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By Phil Plait | September 7, 2012 7:00 am

I do so love to make fun of the movie "Armageddon". I know, it’s such an easy target, but still.

I talk about the movie when I give public lectures about asteroid impacts, because a lot of people have seen it – so it’s a nice common point of contact – and because it really goes out of its way to get so much stuff wrong.

The premise of the movie is that a giant asteroid is going to hit the Earth and wipe out all life. I’ll skip a vast amount of silliness and get to the thing that really made me laugh out loud when I first saw the flick: to prevent the impact, astronauts plant a nuclear bomb below the surface and detonate it. This splits the asteroid in half, and (SPOILER ALERT!) the two pieces are flung apart at sufficient velocity that they pass our planet on either side, missing us, and the world is saved!

Yay?

Well, not so much. I saw the movie when it came out in 1998, and after I got home from the theater – and after the Tylenol kicked in – I did a little math. We know how big the asteroid is, and what it’s made of – that gives us the mass (and therefore the mass of each half after it’s split). We also know how rapidly it’s approaching the Earth, and how far it was from the Earth when the bomb went off. That then can be used to figure out how fast the two halves separated (they had to separate by at least the Earth’s diameter to miss us).

An object in motion has energy, called kinetic energy. It depends on the mass of the object and its velocity – the more massive it is, or the faster it moves, the more kinetic energy it has. In the case of the Armageddon asteroid, the two halves got their kinetic energy from the bomb, so by calculating the kinetic energy of each piece you can find the explosive yield of the bomb.

I did that. The bomb would have exploded with roughly the same energy output as the Sun. In other words, it would have been a 100 billion megaton bomb. Yikes.

I made a lot of assumptions in my math, but it turns out what I calculated was a lower limit – all I found was their energy of motion. I assumed all the bomb’s energy went into accelerating the asteroid halves, but that’s not the case. The efficiency would have been low, in reality. A lot of the bomb’s energy would have been used to split the rock in the first place, and a lot would leak out as wasted energy. So in fact the bomb would have needed to be far more energetic than even the Sun to do what it did in the movie.

Why bring this all up now? Because some undergrad students at the University of Leicester did essentially the same thing, but used different methods and math than I did to calculate the bomb’s yield. They recently published their results, and the cool thing is: they got roughly the same numbers I did! I guess that’s not surprising: reality is repeatable. Given the same basic assumptions the math really should match.

[Note: my pal Jen Ouellette has more on this too.]

I’m conflicted about movies with silly science in them. I fret that it burrows into people’s brains, giving them the wrong view on important issues (and diverting asteroid impacts is a very important issue). On the other hand, it can also be used as a teaching moment, and one that has broad appeal if the movie happened to be popular.

Of course, in the end there will always be bad science, and like always, I’ll do what I can to use it to – har har – make as big an impact as I can. So thanks, Bruce Willis! I think.

Image credit: Paramount Pictures; Blastr.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Geekery, Humor

1. Stoppa asterioder med paintballs « Tyngdlöst | October 28, 2012
1. JeffB

I remember when this came out, my high school science teacher came in the next day complaining about the science. He compared the bomb to “cracking a coconut in half with your thumbnail,” which actually seems kind of optimistic looking at your numbers.

2. Tim

I, too love the movie, but had to shut off the science part of my brain. My favorite part is when they spin up MIR to get gravity (Ha!), then dock with it. Shouldn’t they have docked before spinning? I was just glad the fault line in the asteroid lined up nicely with the Earth. I didn’t even think about the energy needed to accelerate the halves.

3. Well, the fact that it takes math to prove it and that in 14 years we only have two know instances of that math having been done means that it wasn’t an unreasonable bit of artistic license to take. On the other hand, the fact that you intuitively saw that something was amiss so as to motivate you to check it means that it might not have been such a good idea. Especially since all they had to do to make the math work out was choose a distance that was further away.

4. Chris

Hey Phil, the links for the “They recently published their results, and …” aren’t working.

5. elcabron23

The thing is, Brian, that you can look the other way and ignore a couple of things that are wrong if it is a good film. After all, facts and fiction have a strange kind of relationship and sometimes it is fun to go a little crazy and things like The Terminator happen. Unfortunately, Armageddon was not good enough to make people let things slide, it is a terrible film and it should feel terrible.

6. Maria

@1 That’s interesting. All things being equal, would that scenario have worked if they had used a.. say… 100 MT bomb (Tsar Bomba’s potential yield) at much much further away?

7. Other Paul

I was always intrigued by the impressive gas-emission rate at which a Martian sized atmosphere of at least building-sized depth (sufficient to save Arnie, Rache and all the glass city dwellers within the space of about 30 seconds) would have had to have been projected from a volcano-sized hole.

But that was in a totally differently recalled film of course.

8. George

What has Bruce Willis to do with the script? He just planted the bomb as orderd! Did he not?

9. Matt

Personally my favorite bad science moment is how they are pretty much always under 1G of gravity when they’re INSIDE, but when they get outside they’re all bouncy and floaty.

I think they make a mention of the low gravity on the asteroid, but in reality it would have had something like 0.01G. A good hard kick would have given you escape velocity.

There is zero possibility that a wheeled, armored vehicle would have gotten enough traction to drive around on the surface. The first bump it hit at a decent speed would have sent it into orbit.

10. cope

Worst movie ever on three fronts.

1) The atrocious astronomical bits, as you have dissected.

2) The atrocious geologic/drilling parts (I was an oilfield geologist for 10 year and know my way around a drilling rig).

3) The soundtrack…GACK!

11. Joe Bedford

I liked Deep Impact much more (as a movie). Anyone care to have a crack at the science in that one?

12. DanM

@cope:

You’ve never seen Ice Pirates, then.

13. Ivan

Distance? What about the 100 billion megaton bomb? Do the USA own such a monster? I didn’t know the atomic fever was that bad!
Indeed, when i was a youngster I used to feel better thinking all that radioactive manufacture boasting would end up with the happy agreement of dropping the rockets harmlessly into the sun like broken toys.

14. david germain

“I did that. The bomb would have exploded with roughly the same energy output as the Sun.”
Loved how this was phrased, made me laugh out loud or lol’ed, for younger viewers.

15. Sindragosa

Energy output of the Sun? Over what period of time? Or do you mean power.

16. Wzrd1

@Chris, I couldn’t load it either. It looks like the server is using a self-issued certificate AND the database doesn’t trust that certificate.
I sent an e-mail to the contact e-mail address for the site with a description of the problem and most likely cause.

17. Elgarak

@DanM:

Except that everyone involved with The Ice Pirates knew they were making a silly movie. Which is why I still like to watch it.

18. Elgarak

Yeah!

Physics! It works, bitches!

19. Gary J. Bivin

“Deep Impact”, which came out about the same time, was much better (although it had its problems too).

20. Chris

You may want to avoid watching The Core… and probably Chain Reaction.

21. Jay

Well, I’m of 2 minds here – on one hand, it’s *just* entertainment and something doesn’t have to be accurate to be fun. With this particular movie, my reaction was pretty much “who cares? it’s just a roller coaster”. On the other hand, however, there’s the fact that we have a mostly uneducated populace who sometimes take bad/questionable science and fully believe what they’re being shown (i.e. the “CSI Effect”).

I suppose the real solution here isn’t either railing against the movie or even insisting that these people get their facts straight. The real solution, in my opinion, is to teach both the facts of the world and how to critically evaluate them as children. Do that and you can show all the fantasy science you want and people can be freely entertained and never, ever, take it as the real thing.

22. Renee Marie Jones

Another attempt to find a peaceful use of nuclear weapons. Geez. We are definitely going to have to keep looking. They are so cool, they MUST be useful for something! We did not actually waste all that time and money on something with no useful purpose, did we?

Seriously, it strikes me that part of your problem, Phil, derives from the modern concept that books, movies and the like should mimic reality. That whole idea really only started a couple of hundred years ago, If no one expected movies to mimic reality, then there would be no problem. The really, really scaring thing is when people read fiction and use it to justify arguments in the real world. People need to be taught better reading skills, and they need to understand that writing or saying something does not make it true.

23. Wootings

…and the award for Best Time-Dilation Effects on an Afro goes to…Ice Pirates!

24. Bryan

I disagree- the worst science in the movie is when they fly the shuttle in a circle around the International Space Station while it “spins up” so they can dock. All so the station shots could be done at 1G. C’mon! If Apollo 13 can shoot in zeroG a big budget mess like Armageddon can too.

My wife had to shush me before I got thrown out of the theater. Deep Impact was much better in every way, in case anyone hasn’t seen it.

25. It also has to impart enough relative velocity to a) avoid the mutual halves coming back together under their own gravity at least until they’ve passed the Earth entirely and b) the Earth’s gravity pulling them together prematurely. It would probably be more of a concern under more reasonable circumstances of using a smaller yield bomb to split them sooner, since gravity would have more time to act on the halves before they passed the Earth.

Speaking of movie science, the new Total Recall movie has the Fall which seems ripe for dissection by the Bad Astronomer.

26. Nikki

Still my favourite film of all time though!

27. But Michael Clarke Duncan was the sensitive guy.

28. Chris

Even worse than Armageddon was the TV miniseries “Impact.” The only good thing about it was that it had Natasha Henstridge. It made Harry Potter and Plan 9 From Outer Space look scientifically accurate
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_%28TV_miniseries%29

29. sheldonc

I groaned at the science throughout the entire movie. That and the cheesy dialogue, lousy special effects and horrendous soundtrack. Though I gotta admit, when Steve Buscemi sat on the nuke I laughed out loud.

30. JeffB

@20: Sunshine is probably worse than either one. The sun isn’t doing enough nuclear fusion, so drop nukes into it until it restarts.

31. TychaBrahe

There used to be educators mailing lists through the Discovery Channel website, and someone wanted to show The Matrix in a science class. I protested, and suggested Contact instead. The ending of Contact was pure fiction, but the grants getting cut and the political infighting and the weirdos taking your results out of context in the first three quarters of the movie, THAT was so very much the life of a scientist.

The science is howlingly bad too, but a more interesting story that probes the behavior of people as the world is ending.

On a somewhat OT note regarding departures from reality, when I was a member of a sailing club (not a boat owner, just a volunteer deck hand) the #1 most favorite movie among that crowd was “Captain Ron” about a con man who knew nothing about sailing but managed to hire himself out as a trainer/instructor to a family of first-time boat owners. Every mistake, and I mean everything one could possibly do wrong on a sailboat, you see illustrated in that movie – everything Kurt Russell tells them to do is scary wrong. As a teaching tool it’s great. (The movie is also hilarious).

33. Menyambal

The science was wretched, especially considering that they seemed to try to get it right, sometimes. If they’d just made a cartoon movie, it would have been okay to have bad science. But when they mention the gravity, then totally screw it up, it’s very bad.

My biggest complaint isn’t really science. It was all the foofaraw before Bruce Willis set the bomb off by hand. By the dog, the entire Earth was at stake. Somebody should have volunteered before they left Earth—it was no time to trust a timer or a remote control, or even to say goodbye—set the frickin’ thing off as quickly and surely as possible. One minute’s delay increases the damage, both potential and actual, to the planet. Let me set the damn bomb off now!

(The bomb blew some chunks toward the earth, moving faster than they would have otherwise. Could the people who got hit by those chunks have sued?)

34. I’ve never seen Armageddon, so perhaps this isn’t an issue in the movie, but what about the effect of Earth’s gravity on the split halves? Assume that we’ve successfully used an Unobtanium Bomb to split the asteroid in two. I’m guessing that, for suspense’s sake, the asteroid was perilously close. (They probably had the requisite scenes of people looking frightfully up at it looming in the sky.) Once it was split, the pieces would move to either end of the Earth, missing it, but the Earth would still tug on them. This could either:

1) Cause a slingshot effect tossing the asteroids far away
2) Cause the asteroids to enter into a stable orbit
3) Cause the asteroids to enter into an unstable orbit

In the case of #1, Yay! The Earth is saved. In the case of #2, I’m guessing there might be some tidal issues and people might not feel completely comfortable with Doomsday Asteroid as our new moon(s). In the case of #3, however, we might have only delayed our doom. Bruce Willis would return from space and – right in the middle of the parade in his honor – the asteroid half would make impact.

35. BA Fan

But wasn’t Armageddon the catalyst for The Bad Astronomy blog? And wasn’t The Bad Astronomy blog the catalyst that put Dr. Phil Plait out amongst the rest of us, rather than doing silly stuff like working on the Hubble Telescope?

Armageddon at least deserves our respect for that, so from now on don’t simply say “Armageddon stunk”, please say “Yeah – Armageddon stunk, but at least we got BA out of it!”

36. Pablo Linares

DEEP IMPACT… Released May 8th, 1998. FIRST
Armageddon, July 1st, 1998, sorry, second place.
But still many remember the second one… :-S

As many have said, Deep Impact must have it’s science glitches and flaws… but c’mon!! It was originally intended to show the human issues and cosmic results of such an event. Much more “reality” oriented than Armageddon, where the whole thing is to show some Astronauts Cowboys (Yeeeha!!!) planting a nuke and saying a catch phrase.

Definitely oriented to a different kind of audience (the hollywood one?)
I remember The Planetary Society looking forward to the release of Deep Impact, whereas they never mentioned Armageddon (if my memory is correct)

37. Pablo Linares

@Phil, can it be that you need special authentication to access the University of Leicester’s results link?
https://physics.le.ac.uk/journals/index.php/pst/article/view/411/307

Getting an error.
‘DB Error: Incorrect key file for table ‘./ojs/sessions.MYI’; try to repair it’

38. Ok, I’ll admit it (the shame of it), I actually liked the film when I saw it, but yet again Maths is not my forte, so thank you for enlightening me. Still, in the days when I had idle time for the TV, I’d watch documentaries on ancient aliens on Earth, Roswell and the like solely with the purpose of having a good laugh. I did not believe anything that was being shown but it waaaas rather funny. After reading your very well explained piece above me, I’m sure you can empathise.

(Former teenage believer in Eric Von Danikens works, revenge is sweet, Mua hah ha ha)

39. Keith Bowden

It’s such an awful movie on all sides, I couldn’t believe that there was a Criterion edition made.

Makes me want to watch Meteor again.

40. JohnH

It would be #1. These things move way faster than the escape velocity of our puny gravity well. In any case, the discussions on how the pieces might have acted after the split are moot. Even assuming that we somehow overcame the practical limits and created a 10^17 ton weapon, (or something a couple of magnitudes larger given the efficiency issues) it would not split the asteroid in neat portions. As Phil pointed out, that’s more than the output of the entire sun for the period of the explosion. A new sun would literally appear in the sky for a moment, and only a few hundreds of kilometers away. The asteroid would be vaporized, along with most of the side of the earth facing the explosion.

41. Tony

I’d like to know what a bomb that big going off in Earths neighborhood would do to the Earth! I can’t imagine we wouldn’t at least get one hell of an EMP blast…

42. Fizz

I think Deep Impact was pretty good with it’s science right up to the end. At end they blow up the comet into a zillion pieces. I’m not sure about the science of that.

The movie has the exploded pieces burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere. Assuming the thing blew up into pieces that would burn up completely, what would happen? Nothing reaches the surface, but Earth is still getting hit with all that kinetic energy- the energy has got to go somewhere. So what would we experience? Rapid warming of the atmosphere?

I’ll need to run some numbers. What say you, Phil?

43. Isaac

@Fizz 36. IIRC, Dr Phil covered this in “Death From the Skies”. I’d look it up, but I lent my copy to my daughter. And yes, the results would be less than benign.

44. Dr. Strangelobe

What does an asteroid rover need with a -Gatling gun-? Why was it even loaded? And why didn’t the rover lift off from the recoil? (well, yeah, not enough force).

And what are the symptoms of ‘space happy’!?

45. One Eyed Jack

Bruce Willis died detonating the nukes. It’s the primary tear jerker moment when Liv Tyler reaches out to touch the monitor and cries, “I love you Daddy.”

J/K. I know you said you didn’t see it.

46. Rift

Goodness, I’ve been following you for a while Phil. I remember your old forum when this movie came out.

good times, good times

47. I guess the producers used “poetic license” to entertain. Quality science fiction is hard to come by.

48. Number 6

Haven’t seen the movie, but does it end w/ everyone high-fiving at the end, because the asteroid is split successfully, and the crisis is averted….only to shortly thereafter receive a report of an even bigger, new asteroid headed on the same track as the previous one ?……… “C’mon, Liv, get out of bed. You’ve got to finish the work your dad started.”

49. Jack

Suspension of disbelief is not always a bad thing. I hear Kryptonian physiology won’t actually allow you to absorb yellow solar radiation.

People love to hate this movie, and Michael Bay in general. They’re usually right, but one thing he’s good at is making things feel truly big and global, even in this film. Unfortunately, when the rest of the movie is a cruddy plot, with (albeit intentionally) hammy acting, it’s hard to hold onto that.

50. carbonUnit

@36 Fizz: If the smithereens all hit the atmosphere, then you have the Giant Toaster in the Sky. My guess is this is not as bad as a ground impact because a lot of the energy would radiate back into space instead of being delivered to the ground. If this happened over an ocean, you might boil a bunch of seawater, but that’s probably better than producing a tsunami.

If they are dispersed enough by the time earth is reached that most/a significant amount of the debris has spread beyond the diameter of the planet and miss. Kinda the difference between a close-up shotgun blast and one from far enough away that most of the pellets miss.

This discussion has given me the cartoonish image of the asteroid being split into two halves which go around the planet and collide on the far side, only to fall back to earth.

51. Daffy

And yet I’ll bet everyone here loves Star Wars.

52. Ravi

Even on earth the director has got many things wrong, for example people sitting and praying in front of Taj Mahal, first its not a shrine, no prayers like this happens at taj mahal, and movies shows people from totally different religion sitting and praying hehehe…director should visit Taj Mahal once

53. a 100 billion megaton bomb So, like, you know, maybe they should have drilled a 36″ bore? “Armageddon” was played for laughs and bathos – boys and their toys, the few sacrificing their lives for the many, a nascent woman and her widow’s walk. “The Core” was infinitely worse (and the not the tiny countable infinity, either). It took itself seriously. Pressure at the Earth’s inner core is between about 330 – 360 gigapascals, 50 million psi. Carbon (diamond, the stiffest matterial) phase diagrams top off around 120 GPa. 360 GPa is the neighborhood of implosion pressure for fission bomb pits. That would be called an “oopsie.”

54. Fizz

@37 Isaac-
Ah, then yet another reason for me to get off my butt and buy that book. Thanks!

55. Brian Davis

Brian Utterback said: “…the fact that it takes math to prove it and that in 14 years we only have two know instances of that math having been done means that it wasn’t an unreasonable bit of artistic license to take.”

Actually, the fact that you’ve only heard about the math being done twice might be because your only exposure to this is this column. I did it independently of Phil (as I’m sure some others have) only because I wanted to provide it to my students as a worked example. As for it “not being an unreasonable bit of artistic license…” quite to the contrary. It’s so glaringly, obviously, several-dozen orders of magnitude wrong most people wouldn’t ever *bother* doing the maths.

Jay also wrote: “on one hand, it’s *just* entertainment and something doesn’t have to be accurate to be fun”

True. But one should make a distinction. For instance, in the aforementioned ‘Ice Pirates’ it’s *all* fun, no one, least of all the characters, is taking reality in any way seriously. In Armageddon they seem to be trying to… from the moment they announce a newly-discovered asteroid “the size of Texas”, and anyone with a trace of knowledge of size scale in the solar system blows fizzy drinks out of their nose in laughter. And in this case, because the movie seems to pretend to be serious…
…we don’t end up laughing *with* the movie, but *at* the movie. If I want that, I pop in MST3K… keep circulating the tapes.

And Jack said: “Suspension of disbelief is not always a bad thing.”

True. But here it’s not a “suspension”. To get through Armageddon, you have to tightly gag disbelief before tar & feathering it, riding it out of town on a rail, hanging it from a tree and shooting it in the head. Twice.

56. @ 53/ Uncle Al :

Ah, but they explained how they withstood the pressure at the Earth’s core! Their vessel was made of Unobtainium, which magically gets stronger the more pressure it’s subjected to.

(It also, apparently, generates electric energy when exposed to static pressure, 2nd law of thermodynamics be damned.)

57. Harry

Being an airplane/spacecraft guy, what always drove me bonkers about Armageddon was that the space shuttle could somehow maneuver in a vacuum as if it were in atmospheric flight. A minor issue, I know, but that is the type of thing that drives me crazy.

One of the few sci-fi shows that got the superficial physics of spaceflight correct was Firefly. Even the explosions do not make sound. Wonderful!

58. Fizz

@57 Harry:
I always thought Babylon 5 did a decent job as well. Though it’s been awhile since i’ve seen it.

59. CatMom

Deep Impact was waaay better than Armagedden. And worth a hankie or two, especially near the end. A few science/astronomy glitches, but a lot of fun if you suspend disbelief, sit back and enjoy.

60. VinceRN

There is one important factor being left out here. The presence of the late ’90s version Liv Tyler hopefully immunized most men’s brains from any sort of science, bad or otherwise, getting through.

I saw this movie in theaters like many folks did, and it what one of those horrible science fiction movies that made me feel like I needed an emergency trip to the library to heal the damage done to my brain. Seems like having Liv Tyler in it was about the only thing they got right.

61. AMercer

I enjoyed the movie well enough. I might buy it if I find it in a bargain bin which is a lot more than I will say for a lot of other movies.

It is full of bad science. My favorite is the idea that spinning the Mir would create an artificial gravity. Since its balance was not equally distributed then the spin would create….issues.

I can see the scene like this: Bruce Willis: Where do we dock? Ben Affleck: On the docking port of the Mir. Bruce: Where is the Mir: Ben: Somewhere close to that expanding debris field.

62. Regarding the student papers, you can find them via Google’s cached versions of the PDF files, but it takes quite a few steps, so I’ve rehosted them at http://physics.uwyo.edu/~aschwortz/files

63. Ot

Thank you for mentioning again the bad science in movies!

I was very sad (and upset, I think) when you said you had enough with that.

64. Mark morell

Deep impact was really boring. Armageddon had a good story. Who cares if itS science was a little out.
A movie is to entertain . I thought Armageddon was a great movie. I thought deep impact was terrible
The wave at the end looked so unrealistic.

65. Well clearly the asteroid had a naquadah core, sheesh, like OBVIOUSLY…

66. amphiox

They are so cool, they MUST be useful for something!

Project Orion!

Though that was kind of lunacy, too.

67. Menyambal

As others have said, it’s the fact that the Armageddon movie mentions the stuff it is about to mess up on. If they’d just shot the space station scenes without mentioning gravity, and maybe showing a floating object (I’m thinking of 2010, where they showed everyone acting so normally that when they showed a floating pen, it was just freaky (then they goofed up the pen)), it would have been okay. But calling attention to the mistakes it was about to make … sheesh.

_The Core_? Oh, lawsy. I shut that off when they showed pigeons crashing into buildings because the magnetic field was messed up. And the bits I’ve seen since were worse. My daughter got to watch it at school—I never dared ask if it was supposed to be for the science.

68. James Evans

Despite never watching the movie, I can assure everyone who contributes here that the science of Bruce Willis saving humanity from certain disaster is inarguable. Scientists themselves recognize the superfluous nature of their own efforts the moment he arrives. Most turn off their Bunsen burners, put down their clipboards, wash out their Petri dishes, unplug their centrifuges, remove their safety goggles, and hand in their lab coats. Some consider careers in truck driving.

We may enjoy debating many issues on this site, but I’m afraid this is not one of them.

69. VinceRN

@64 James Evans – Bruce Willis is no Chuck Norris!

70. James Evans

Plainly Chuck would be peerless on Mount Olympus, VinceRN, but the fact still remains that scientists are no Bruce Willis.

71. VinceRN

Well, that is certainly true.

72. wuzzer

@DanM:

Hey Ice Pirates is one of my favorite movies, like Tank Girl, heh.

No need to check the science in those…

73. Brian Too

7. Other Paul ,

Yeah, I remember thinking that it ought to take weeks (months? years??) of outgassing to save Arnie, not the immediate peril they put him in.

@30. JeffB,

Agreed, and particularly galling because I wanted to like Sunshine. It was so terrible that major characters die and it takes you tens of minutes to even notice.

74. Chris

@65 James Evans
Chuck Norris would have just kicked the asteroid out of the way.

75. Jess Tauber

Liv Tyler and Animal Crackers- who CARES about anything else?

76. CJ

I love learning about science, astronomy and physics and read this blog almost every night after a long day working on a “gasp” offshore oil rig. It’s not just the science they got wrong, the depiction of almost every aspect of the oil rig was wrong too. Wrong on so many levels but at least my girlfriend thinks I’m off saving the world every time I fly back to work from Australia to Brazil!!!

77. RAF

slow news day, eh, Phil?

78. Macman

I guess when they the theme song “I don’t wanna miss a thang” they weren’t talking about the reality of physics.

79. Grand Lunar

I love to pick on “Armageddon” often. At least, as far as the space stuff.

I never quite got why they felt the need to spin the Mir (and why it was never mentioned by name when it was obvious it WAS the Mir station!), especially before docking the shuttles.

I do agree that “Deep Impact” had better execution, though it too had flaws. Still, it seemed a tad bit more plausible.

@74 Chris,

Chuck Norris has to kick the asteroid?

Shoot, Mark Harmon would just yell at it and make it go away!*

*(I know, in space no one can hear you scream.)

80. Daniel

I really didnt go to see that movie to ‘think’…I even knew the science was bad because it was PRETEND. Sometimes its just good to escape and have a little fun.

81. Kevin N

A couple of years ago I had a girlfriend who was pretty bright but once asked me, “Is there gravity on the space station?” “Well, there is,” I replied, “but they’re in freefall–to answer your question simply, they float. Why would you ask?” “Well,” she replied, “Because in Armageddon they walked on the ground in the space station.” So I went and watched part of the movie. Man, how terrible. I don’t know why they wanted to have the Mir scenes be in non-freefall. I guess because it was easier to film or because it was easier to have fistfights. But the whole spinning thing didn’t make sense. If you’re going to dock with a spinning station, you dock at the hub, not the terminus. And the way they spun it, you’d only be able to stand on the very ends, but they were walking down the long axis and had “gravity” even at the hub. The only movie I’ve ever seen get zero-g mostly correct is 2001, and that was made over 40 years ago. Plus, didn’t Armageddon have that terrible Aerosmith song in it? I wanted to hurl.

82. @58. Fizz : I always thought Babylon 5 did a decent job as well. Though it’s been awhile since i’ve seen it.

Agreed and seconded by me.

Thought Babylon-5, Firefly and Jeremiah – another J. Michael Straczynski series this time post-apocalpyse sub-genre (wiki-linked to my name here.) – all worked pretty well(~ish & relatively, still had their flaws natch) science~wise and count as among my fave SF TV shows.

Seen The Core, Deep Impact and Armageddon and whilst the first two had their moments of fun and pathos neither struck me as having even tried to get the science right unlike Deep Impact which, well at least sort of tried and was best of those three. The Core had an entertaining silliness to it and was always going for Z-grade fun not actual science I thought but Armageddon really fell flat in my view as a movie.

@51. Daffy : “And yet I’ll bet everyone here loves Star Wars.”

Yes but that’s fantasy not SF!

@55. Brian Davis :

And Jack said: “Suspension of disbelief is not always a bad thing.”
True. But here it’s not a “suspension”. To get through Armageddon, you have to tightly gag disbelief before tar & feathering it, riding it out of town on a rail, hanging it from a tree and shooting it in the head. Twice.”

LOL. Very well put.

PS. In other news, the Dawn spaceprobe has now left Vesta and is headed for the world Ceres.

83. Mick

This post could have only been better if you finished after that last pun with “Armageddon outta here”.

A line like that would have made a big splash.

84. Thomas Siefert

The success of the Transformer franchise is the best thing that could happen to the world of science fiction and action films. It keeps Michael Bay occupied so other film makers can have a stab at those genres.

All films starring Bruce Willis can be argued to be just another entry in the Die Hard franchise with increasingly more people to save.
In the first Die Hard Bruce had to save some people in a building. In the second one he had to save some people in an airport and some air-planes. The third one saw him saving people in a city and in number four, he had to save a whole country.

In other words, the real title for Armageddon is: Die Hard 5, Armageddon.

85. Bob_In_Wales

My favourite movie for Bad Science was a time travel movie in which they found every possible time travel paradox and made sure they got it in. Sadly it seems only ever to have been broadcast once, on BBC2, at about 1:00am in 1982. I recommend it if you can get your hands on a copy. It is called “Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem” which translates as “Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea”. To understand it fully though I think you need to be old enough to remember pre 1989, the cold war, communism, the east block, etc.

86. Georg

Much worser
than the bad science is the false Hollywood-Heroism.
Irony is, that even the heroic ignition is a stolen story.

87. @86 George

The horrible, disgusting movie U-571 comes to mind.
In this movie REAL history was totally raped.
Americans are made to look as if they captured an enigma machine. In reality the U-571 was sunk by a Sunderland Flying Boat of the coast of Ireland.
The real capture of an enigma machine was done by british sailors who boarded the U-570. Which was driven to the surface after depthcharges disabled it. The german crew went to the boat with everyting they had to destroy as much as possible. Opening the seacocks and then leaving the boat. British sailors quickly boarded her and closed the seacocks. Thus safegaurding the enigma machine.

If you see a copy of this film: burn it!

88. Macman

Both deep impact and Armageddon made me wonder more about what would happen if the asteroid hit. For instance would a family of five be able to survive for two years or whatever in a glasshouse with hydro electricity to supply light and oxygen via fracturing water molecules.

89. Howard

C’mon people, Armageddon was a movie made to entertain the masses. Not a high school educational science film. I go to the movies to escape reality, not to study it. What next – criticizing the Millennium Falcon for entering a planet’s atmosphere without a heat shield? Complaining that a Tardis couldn’t possibly be bigger on the inside than the outside? Let it go people. Put down your inhalers, get out of your parent’s basement, and into the yellow sunlight. Go play some mini-golf. Plenty of physics there. BTW, my favorite scene in Armageddon has nothing to do with science. It’s where the little kid is watching TV and yells out that that salesman is on TV. His mom enters the room, drops the phone and tells the kid that’s no salesman, that’s your daddy. That scene, and the one where they give their “demands”.

90. Grand Lunar

@88,Macman,

That sounds like a good idea for a movie, actually.

Someone should make it!

91. Dr.Sid

If Bruce Willis fails, we still have Chuck Norris.

92. Thomas Siefert

@Howard,

Star Wars, Doctor Who and other fantasy or science fiction quite often features advanced technology, so far removed from our normal lives that you don’t have to worry about logic.

Armageddon takes place in our world and time with no fantasy element implied, so seeing basic mistakes really grates. The mistakes are just plain silly, if you saw a normal action film with someone getting thrown through a window in a tall building and the person and shattered glass fell up, rather than down, you would probably object too.
What is really annoying is that many of the errors could have been corrected without affecting the story.

93. amphiox

C’mon people, Armageddon was a movie made to entertain the masses. Not a high school educational science film. I go to the movies to escape reality, not to study it.

Problem was, it didn’t do a very good job of that, and would have done a better job of it if it had at least slightly more accurate science.

Suspension of disbelief is enhanced when effort is made to get details concerning reality right, or at least, if you’re going to intentionally deviate for entertainment’s sake, self-consistent.

That’s the main problem with that film and some others like it. It’s not like they went “we know this isn’t right but we’re going to exaggerate it anyways for better entertainment effect” – when you do that, and do it properly, you construct a internally-consistent deviation from reality that can still pass as real within the framework of the imaginary universe in which you set your plot. But in Armageddon, it’s more like they went “let’s exaggerate for coolness” without even bothering to figure out how and in what way they have exaggerated, without even knowing what the real science actually says, and that creates a disjointedness in their various serial exaggerations when the viewer lines them up against one another, and that breaks the suspension of disbelief, and detracts from the entertainment.

94. amphiox

In other words, the real title for Armageddon is: Die Hard 5, Armageddon.

So, in Die Hard 6, Bruce Willis will have to save the entire Universe? (He’ll have to come back, Starchild style, after the end of Armageddon, of course).

I suppose a man capable of increasing the yield of a nuclear weapon by 100 billion fold simply by allowing his own body to be detonated with the warhead might just have the necessary chops of that.

95. amphiox

Thought Babylon-5, Firefly and Jeremiah – another J. Michael Straczynski series this time post-apocalpyse sub-genre (wiki-linked to my name here.) – all worked pretty well(~ish & relatively, still had their flaws natch) science~wise and count as among my fave SF TV shows.

You could tell B5 tried very hard to be internally consistent, so that even where they deviate from reality, it all hangs together in a sensible fashion.

One of the most notable places where they did not succeed is in scale, both in sizes and numbers. (JMS suffered from “Scifi writers have no sense of scale”). The Centauri Republic controlling 12 (!) colony planets, while negotiating with the Shadows for possession of half the Milky Way? The earliest sentient lifeforms in the universe being “millions” of years old? 80 odd light years being the distance to the “galactic rim”?

96. James Evans

@ Daniel, Howard, et al:

Thomas Siefert pretty much nailed the problem with ye ole “I just shut my brain off and smile vacantly for two hours” argument. I would like to add one thing, however. If there were an abundance of well-made sci-fi films, and thoughtful theater-goers had options, you wouldn’t hear so much complaining. Unfortunately, the genre is damn near barren, and 9 times out of 10 movies that get the science fiction label don’t deserve it. As fans of sci-fi, we are faced with the grim reality that, despite impressive filmmaking advances in the past few decades, we have to look back nearly 50 years for the pinnacle of our own cinematic interests: 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Sorry if I sound a bit cranky, but this is an aggravating dilemma that just shutting off your brain every freakin’ time you go to the theater can’t remedy satisfactorily.

97. Thomas Siefert

So, in Die Hard 6, Bruce Willis will have to save the entire Universe? (He’ll have to come back, Starchild style, after the end of Armageddon, of course).

Coming back will not be a problem. In the prequel Die Hard -1, The Sixth Sense, we learned that he is already dead….
And in Die Hard 6, The Fifth Element, he saves the universe.

98. Howard

You guys realize that you only strengthen my argument by trying to defend the need to criticize the movie. Seriously, go outside and hit the little ball with a stick. Calculate proper force, angles, carpet drag, wind resistance, momentum, etc. You get it all right the ball goes in the clown’s nose and you win a free game! And I’m not talking the Killer Klowns from Outer Space, another fine cinematic presentation begging to be dissected here.

99. James Evans

Good point, Howard! I hadn’t thought of it that way. If you have to come up with another movie on par (miniature golf pun intended) with Armageddon, Killer Klowns from Outer Space does indeed come to mind.

But maybe you should stop criticizing the film so harshly, and go get some fresh air instead .

100. The Straight Dope has a fun article on asteroids:

“Does asteroid mining threaten the earth?

Dear Cecil:

Space companies looking to mine asteroids are thinking of bringing them into orbit for easier access. Wouldn’t several of these asteroids eventually pull on the planet so much they would change the orbit of the earth or the moon? Is there a certain weight we need to reach before it’s a problem?”

101. All of you are dead wrong. The best thing about Armageddon is Liv Tyler. End of discussion.

102. shunt1

Common error in thinking of a nuclear weapon as a bomb.

Think of them as “rocket engines” that can provide the thrust to move the asteroid.

Do you know of any other chemical fuel that has a higher thrust to mass ratio (specific impulse) than a nuclear weapon?

Please research the Orion nuclear powered rocket concept from the 1960′s:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

If you understand orbital dynamics, then you would realize how little power would be required to alter an asteroids orbit around the Sun. Nuclear thrust applied to that asteroid would be the perfect method of preventing it’s impact upon the Earth.

Nope, using a nuclear weapon to “blow it up” would be extremely stupid and could never work. However, giving it a little “nudge” at the proper place in it’s orbit, would make all the difference.

103. KaoS

About DieHard 6: Wouldn’t it have to be about saving the galaxy to fit with the progression you’ve outlined? The whole universe seems like a big step. And what would be next? Some horribly ill-conceived notion of a multiverse?

About Chuck Norris: OMG! Seriously? Though he’s supposedly been trained by him, he’s no Bruce Lee. He’s more like one of the worst actors, ever! Walker, Texas Ranger! LMAO

104. shunt1

Sorry Phil, but you and I are of the same age. I kinda expected you to fully understand basic orbital dynamics and old concepts like the Orion nuclear rocket project.

Trying to use nuclear weapons to launch a high-mass object from the Earth into space would have been insane. Instead, learn from their original research and you may discover something very important.

Using the exact same technology with the asteroid as the “pusher plate” has always been the correct answer.

105. shunt1

Personally, I am rather ashamed that I had to tell Phil about this. I expected much more from a Ph.D. in astronomy that grew up in the space age.

106. 104. shunt1

I don’t see a problem with Phil’s math:

The Big Plan is to split the asteroid in half far enough away from the Earth that the separating halves will both miss. This must be accomplished four hours before impact.

Good:
Imagine the asteroid four hours before impact. Each half must move away fast enough to cover 6400 kilometers (the Earth’s radius) to miss the Earth. Anything less than this means an impact. In turn, this means each half must be accelerated to a speed of 6400 km/ 4 hours=1600 kilometers an hour. That’s about 1000 miles per hour, or about twice as fast as a passenger jet. But wait! This asteroid is 1000 kilometers across! It is extremely massive, and something with that much mass would take an enormous amount of energy to get moving that fast; about a hundred billion megatons, or very roughly the same amount of energy the Sun produces every second. Needless to say, one bomb ain’t gonna do it. A billion or so might though. I don’t think even Bruce Willis is up to that task.”

Care to elaborate where you think he’s made a mistake?

107. shunt1

Four hours after I provided a link to the Orion nuclear rocket program, it is still in “moderation.”

I never expected you to understand, since that would require knowledge about orbital dynamics, which is not taught in colleges now days.

Do a little research on your own for a change.

Think about how an Hohmann transfer orbit could be applied in an effort to cause an asteroid to miss a collision with the Earth. Hohmann transfer orbits are also know as the “minimum energy possible” required to transfer between two objects in space.

In orbital mechanics, the Hohmann transfer orbit is an elliptical orbit used to transfer between two circular orbits of different altitudes, in the same plane.

The orbital maneuver to perform the Hohmann transfer uses two engine impulses, one to move a spacecraft onto the transfer orbit and a second to move off it. This maneuver was named after Walter Hohmann, the German scientist who published a description of it in his 1925 book Die Erreichbarkeit der Himmelskörper (The Accessibility of Celestial Bodies).

108. shunt1

Comets are a totally different matter!

Most new comets are usually not detected until they are within the orbit of Jupiter. The only way possible to match that type of orbit, would require a gravity assist from the planet Jupiter. By the time we detected this new comet, it would already be too late.

However, for most asteroids with elliptical orbits that may intersect Earth, we can do something about them.

109. shunt1

For those that are rather slow and never learned about orbital mechanics…

Using the theory of an Hohmann transfer orbit, how much energy would be required to alter an asteroid’s orbit around the Sun to miss the Earth?

110. For Bad Geology instead of Bad Astronomy, I highly recomment 10.5 and its sequel, 10.5: Apocalypse. They try to seal a fault line with a series of nuclear weapons, because I guess the bad science answer to anything is ‘try to nuke it’. A magical fault line neatly carves a chunk out of California and turns it in to an island, and I have to admit, seeing Hollywood fall into the sea was pretty satisfying. And in the sequel, another magical fault line manages to split North America in half, from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico (and, in a beautiful continuity mess-up, the first film ends with a shot of the States with that chunk of California removed – the sequel has the same shot with it split in half from the magical fault line, but totally neglects to take that chunk out of California again, despite the incident being referred to multiple times in the film).

And the first scene has the Space Needle falling on a totally intact unreinforced brick building. COME ON! It can withstand quakes up to 9.1, how is it going to collapse in a 7.something when an UNREINFORCED BRICK BUILDING stays standing?

The film was so bad that Earthquake Country site had to put out a statement going, “Dude, NO.” It’s linked from my name.

112. DigitalAxis

Shunt1, you come across as if you’re blaming Phil Plait for the bad decisions the FILMMAKERS made. He was just demonstrating the absurdly dangerous flaw in ONE PART of the overall absurdity.

I mean, if this was for real, we wouldn’t launch two manned space shuttles (well, ok) to land on an asteroid (sufficiently intact to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, despite a runway of jagged rocks?) that, assuming reasonable interplanetary velocities, would still be farther away than the moon (I doubt the space shuttle was even theoretically capable of breaking Earth orbit. What kind of fuel do they have?) and then try to crack it in half (seriously? It’d just push the asteroid slightly, as you said) with sufficient force that both halves would miss the earth (what Phil calculated and found to be dangerously large) using a tiny nuke (ibid).

We’d probably use those small Project Orion style nudges starting years in advance (how DO you hide a Texas-sized asteroid until it’s on top of us? We could see such objects in the 1800s) with unmanned space probes*, but that’s not the filmmaker’s scenario at ALL.

*Knowing scientist humor, the first such probe will probably be unofficially christened “Bruce Willis”…

113. @107. shunt1

4 hours?

duh

Don´t you know you should have bought his book.
With that comes an instant link-approval voucher.

114. Fizz

Why is shunt1 ripping Phil and others for something off-topic? Does he not understand the thread?
Phil is talking about the absurdity of the movie Armageddon. He uses the math to show the absurdity of it. No one has refuted said math, btw.
This thread is NOT about the realistic solution. Phil discusses the realistic solution in other places (books, tv, other threads). And btw, he agrees that nudging to a different orbit would be the solution (either by impact, gravity tug, etc).
So does shunt1 not understand the context, or what?

115. Jonathan Ray

What if “the size of texas” was just a figure of speech? Most of the analysis is premised on the assumption that “the size of texas” was literal, so the mass you calculate is around 1/10 the mass of the moon, which obviously would have made it easily visible with the naked eye LONG before it got closer than the radius of the moon’s orbit. But in the movie, they apparently don’t see it until after it’s close enough to be briefly obscured by the moon. This suggests “the size of texas” is not literal. It was probably around 1600 feet across if they decided to drill 800 feet deep.

Also, if the astroid was not on a radial course coming straight down perpendicular to the earth’s surface, then it didn’t have to separate as far as earth’s diameter. 5% of earth’s diameter would have been sufficient if it was going to come in at a pretty high angle of incidence. Even the small fragments, which would have experienced a lot of atmospheric drag that would decrease their angle of incidence, were coming in at a pretty high angle of incidence, which indicates that the main asteroid was probably also coming in at a very high angle of incidence.

If you combine these two modified premises, the math works out fine:

(4/3)*pi*(800ft)^3 * 3 g/cm^3 = 1.82190074 * 10^11 kilograms
320km / 4 hours = 22 m/s
0.5*m*v^2 = 4.40899979 * 10^13 joules = 10 kilotons TNT equivalent

116. If shove comes to push. Call in the Dutch.
We simply put a dike around it.

117. Bad science or not, I love this movie.

118. Chris Winter

Amphiox wrote (#94): “I suppose a man capable of increasing the yield of a nuclear weapon by 100 billion fold simply by allowing his own body to be detonated with the warhead might just have the necessary chops [for] that.”

He might have been another character cut loose in time by the Empress Isher’s battle with the Weapon Shops. (See A. E. van Vogt’s The Weapon Shops of Isher.) Thus, his body was so saturated with time-displacement energy that the energy, if released all at once, could rearrange an entire solar system. <G>

BTW: I like your explanation in #93. Well said.

119. Chris Winter

And while I’m on the subject of A. E. van Vogt, some of his tales featured a character named Nat Cemp, aka the Space Silkie. In one tale, Nat Cemp was faced with a very powerful enemy. He solved the problem by merging with the world-tree Yggdrasil, destroying the universe, and recreating it with the enemy edited out. I kid you not.

Don’t get me wrong: I like some of van Vogt’s work (Weapon Shops being one example.) But in other cases his situations are… unlikely.

120. Shunt1:
Are you just going out of your way to find any opportunity to argue with Dr. Plait yet again, or are you really so stupid as to not understand the purpose of this article???
Dr. Plait’s narrative has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual physics of diverting an asteroid – in which he is very well versed, as you would know if you read his book. It’s all about the imaginary, and staggeringly, cretinously wrong non-physics used in a certain moronic film, and the ridiculing thereof!!!!!! Are you somehow blaming Phil for the stupidity of a scientifically-illiterate Hollywood scriptwriter?
You are simply making yourself look a complete prat. Again.

121. I’ve never seen Armageddon, but I know the gist of the scenario – which is precisely why I never bothered to see it!
What baffles me about it is that the writers began with a concept – that of an asteroid on a collision course with Earth – which is completely, 100% feasible, and then bent over backwards to turn it into something so staggeringly, cretinously infeasible!!!!
First, a main belt asteroid “the size of Texas”, which we haven’t already discovered. As someone has already said, we were discovering such objects in the 19th Century. DUH!!!!
Second, said asteroid is “knocked out of its orbit” by a collision with a comet!!! Now let’s see; an average comet is roughly 1/100 the diameter of this imaginary asteroid, and therefore has about a millionth of its mass. So the effect of such a collision on the asteroid’s orbit would be miniscule; it would be akin, in the words of Sir Patrick Moore, to “trying to stop a charging rhino by throwing a baked bean at it”! DUH again!!!
Finally, why did they need to invent an asteroid “the size of Texas”, when one 10 km across – thousands of which, both known and unknown, do exist – would do a perfectly adequate job of wiping out human civilisation and most of the life on the planet??? Head, meet wall.

122. Chris Winter

Let me add a second endorsement for Meteor (1979.) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079550/

That’s the one with Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, and Henry Fonda among other major stars of the period. The roster of stars is one indicator of a quality script.

The movie is not problem-free. But one of its best features is the negotiation between Russia and the U.S. to get an effective anti-meteor mission going. And that scene of escape through the subway tunnel had great and gritty realism.

123. Chris Winter

Naomi wrote: “For Bad Geology instead of Bad Astronomy, I highly recommend 10.5 and its sequel, 10.5: Apocalypse.”

I nominate Crack in the World (1965) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059065/

To tap the geothermal energy of Earth’s core, a scientist uses a hydrogen bomb to bring magma closer to the surface. Unintended consequences result: The crust cracks, and in a crashing cataclysmic climax a chunk of the planet breaks away to become a second moon. And people survive to witness this.

The film is one more example to show that a star-studded cast is no guarantee of high scientific verisimilitude.

124. 115. Jonathan Ray.
Nifty reasoning, while I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the “as big as Texas” line being literal, after all, Texas is 2D, while an asteroid is 3D, (maybe its surface area is the same as Texas?) but I seriously doubt an asteroid only 500m in diameter would be the planet killer claimed in the film.

125. Fizz

@ 115 Andrew W
Let’s see, the Tunguska meteor is estimated to have been on the order of 100m in diameter, and an estimate blast equivalent of ~15 megatons tnt.
So a rock of 500m across would have 125 time more mass ( factor of 5 cubed, assuming equal density ), and hence 125 times more energy ( assuming equal impact speed ).
So that would be the equivalent of 1.8+ gigatons (that’s giga-) of tnt.
So planet killer? Certainly a very bad day at least. Heh.

126. Likely fatalities in the millions, not so likely in the 10s of millions, definitely not a global “Armageddon”
http://users.tpg.com.au/users/tps-seti/sta1047.htm

Heh, from Wiki “NASA shows the film as part of its management training program. Prospective managers are asked to find as many inaccuracies in the movie as they can. At least 168 impossible things have been found during these screenings of the film.”

127. Daffy

So, if I understand most you all correctly, when the science is completely off the charts bad—as in Star Wars—it becomes OK again. So, in an odd way, you are complimenting the science in Armageddon as not being bad enough to ignore.

Sorry. Don’t follow the logic. If we are concerned about bad science in movies, that should apply to all movies. Making excuses for personal faves seems—hypocritical. Maybe a better approach—if we are not going to be consistent about bad science anyway—would be to praise movies that do have good science.

Btw, I didn’t like Armageddon mostly because editing was so bad it gave me an actual headache. Horrible film making.

128. Thomas Siefert

@Daffy,

You got something there but not quite.
Most science fiction films establish some rules, they may be outlandish but necessary, such as faster than light spaceships. You don’t really want to see Luke Skywalker leave Tatooine on a slower than light spaceship and then see one of his ancestors, twenty generations removed, arrive at the destroyed Alderaan.

If the film maker follows his own established rules, you can enjoy the adventure within his little world.

Armageddon is supposed to take place in our universe following our normal everyday rules.
So when they tell us that they will spin up a spacestation for gravity, as you could do, and then progress to show people walking on what would have been the walls, we spit the dummy.

As you, I dislike Armageddon for many other things, the main one being the film style of Michael Bay. Aside the editing, there’s the constant shots of people posing in ridiculous music video style blocking.

But even in films we love, there loads to loathe.
How did the creatures in the Alien films grow so big so fast?

How did the pilot survive the smashed windscreen during re-entry in Pitch Black?

How did Khan know about Klingon proverbs when he was frozen in the 1990′s and then exiled on a primitive planet?

Why didn’t human time travelers in the Terminator films just hide future weapons inside big slabs of meat and send them back that way?

In The Hidden, how come the alien weapon could vaporize a hole through a wall, yet is unable to harm a human body?

129. Messier Tidy Upper

@124. Daffy :

So, if I understand most you all correctly, when the science is completely off the charts bad—as in Star Wars—it becomes OK again.

Not quite. Its more a thing of genre where something like Star Wars is a fantasy that isn’t supposed to have any connection to our reality – like a fairytale hence the “A Long time ago in a Galaxy far away” intro line.

If something is clearly not intended to be be taken as serious – that is created as a modern mythology – then its in another class to something pretty much aiming to be a semi-plausible extrapolation of what could happen in the future. (Eg. Armageddon, Deep Impact, the Core.)

I’ll also note that if something is intended to be a low budget B-grade movie played tongue in cheek like The Core I’m (quite possibly) going to give it a bit more leeway than a major blockbuster with a big budget that can afford fact-checkers and is intended to be a more “realistic” premise. So expectations and context and the directors aims versus what we’ve ended up with is all playing its part here.

Mind you, even in a mythological fantasy if they do use scientific terms (eg. parsec) as opposed to pure magic (eg. Hyperdrive, Force) and get it wrong then I do get a bit narked.

Artistic and poetic and comic license is one thing, getting something badly wrong that could easily have been gotten right is, well, sloppy work and not showing much respect for your audience.

130. Nigel Depledge

Sheldon C (29) said:

Though I gotta admit, when Steve Buscemi sat on the nuke I laughed out loud.

Very much a Dr Strangelove moment. But Dr Strangelove did it better.

131. Nigel Depledge

Joe Arrigo (47) said:

Quality science fiction is hard to come by.

Not in book form, it’s not.

132. Nigel Depledge

Daffy (51) said:

And yet I’ll bet everyone here loves Star Wars.

But Star Wars doesn’t even pretend to use technology that exists now. Star Wars isn’t sci-fi : it’s swords-’n'-sorcery fantasy. Even the spaceships work by magic.

133. Nigel Depledge

Harry (57) said:

. . . what always drove me bonkers about Armageddon was that the space shuttle could somehow maneuver in a vacuum as if it were in atmospheric flight. A minor issue, I know, but that is the type of thing that drives me crazy.

Yeah, me, too.

Plus, wasn’t the asteroid much further from the Earth than Shuttle could ever reach when they got there?

134. Nigel Depledge

Kevin N (81) said:

The only movie I’ve ever seen get zero-g mostly correct is 2001, and that was made over 40 years ago.

You need to watch Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.

The zero-g scenes were shot in a “vomit comet” plane on a parabolic trajectory. If you watch carefully, you’ll notice that no zero-g shot is longer than about 30 seconds.

135. Nigel Depledge

Howard (89) said:

C’mon people, Armageddon was a movie made to entertain the masses. Not a high school educational science film. I go to the movies to escape reality, not to study it. What next – criticizing the Millennium Falcon for entering a planet’s atmosphere without a heat shield? Complaining that a Tardis couldn’t possibly be bigger on the inside than the outside? Let it go people. . . .

Which translates as “I don’t understand reality and I don’t want to understand reality”.

Some films, such as the Star Wars trilogy, are pure unadulterated fantasy. There is no science in Star Wars at all. So, as long as what happnes is consistent with the film’s internal rules, then anything goes.

Other films, such as Armageddon, attempt to portray existing (or theoretically-possible) technology without any regard for how it actually behaves. Even WALL-E portrayed the basic behaviour of the universe more accurately than Armageddon.

136. Nigel Depledge

Howard (98) said:

You guys realize that you only strengthen my argument by trying to defend the need to criticize the movie.

Er, no.

Your case is weak to start with, when you try to defend a movie that makes no attempt whatever to tell its story with any semblance of verisimilitude. Why should we care that Bruce Willis dies, when, to the extent that the rules of his universe match ours, he could very well come back to life for no reason at all?

As has been pointed out, suspension of disbelief is one thing, but why should the film-makers, through sheer laziness, make it necessary for me (or anyone else) to have to work so hard to ignore the blatant failure of technologies in the film to correlate with the real behaviour of those same technologies in real life?

137. Nigel Depledge

Shunt1 (107) said:

Four hours after I provided a link to the Orion nuclear rocket program, it is still in “moderation.”

Yes, a link you posted on a Saturday afternoon. What of it?

Or do you reject the notion that Phil might actually have a life?

I never expected you to understand, since that would require knowledge about orbital dynamics, which is not taught in colleges now days.

I suspect that Phil understand more about orbital mechanics than you give him credit for. Maybe there’s a different reason he hasn’t replied to your posts . . . ?

Do a little research on your own for a change.

WTF???

Think about how an Hohmann transfer orbit could be applied in an effort to cause an asteroid to miss a collision with the Earth. Hohmann transfer orbits are also know as the “minimum energy possible” required to transfer between two objects in space.

In orbital mechanics, the Hohmann transfer orbit is an elliptical orbit used to transfer between two circular orbits of different altitudes, in the same plane.

The orbital maneuver to perform the Hohmann transfer uses two engine impulses, one to move a spacecraft onto the transfer orbit and a second to move off it. This maneuver was named after Walter Hohmann, the German scientist who published a description of it in his 1925 book Die Erreichbarkeit der Himmelskörper (The Accessibility of Celestial Bodies).

All of which is very enlightening, but completely irrelevant, because this ain’t what they do in the movie.

138. Nigel Depledge

Daffy (127) said:

So, if I understand most you all correctly, when the science is completely off the charts bad—as in Star Wars—it becomes OK again. So, in an odd way, you are complimenting the science in Armageddon as not being bad enough to ignore.

No.

Star Wars is fantasy. The setting is not Earth, and the technology is wholly unearthly. Because they never try to explain how stuff works, you don’t notice how impossible it all is.

Whereas, for a movie such as Armageddon, that uses known technology (telescopes, Shuttle, nukes), but that fails to reproduce on screen how any of them would actually work, merely emphasises how badly they have done.

Sorry. Don’t follow the logic. If we are concerned about bad science in movies, that should apply to all movies.

Yup.

And no. If a movie makes a big deal of an aspect of science in order to add some verisimilitude (such as when they spin the space station in order to simulate gravity), when they get it wrong (most especially when they get it as egregiously wrong as is the case in Armageddon) it draws attention to the failure of the script-writers / editors / producers to do their homework. The attempt to add verisimilitude backfires, making the moment jar on the sensibilities.

Making excuses for personal faves seems—hypocritical.

No-one’s making excuses for anything, but there are different circumstances, as I outline above.

Maybe a better approach—if we are not going to be consistent about bad science anyway—would be to praise movies that do have good science.

Right, I’ll start a list:

Apollo 13

. . .

. . .

. . .

Erm . . . any suggestions?

139. Nigel Depledge

Thomas Siefert (128) said:

You don’t really want to see Luke Skywalker leave Tatooine on a slower than light spaceship and then see one of his ancestors, twenty generations removed, arrive at the destroyed Alderaan.

No, indeed, for ‘twould be even more impossible than FTL travel.

Perhaps you meant to refer to one of his descendents, yes?

140. Nigel Depledge

MTU (129) said:

Mind you, even in a mythological fantasy if they do use scientific terms (eg. parsec) as opposed to pure magic (eg. Hyperdrive, Force) and get it wrong then I do get a bit narked.

Yes, me too.

And it all went wrong when they tried to mumbo-jumbo the force into existence with “midichlorians”. It worked better when it was just magic.

141. Daffy

Still not buying it, I am afraid.

Let me ask: what is the concern about bad science in movies? I assume it is because the public will be misinformed. Well, if they are capable of being that misinformed, how will they know the difference between fantasy and science?

Star Wars very specifically—in the first one second of the movie—implies that it is indeed THIS universe. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” has no suggestion of a parallel universe where the laws of physics are repealed. Or are you all suggesting that physics differ from galaxy to galaxy?

As I say, it comes down to exactly WHY you feel it is important to point out bad science in movies.

142. Daffy

Another thought—if the purpose of pointing out bad science in movies is simply a sort of “Spot the Error” on-line game for merely the fun of it, then I withdraw my objection.

143. amphiox

Finally, why did they need to invent an asteroid “the size of Texas”, when one 10 km across – thousands of which, both known and unknown, do exist – would do a perfectly adequate job of wiping out human civilisation and most of the life on the planet??? Head, meet wall.

The answer to this question is not too hard to guess about. Deep Impact featured a comet about 10km across, and was scheduled to come out first. So Armageddon’s producers obviously wanted to one-up the competition.

Bigger boom! Bigger boom! Bigger boom!

144. amphiox

Another thought—if the purpose of pointing out bad science in movies is simply a sort of “Spot the Error” on-line game for merely the fun of it, then I withdraw my objection.

Well, that is PART of it.

145. Fizz

I think it’s a matter of what the movie (or tv show, etc) is trying to be. It depends on the parameters that have been set for it.

Star Wars doesn’t pretend to be serious. It’s a fantastical form of sci-fi. And that’s fine, i’ve no problem with that.

I also like hard-core sci-fi, which does it’s best to treat the known laws of science with respect (with the occasional unknown fantastical element). A good example is 2001 or 2010. The laws of physics as we know them are treated properly (with a bit of the unknown, but that’s the story).

But a movie that is trying to pass itself off as serious science, and then blatently gets stuff wrong, that bothers me.

Another example: Vampires don’t really exist, but i have no problem with Buffy the Vampire Slayer because it’s silly- it doesn’t take itself seriously, and everyone knows it’s about entertainment. But a show like Ghosthunters, or Long Island Medium, that try to pass themselves off as real… grrrr!

146. Thomas Siefert

I think we are getting to the core of it now.
The annoyance lies in that people, without much knowledge of science, believes that films like Armageddon depicts reality as true as possible. Nobody thinks that way about Star Wars.

@Nigel Depledge,
Yes, I meant “descendents”. I wrote that part differently, changed my mind and didn’t do any proof reading.
Darn tablets doesn’t leave much room for text with the on-screen keyboard. I wish someone had waved their hand at me and said: “This is not the android you’re looking for”

147. Still, Armageddon has points on the scene in one of the Left Behind books where a comet described as the size of the Appalachians hits the Atlantic. If you ever have a spare moment, Phil….

Left behind, book 4;

Buck tiptoed downstairs and flipped on the television, finding an all-news station.
As soon as he saw what was going on, he woke up everyone in the house except
Hattie. He told Chloe, Tsion, and Ken, “It’s almost noon in New Babylon, and I’ve
just heard from Rayford. Follow me.”
Newscasters told the story of what astronomers had discovered just two hours
before—a brand-new comet on a collision course with Earth. Global Community
scientists analyzed data transmitted from hastily launched probes that circled the
object. They said meteor was the wrong term for the hurtling rock formation, which
was the consistency of chalk or perhaps sandstone.
Pictures from the probes showed an irregularly shaped projectile, light in color. The
anchorman reported, “Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to put this in perspective.
This object is about to enter Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists have not determined its
makeup, but if—as it appears—it is less dense than granite, the friction resulting
from entry will make it burst into flames.
“Once subject to Earth’s gravitational pull, it will accelerate at thirty-two feet per
second squared. As you can see from these pictures, it is immense. But until you
realize its size, you cannot fathom the potential destruction on the way. GC
astronomers estimate it at no less than the mass of the entire Appalachian Mountain
range. It has the potential to split the earth or to knock it from its orbit.
“The Global Community Aeronautics and Space Administration projects the
collision at approximately 9:00 A.M. Central Standard Time. They anticipate the
best possible scenario, that it will take place in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Tidal waves are expected to engulf coasts on both sides of the Atlantic for up to
fifty miles inland. Coastal areas are being evacuated as we speak. Crews of
oceangoing vessels are being plucked from their ships by helicopters, though it is
unknown how many can be moved to safety in time. Experts agree the impact on
marine life will be inestimable.”

Actually, it turns out to be mainly sulphur.
I’ve tried googling “weight of the appalachians” but nothing relevant comes up. Wild stabs at calculation come up with something about 400 million million tonnes.

148. Nigel Depledge

DFaffy (141) said:

Let me ask: what is the concern about bad science in movies? I assume it is because the public will be misinformed. Well, if they are capable of being that misinformed, how will they know the difference between fantasy and science?

Well, ultimately, we can never know.

However, it seems reasonable to assume that most people don’t buy the magic in Star Wars as being literally true, whether it’s The Force, or whether it’s magical technology (blasters, hyperdrive, shields and so on). Such technology does not exist on Earth now and whether or not it ever will is largely irrelevant to most people.

Star Wars very specifically—in the first one second of the movie—implies that it is indeed THIS universe. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” has no suggestion of a parallel universe where the laws of physics are repealed. Or are you all suggesting that physics differ from galaxy to galaxy?

No, and the issues are only partly to do with fundamental physics. Obviously, since Star Wars was the film that reintroduced the “space ships make a noise as they pass you by”, it falls far short of getting basic physics right.

As I say, it comes down to exactly WHY you feel it is important to point out bad science in movies.

The biggest issue with Armageddon, IMO, is that it uses technology that exists here and now and gets it all wrong. So, people who see that movie but don’t know any better will think, “oh, so that’s how Shuttle looks when it’s flying in space”, or “oh, we can simply nuke an asteroid and it fixes the problem”, when in fact these things are just wrong.

Why does it matter at all?

Because many people, while accepting that the story is fiction, assume that the milieu within which the story is set is real, unless it explicitly states that it is not, or unless it is wholly obvious that it is not. And thus the movie theatre is a powerful tool for both education and mis-education. IMO, it is more powerful than any school or university.

And these mis-educated people have the power to vote. And they outnumber us.

149. Nigel Depledge

Thomas Siefert (146) said:

I wish someone had waved their hand at me and said: “This is not the android you’re looking for”

This is not the ‘droid you are looking for.

150. amphiox

The opening lines of Star Wars are a direct parallel to the common opening “Long, long ago, in a kingdom far, far away” for fairy tales and epic fantasies.

It is establishing right from the beginning that it is a work of fantasy, and takes place in a land of myth and legend, not the real world.

151. Mike

Actually, Bruce Willis was FORCED to be in Armageddon. He walked off a movie Disney was producing years before, and the only reason he didn’t get sued for the value of a Mars mission was because he agreed to be in whatever they came up with next.

So don’t blame Bruce for anything other than his dubious taste in employers. Blame Disney.

(forgive me for having some sympathy for a decent actor, and none for a film studio with no sense of humour)

152. Nigel Depledge

@ Mike (151) -
Decent actor . . . ?

Well, maybe. I liked him in Moonlighting. And in Twelve Monkeys, come to think of it.

153. KaoS

hmm… wiki doesn’t seem to mention Payback…

154. KaoS

Back to the subject. Willis is not a “serious science” kind of actor, duh! If it wasn’t for his “pull this crap together by distracting the audience” skills, most of his films would be complete crap altogether.

155. BA Fan

@79. Grand Lunar….

Better yet, just broadcast Norris spewing his political/social spewage towards the asteroid. The asteroid will receive that, and say “Oh hell NO – I am NOT getting close to that wackjob!”

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