Thing #2: Space and Stuff

When wandering through the Internet the other day, I happened upon several lists of misconceptions about space and space-y things.  Realizing the undeniable connection to this blog, I had to make a post about some of them.  Bear in mind I have had no past experience with astronomy or astrology other than a rudimentary sixth grade class in which I zoned out so hard and so repeatedly I have not retained a speck of information.  True story.

Shockingly, I didn’t know a lot of these things!  Can you imagine the odds of that?

What I’m trying to say is: all of the information I am about to charitably bestow comes from online sources.  They are listed at the bottom of this post.

MISCONCEPTION #1: A region of “zero gravity” can exist

This makes a lot of sense if you think about it (which I hadn’t before), but nowhere in the universe is there a spot where the effects of gravity upon an object are null.  We’ve heard the term so many times it just rolls off the tongue by now, but gravity works over infinitely large distances.  Of course, the farther away you are, the smaller the force acting on you, but it’s still there.  Here’s an example to blow your mind: if the only objects in the universe were you and a baseball, floating in empty space trillions of miles from each other at rest, you would eventually hit the baseball… assuming you found a way to stay alive for, you know, a really long time.

MISCONCEPTION #2: Columbus thought the Earth was flat

Chalk this one up as another failure of the American education system.  Although some uneducated people in Europe during Columbus’ time may have believed the Earth was flat, the Greeks had proved it was round thousands of years earlier.  Columbus actually knew this, but greatly misjudged the circumference of our planet.  He thought he could reach Asia by sailing west, but instead bumped into a few islands.

MISCONCEPTION #3: Asteroid belts look like the ones in Star Wars

Turns out, no.  Sorry, George Lucas.  Asteroid belts (like atoms) are actually primarily empty space.  Chances are, sitting in the middle of one would be pretty much the same as sitting in any other region of space: cold, silent, and with no asteroids or chunks of rock floating around.  Or spaceships, unfortunately.

MISCONCEPTION #4: The Sun is on fire

Wait… it’s not?  It seems impossible–I mean, it certainly looks like it’s on fire:

But the Sun is, in reality, just an enormous ball of gas undergoing constant nuclear fusion.  No “traditional” combustion, no flames.

MISCONCEPTION #5: People freeze in space

As is so often the case with things we think we know, the exact opposite is actually true.  If you were exposed to the vacuum of space with no protective gear, you wouldn’t freeze–you’d overheat.

Under normal circumstances, water (which makes up a good percentage of our bodies) positioned above a heat source (for instance, our internal mechanisms) will heat up, rise to the top of its reservoir, transfer its heat energy to the surrounding air, and sink down to the bottom again.  This cycle (normally) stops us from crisping into French fries on a daily basis.  But in space, you can’t breathe, doofus there’s no air to accept the heat energy.  As a result, your body would just heat up and heat up until you died–or until your corpse melted, since by the time sufficient heat could be built up to crisp you, you’d have long since died from oxygen starvation.  Space is so cheery!

And finally, one random fact.  The atmosphere of the planet HD 189733b is over 1,000˚C, has winds of over 4,300 miles per hour, and is often subject to storms containing glass that rains sideways.

Sources:

The Most Misunderstood Concepts in Space Science

Popular Misconceptions in Astronomy

Top 5 Misconceptions About Columbus

Hubble spots azure blue planet

Ten Common Misconceptions About Space