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5 things Hollywood always gets hilariously wrong about outer space

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Brace yourself for another out-of-this wold cinematic experience when Ad Astra arrives in Cineworld on 18th September.

Deriving from the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra, meaning through hardships to the stars, this upcoming drama is directed by James Gray, who scored a major critical hit in 2017 with The Lost City of Z. The movie stars Brad Pitt as astronaut Roy McBride, who’ll embark on a journey to the edges of our solar system on a hunt for his missing father where he’ll uncover secrets that could threaten the existence of humanity.

With the release of its first trailer, Ad Astra looks to be a gripping adventure full of plenty of twists and turns on a grand scale as it transports us, well, to the stars. But just because the film is set in space, are we necessarily expecting it to be scientifically accurate? That remains to be seen.

On that note, Hollywood blockbusters like these typically value the entertainment factor over realism, so if that means playing fast and loose with reality to keep us glued to the screen, then that’s what will happen. This is especially true when it comes to space science; and here are five things to look out for…

Ad Astra Brad Pitt movie poster


1. Sound and explosions are impossible in space

From Star Wars to Star Trek and beyond, Hollywood’s depiction of outer-space action is light years away from the truth. For starters there’s no sound in space, so all the those exciting pew pews of lasers wouldn’t be audible. This is because space is a vacuum and sound-waves need molecules present to vibrate.

Likewise, the lack of oxygen in space means that all the awesome explosions we see aren’t possible, at least not how they’re shown in the movies. Typically, the ‘explosions’ we’re used to need oxygen to burn, but because space is a vacuum, there’s none for the explosion to combust. Real space explosions are far deadlier. Supernovas, the deaths of stars, for instance, are catastrophic blasts of nuclear energy, and that definitely wasn’t how the Death Star was destroyed.


2. Asteroid belts are far easier to navigate in reality

Navigating treacherous asteroid belts is another popular trope in space blockbusters. We recently witnessed a prime example of this in Solo: A Star Wars Story, as a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) completed the fabled Kessel Run, avoiding dozens of densely packed space rocks. Although a very fun scene to watch, it’s yet another example of Hollywood’s ignorance of astronomy.

The average distance between asteroids ranges anywhere between 1–3 million km. To give some perspective on just how ridiculously far apart that is, the Earth is approximately 384,400km from the moon (depending on its orbit) meaning that Han’s boasts aren’t that impressive after all.




3. Black holes aren’t time machines

One phenomenon you don’t want to come across in outer space is a black hole. The result of a star collapsing in on itself, these incredibly dense celestial bodies have been a mystery in the world of science ever since Einstein predicted their existence over a century ago. Films like Event Horizon, Star Trek and Interstellar would have you believe that falling into a black hole would work like a time machine, spitting you out somewhere in time, but the probable truth is a lot more gruesome.

If we did enter a black hole, time would move slower for us as we approached the event horizon. However, as nothing can escape a black hole, we’d be doomed to our horrific fate. There isn’t anything strong enough to withstand the force of the gravity inside, especially our squishy bodies. Our cells and atoms would be stretched out until we’d be, to use the actual scientific terminology, spaghettified. Those who saw director Claire Denis’s recent, controversial sci-fi drama High Life will have seen this hideous fate dramatized.


4. Traveling at the speed of light is impossible

Is there anything more iconic in sci-fi than engaging light-speed? Ever since we laid eyes on the visually impressive 'Star Gate' sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the idea of travelling between galaxies in mere seconds has captured the imaginations of generations.

As great as this would be, though, it’s simply impossible. The speed of light in space is 299,792,495m/s (300,000km/s). The reason light can travel this fast is because it has no mass, so for a spaceship (even a highly futuristic one) to come close to that speed, it needs to be able to generate an infinite amount of energy, which is an impossibility in itself.

And even if we were to reach those speeds, the spacecraft and its occupants would be swiftly turned into dust. Currently the fastest space travel we’ve achieved is the Helios 2, which travels at a maximum of 157,708mph, a tiny fraction of light-speed.




5. Zero gravity doesn’t make you slower

One thing we all know about outer space is that there’s no gravity, and as it turns out the movies don’t accurately represent the actual effects of zero gravity. We know gravity as that pesky force that keeps our feet firmly on the ground, so the images we’ve seen in countless films of astronauts in zero gravity gracefully floating around without a care in the world seems completely logical, right?

Well, the result is surprisingly the opposite. The absence of a gravitational force means there’s a lot less pull on objects, meaning things move a little faster.



So, will Ad Astra get one or more of these all-important space factors right? We'll find out for sure on 18th September, but for now, tweet us your choice of the the most scientifically accurate outer space movie @Cineworld.

Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.