worries. I’m not really sure but I hope this helps.

  85. Messier Tidy Upper

    For more on the Villard & Cook book [Villard, Ray, & Cook, Lynette R., ‘Infinite Worlds : An Illustrated voyage to planets beyond our Sun’, University of California Press, 2005.] see :

    http://extrasolar.spaceart.org/books.html

    It is one I’d highly recommend if you can find a copy somewhere which has spectacular, breath-takingly beautiful illustrations (see Lynette Cook’s site linked) & very informative and readable text. One of my faves but alas, too expensive for me – except to borrow from the local library. ;-)

    For more on planet formation the wiki-basics are here :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_formation

    & also here :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protoplanetary_disk

    for proplyds. :-)

  86. Messier Tidy Upper

    Plus check out :

    http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2001/13

    For more about the forming proplyds vs O type stars in Orion seen by Hubble.

    Also see :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuiper_cliff#.22Kuiper_cliff.22

    for more about the “Kuiper Cliff” idea.

    Additionally this :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroid_belt#Formation

    discusses the formation of the asteroid belt – why a planet was’t formed betwen Mars & Jupiter. Note from there :

    The current asteroid belt is believed to contain only a small fraction of the mass of the primordial belt. Computer simulations suggest that the original asteroid belt may have contained mass equivalent to the Earth. Primarily because of gravitational perturbations, most of the material was ejected from the belt within about a million years of formation, leaving behind less than 0.1% of the original mass.

    Further strengthening the case that Star Wars may have got it right there asteroid field~wise! Sorry BA. ;-)

    Thinking matters Star Wars, I take these movies for what they are on their own terms.

    I don’t expect the same things from an opera as I do a monster truck demolition derby and yet both can work on their own terms and be interesting, enjoyable and effective. Equally, I don’t expect the same things from reading Stephen Baxter or Isaac Asimov and watching Star Wars even though both (arguably) are SF / fantasy. Theer’s a place for (almost) everything. :-)

    [Now where do I put my cup of tea down for a sec – here? No room? There? No room, over there ..wait won’t balance! D’oh! Refuted thus! ;-)]

    Star Wars is fun – “turn-your brain off, enjoy the SFX & just go along with it” fun. I’m not too fussed by its science errors because, hey, that’s not what its about. It’s a mythical movie and I suspend my disbelief and grant it artistic license.

    *Then* I come out of the cinema, turn my brain on again, think about what I’ve just enjoyed some more and smile wryly at some of the science, plot and other flaws – but in a good-humoured way. I don’t mind the BA and others pointing out the bad science in it either. There’s a place for that too. :-)

  87. Messier Tidy Upper

    One last comment on this planetary problems (Zeta Lep.) issue because I can’t resist adding this quote :

    ” ..we now realise that if Saturn were about twice as massive, it would gravitationally interact with Jupiter on a short timescale. One of them would get thrown in, and the other one would get thrown out – and we wouldn’t be here having this conversation.”

    – Exoplanet hunter, Paul Butler quoted on page 41, Nigel Henbest & Heather Couper, ‘Extreme Universe’, Channel 4 Books, 2001.

    Planetary systems we’ve found can be precarious things – and we got very lucky.

    Planetary migration, a process that leads to Hot Jupiters like Bellopheron (51 Pegasi b), eccentric orbiters like 70 Virginis & the “Icarus Planet*” (HD 80606 b) could well have wrecked our solar system had Saturn been that bit more massive.

    We know of over 500 confirmed exoplanets today – only one solar system is confirmed to life on only one planet. That’s so far of course but still .. something to reflect on.

    (Gl 581g being unconfirmed & not a sure bet for life even if there.)

    —–

    * See ‘Weather sizzles on a planet that kisses its star’
    BA blog thread, January 28th, 2009 11:00 AM.)

  88. ellie

    Just to represent for the Life Sciences…

    In “Mission to Mars”, there is a scene where characters are looking at a monitor which is displaying a small segment of a double helix. It’s an image the filmmakers figured the audience would have some familiarity with – fine. But then one of the men says [dramatic pause] “That DNA looks human!”

    AARRRGGGHHH >:/

    I audibly choked in the theater.
    And I can’t even think about “Signs” and the water phobia/allergy thing.
    I need a drink.

    also, I agree with commenters 7 & 9 with respect to the gaffe in Contact. It’s one of my top 3 fav movies and in my top 10 of books (one of a few appearances by Carl there). I think it was a reference to the Drake equation, made digestable for a wide audience, and the point was to get them/us to think mathmatically. Really think about the huge numbers involved, and apply some probability. Is it spot-on? No. But it gives one a better conceptual grasp than “really big”, “nearly infinite”, and terms like that. And I like to think that Ellie’s conclusion of “millions of civilizations” is a reflection of Carl Sagan’s wonderful optimism and hopefulness and excitement about the possibilities of finding something else out there.

  89. JMW

    I noticed that you tweeted that the word “Kessel” is trending, and hoping that it was caused by your article at Blastr. I think it’s more likely because the National Hockey League has its All-Star Game this weekend, and this year they decided to set up the two teams by throwing all the players voted to the teams in a pot, and having the two captains pick theirs teams in a draft, just like picking players in pond hockey.

    And the last players selected was…Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    As a long time Montreal Canadiens fan, and a by-default fan of the Ottawa Senators (I live there, and my kids are Sens fans), I find this poetically beautiful…

  90. Mike Saunders

    Dude, seriously, Star Wars? Star Wars doesn’t even take itself seriously. It’s like getting mad that Joel somehow downloaded an AI into a gumball machine on MST3k.

    For any movie, I’m pretty sure this applies (because its a movie duh)

    “If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes
    And other science facts,
    Just repeat to yourself “It’s just a show,
    I should really just relax”

  91. Joseph G

    @ellie: Ugh, the Signs “Wicked Witch of the West” aliens. I mean, I can certainly envision some alternate biology that makes water caustic to you. But why the hell would such beings want to have anything to do with Earth? That’d be like humans trying to colonize a lava planet where molten lead rained from the skies, and all life-forms exude corrosive acids.

    Also, lawlz at the “it looks human” bit. I’d forgotten about that one.

  92. The Fermat Liar

    Star Trek Generations has to have the most obvious and laughably bad science in a movie, ever! When the baddie Soran fires a missile at the Veridian sun in order to destroy it, the missile visibly travels up to the disc of the sun – that is the disc of the sun in the sky, and when it “hits” the sun, about 5 seconds later, the sun is destroyed!!! No implication whatsoever of the missile being FTL. I’ve only seen the film once and wasnt really concentrating so maybe I missed something. Maybe the filmakers cut out the bit where Soran and Picard hang around for a couple of hours until the missile reaches its target. Or maybe the Veridian sun was some kind of huge lightbulb in the planet’s upper atmosphere…..

  93. The “Contact” quote come to mind in a real twist of irony when I stumbled on Gene Roddenberry’s “Pitch” to the network for Star Trek from a “Think Geek” tweet. (See the whole thing here: http://j.mp/gUfMNH )

    “STAR TREK offers an almost infinite number of exciting Science Fiction stories, thoroughly practical for television. How? Astronomers express it this way: ….. Or to put it in simpler terms, by multiplying the 400,000,000,000 galaxies (star clusters) in the heavens by an estimation of average stars per galaxy (7,700,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000), we have the approximate number of stars in the universe, as we understand it now. And so …

    … if only on in a billion of these stars is a “sun” with a planet …
    … and only one in a billion of these is of earth size and composition …”……

  94. sHx

    MTU

    Mate, that comprehensive answer is much, much appreciated. I guess I’ll have to downgrade my ‘every star has a planet’ speculation to ‘only a minuscule percentage of stars has a planet’. I was hoping that because the good old Sol has 8 planets, then it is possible that every Sol-like star has at least one planet. I can’t remember the exact thread we first discussed this but I do now remember that I used the qualifier “every stars like our sun”. Still your answer covers that too.

    “Plus planets can *also* fail to form because another star is too close or passes through the forming system which disrupts the material or via the same mechanism Jupiter’s gravity prevented the formation of a planet in the asteroid belt.”

    Now, I know what happened to Planet X. :)

    You are a great asset to Bad Astronomy, MTU. Often I think the substance and quality of your contribution surpasses that of Phil Plait’s.

    Thanks again and best wishes.

  95. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ sHX : No worries. Aw shucks! [Feels head swelling.] As a big fan of the BA’s I certainly won’t make any claims to superiority or even equality with him here ( I wish!) but I’m honoured, thanks. [Blushes.] :-)

    Also I wouldn’t say there was only a minuscle proportion, rather that we simply don’t yet know what the proportion of stars with exoplanets is right now.

    Many stars do have planets and it seems under normal circumstances they are a common by-product of star formation.

    However, there are also many circumstances where planets and planetary systems don’t form or get disrupted. What the percent of stars with / without planets is exactly is I think a very large unanswered question that we’re trying hardand with increasing success to answer – but aren’t at a point where we can really say just yet.

    In a nutshell – there’s insufficient evidence so far but good folks are working on finding out! :-)

  96. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 94. sHx : Now, I know what happened to Planet X. :-)

    Well, there are alternative explanations too like this one :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fendahl#Fendahl &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_of_the_Fendahl

    From the Whoverse for example! ;-)

  97. sHx

    MTU :)

    Meanwhile, I am still waiting for a Star Wars cultist to tell me where I can purchase a pair of all-terrain boots that R2D2 was wearing. :D

  98. XPT

    “Mission to Mars” is one of my worst favorite. There just isn’t one thing right in it.

  99. Keith Bowden

    Funny, I just watched Firefly and Serenity again last week. Joss Whedon rules! There’s absolutely nothing missing from the film by not having sound in space. It adds to the scenes! Flight becomes elegant and even haunting. And when dramatic tension was required… that’s when the score was most effective.

    But yeah, I just always kind of assumed the asteroids in Empire was a debris field from something “recently” destroyed. C’mon, Leigh Brackett would have known better! :) Still, Star Wars isn’t science fiction; it’s fantasy. A space fantasy, but fantasy nonetheless.

    Oh, and I’m docking you points for “sci-fi”. Brrrrr! Skiffy, ick…

  100. Chas, PE SE

    Being an engineer/space geek, the scene that frosts my fuel tanks is the launch of a Saturn V, where the engines do not light off until zero on the countdown.
    As every space geek knows, “Ignition sequence Start” is at t-7.9 seconds, so that the engines are at full thrust when the clamps were released and the rocket started to move at Zero! But twice! — in “The Dish” and “Apollo 11″, the fire doesn’t come out the back end until zero on the count.
    They should have asked the mayor’s son, he woulda set them straight. Apparently they asked Rudy.
    (BTW, “Dish” has one of the best engineering moments in film)

    Also, I figured the debris field in Empire was what was left over after they mined the asteroid for the material to build the Death Star.

  101. Nigel Depledge

    Gia (39) said:

    Oh, for goodness’ sake, when will the scientific community stop whining about that movie!? It has been 13 years, ENOUGH ALREADY! It was made to look cool, not to look realistic. It never had any pretentions to be realistic. Unless you haven’t noticed, an awful lot of movies out there deliberately ignore reality just because the fantasy version is cooler. It does make them bad movies – they fulfill their role to be entertaining. If you’re looking for an educational, mostly scientifically correct movie you can go and watch Apollo 13. However, this more than a decade long whine makes you look like a really pathetic party-spoiler who doesn’t want people to have fun.

    Yeah, except that, weirdly, many people now expect reality to behave the way they see it in the movies.

    Is that the fault of reality, or the fault of the movies?

  102. Nigel Depledge

    Oddly enough, I’m not too bothered about the existence of the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back.

    What bothers me more is the time line.

    IIRC, Han and crew fly into the asteroid field to escape the Imperial blockade of the Hoth system (because the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive is faulty), and they then spend many hours ducking and dodging and hiding to evade the Imperial forces. After the Imperial Star Destroyers depart, Han sets course for Bespin. Perhaps a day or two after their arrival at Bespin, Luke shows up to try and rescue them.

    However, in the meantime, Luke flew to Dagobah and underwent what seemed like at least several weeks’ worth of Jedi training, and then flew to Bespin. Every time I watch that movie (which otherwise I thoroughly enjoy), the intercalation of the two discordant narratives jars my senses.

  103. ND

    I do remember one brief scene from 2001 space odyssey, where the ship is traveling through the asteroid belt on its way to Jupiter and at least two boulders fly by the camera within a few seconds. Even here the density of the asteroid belt is exaggerated a little.

  104. Strahlungsamt

    I think 2001 needs to be ripped apart for science errors more than any other movie ever made. Not because I hated the movie (I loved it and still do) but because a lot of people think Kubrick was hired to fake the real moon landings. Much as it tried, 2001 got so many science facts wrong it’s laughable.

    Here’s just a few:
    The alignment of Sun and Moon above the Monolith is impossible.
    When the ship lands near Clavius, dust is blown from the engines and remains floating around in the air.
    The rotating shuttle, as it docks with the space station would make the astronauts puke.
    Why would they check voice prints AFTER the astronaut is already on the space station? Why not at the spaceport before he got on?
    If Pan-Am flew their shuttle with only one passenger they would be bankrupt ages ago – uh wait!
    Why do the stewardesses wear protective headgear but not the men?
    Velcro shoes are a very bad idea.
    Why does the pilot wear a pilot’s uniform? Wouldn’t a spacesuit be more practical?
    Astronaut jumps out of the pod in the direction of the antenna. He has no apparent control rockets nor rope so he doesn’t float away.
    Wouldn’t a pod on rails make more sense?
    Why have pods anyway? They take up a lot of room and don’t seem very practical.
    Why does gravity exist in the pod bay but not anywhere else?
    Do galaxies explode?
    How does a foetus breathe in a vacuum?

    That’s all I can think of for now but there are more.

  105. ND

    “Astronaut jumps out of the pod in the direction of the antenna. He has no apparent control rockets nor rope so he doesn’t float away.”

    I think it is the other biggie for me. That’s way dangerous thing to do. It would have been better to have the pod physically moored to the ship.

    The canadarm2 that’s on the ISS is probably the best idea though. A robotic arm that inch-worms along the ship. But that would also be slow.

  106. I am wondering Phil why it is you refuse to debate on video with the young Australian guy who thinks the Moon Landings were a hoax. I just watched a video where he TRIES and TRIES…and TRIES to engage you into giving time to talk to him about it and you just keep making excuses not to, at one time claiming you dont trust him…? yet edited into this video is you boldy challenging people to ‘bring it on with passion’ because you want to expose them. You did not come away looking good from this video man.

    IF you are so sure of what you state about the moon landings why the avoidance. I have the courage of my convictions about things I am passionate about and NEVER shirk a challenge. I am not SO self-assured, and know the *danger* of debate because there is always that doubt and fear WE may have worldviews shook–it can happen–and that can be traumatic. But you are putting your self up there defedning the moon landings and the audeince want you to have a debate with this PASSIONATE young man from Oz!

  107. ellie

    Phil, why do you refuse to debate me on camera about the existence of green unicorns? I TRY and TRY and TRY to engage you yet you continue to shirk me. What are you afraid of?!

  108. Nigel Depledge

    Juliano (116) said:

    IF you are so sure of what you state about the moon landings why the avoidance. I have the courage of my convictions about things I am passionate about and NEVER shirk a challenge.

    I think I can explain this, with a little educated guesswork.

    First, the hoax believers (HBs) have it easy – they don’t have to stick to the truth, they don’t have to back anything up with evidence, all they need to do to “win” a debate is to raise doubts in the minds of the audience about the authenticity of the Apollo programme.

    Second, it can take a mere second or two for an HB to either raise a new point or shift a goalpost on an existing one, but it may take Phil as much as a minute to debunk it – so how can one ensure a level playing field? Phil, being a scientist (and therefore a thorough kind of person), will want to address points one by one without interruption, and the forum of a public debate is the worst way to ensure this can happen.

    Third, such a public debate is not about facts – it is about rhetoric. Of course every HB wishes to engage a public authority-figure in this kind of debate, because they can bone up on rhetorical tricks to make your opponent look foolish, even if they never prove anything.

    Fourth, what would such a debate prove? Pretty much nothing.

    Fifth, such a debate would actually give the HBs more publicity, even if Phil came out on top. Why would he want to participate in such a thing?

    Sixth, all of the HB arguments have been refuted. Over and over again. The HBs do not have anything new. Such a debate would genuinely be a waste of Phil’s time.

    I am not SO self-assured, and know the *danger* of debate because there is always that doubt and fear WE may have worldviews shook–it can happen–and that can be traumatic.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

    The facts are what they are, and the HB “arguments” are still as feeble as they ever were. The HB “arguments” all rely on ignorance and speculation. There is not one jot of evidence to support the idea of any kind of cover-up or conspiracy.

  109. Matt B.

    As for the moon mistake, how about all those movies that show a side view of the Moon? And worse, the view in Stargate of three moons over Abydos that all look exactly like Earth’s moon?

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