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Science And Nature

20 space myths busted!

Artist's illustration of an asteroid against a background of stars and a yellow glow on the righthand side of the image.

Once you think you understand everything concerning the universe, reconsider. (Image credit: Jonathan Knowles via Getty Images )

We understand more concerning the universe than previously, but you may still find a lot of misconceptions that have the ability to fool a lot of us.

A few of these space myths even sound plausible; for example, that the sun is really a burning orb of yellow fire, or that Earth’s temperature is higher through the summer months since it orbits closer in those days than during winter.

Laura Mears

Laura Mears is really a keen science writer and contains previously written for the sister publications HOW IT OPERATES and ABOUT Space magazine.

Believe Mercury may be the hottest planet in the solar system since it may be the closest to your sun? Reconsider.

A few of these space myths have already been busted by relatively recent astronomical discoveries and studies. For example, the more we find out about black holes, the more myths and theories about them are increasingly being debunked. Do black holes suck matter to their cores? Nope.

So relax, and prepare to understand the amount of you considered the universe was totally wrong.

1. Black holes suck

Image of black hole looks like a bright orange glowing ring with dark patch in the center.

The initial picture of a black hole was made using observations of the biggest market of galaxy M87 taken by the function Horizon Telescope (Image credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)

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Black holes have a gravitational pull so intense that not light can escape their clutches. They drain the life span out of stars, ripping away layers of gas and shredding the component atoms. They are generally portrayed as vast cosmic floor cleaners, with the capacity of clearing huge regions of space. However, the black holes of science fact and science fiction aren’t entirely alike.

The truth is, black holes behave almost the same as any massive object in the universe. The speed necessary to escape the gravitational pull of an object, be it a planet or perhaps a black hole, is called the escape velocity. For an object just like the sun, with a modest gravitational pull, an object only must travel at a speed of 384 miles (618 kilometers) per second) to flee. If this speed can’t be achieved, the thing will fall back off toward the solar surface.

At the event horizon of a black hole, even something traveling at the speed of light, almost 186,411 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second wouldn’t normally be fast enough to flee and the only real option is always to continue inward.

The further from an object you go, the low the escape velocity and definately not the function horizon, black holes behave exactly like stars. Objects passing far enough away and at a higher enough speed come in no threat of being pulled in to the center and when sunlight were swapped with a black hole of exactly the same mass today, Earth would continue steadily to orbit as normal.

2. Earth is nearer to sunlight in summer

Artist's illustration shows the Earth from space with the sun shining on the surface from space.

Artist’s rendering of sunlight shining on Earth’s surface. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

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A lot of people understand that the Earth doesn’t travel round the sun in an ideal circle, so it’s easy to understand why some make the leap and assume that the times of year are due to the length to sunlight. However the idea doesn’t endure when you believe that the northern and southern hemispheres experience summer at differing times of the entire year.

Earth’s orbit isn’t as elliptical as people imagine and during the period of a year, the length between Earth and sunlight varies by simply 3.1 million miles (5 million kilometers) that’s no more than three percent. Also, during winter in the northern hemisphere, we have been actually nearer to sunlight than we have been in the summertime.

The true reason for the times of year may be the axial tilt of the planet earth. Because the year progresses, light hits the northern and southern hemispheres at proportionally different angles and for different levels of time each day.

Through the winter, the times are short and the light strikes the atmosphere at a minimal angle, glancing through the gases since it travels toward the top and spreading out since it reaches the bottom, distributing the power. Through the summer the times are a lot longer and the sunlight hits the planet earth at a steep angle, going for a more direct path toward the ground and concentrating the power right into a smaller area.

3. Sunlight is burning

Artist's illustration showing a stream of charged particles erupting from the Earth's surface.

The sun’s fuel is made up mainly of hydrogen and helium gas (Image credit: Shutterstock)

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Fire needs three what to survive: fuel, heat and oxygen. Sunlight has fuel since it is made up mainly of hydrogen and helium gas. Helium can be an inert element and will not burn like a few of its volatile neighbors on the periodic table, but hydrogen is highly flammable. Sunlight also generates a massive level of heat energy and its own surface is approximately 9,932 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius). However, there is absolutely no oxygen in space, therefore the fire triangle is incomplete for sunlight.

The truth is, sunlight isn’t actually a ball of fire and instead, heat and light that it produces will be the outcomes of thermonuclear fusion. In the high-pressure, high-heat environment of our star, high-speed hydrogen atoms come within one femtometer of every other (that’s 0.000000000000001 meters). A collision as of this distance allows both nuclei to fuse together, forming helium and releasing huge levels of energy as gamma-ray radiation. Every second in the sun, 700 million a great deal of hydrogen smash together to create 650,000 a great deal of helium, which triggers more fusion in a chain reaction and keeps this natural nuclear reactor going.

4. The asteroid belt is quite hazardous

This artist's concept illustrates an asteroid belt with numerous asteroids and dust spread out around a distant star shining brightly.

Asteroid belts look nothing beats they do in the films. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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There is absolutely no doubt that there exists a large amount of rock in your community of our solar system referred to as the asteroid belt. Sitting between Mars and Jupiter, this band of fragments contains over 3,000 minor planets and much more than 750,000 separate asteroids measuring a lot more than 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) across. The bigger asteroids sometimes collide, spraying smaller fragments in to the belt and, based on the myth, endangering any spacecraft that dares to weave its way through.

This myth has been fuelled by science fiction. When Han Solo takes the Millennium Falcon into an asteroid field in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, C-3PO warns, “Sir, the chance of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1”. If the Hoth asteroid field was anything like our very own, he couldn’t have already been more wrong.

In the 1970s, NASA’s Pioneer 10 became the initial spacecraft to navigate its way through the asteroid belt. Just a layer of aluminum honeycomb protected Pioneer, but regardless of the apparent danger, it managed to get through without trouble. Not due to careful evasion, but as the distance between asteroids is huge.

The belt spans a location of space approximately 140 million miles (225 million km) across. Normally, there exists a distance of around 600,000 miles (970,000 kilometers) between your asteroids, that is a lot more than twice the length from the planet earth to the moon. In comparison with the crowded space imagined in the films, the asteroid belt is in fact relatively empty.

A much bigger danger in the asteroid belt may be the dust-sized particles that form when asteroids collide. These tiny grains could definitely damage the spacecraft, but evading rocks how big is a grain of sand doesn’t lead to excellent television.

5. Sunlight is yellow

Vivid red sky as the sun sets below cloud low in the sky.

Sunsets such as this one appear red as the light from sunlight has traveled further through the atmosphere & most of the shorter wavelengths (blues and violets) have already been scattered away. (Image credit: Martin Harvey via Getty Images)

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As every crayon-wielding toddler knows, the sky is blue and sunlight is yellow. While you shouldn’t look directly at sunlight, photographs reveal a yellowish hue so when you research on a sunshiney day, a unique orange tinge appears because the sun dips on the horizon during the night. However, this yellowness is merely an illusion.

Sunlight produces all wavelengths of visible light and for that reason its true color is white, but as sunlight travels through the atmosphere it changes. The wavelengths of light at the blue end of the spectrum are much shorter than those at the red, so collisions with particles in the air tend to be more likely. Throughout the day, blue light scatters saturated in the atmosphere, giving the sky its blue color and making sunlight appear yellow.

Each morning and evening, the light that hits the bottom has farther to visit which effect becomes more extreme. The majority of the shorter blue wavelengths scatter before they hit the bottom, giving the sunrise and sunset its characteristic red-orange hue.

Related: How come the sky blue?

6. Stars in constellations are close together

Artists illustration of the Orion constellation in the night sky.

The Orion Constellation is familiar sight all over the world. (Image credit: manpuku7 via Getty Images)

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The stars in the night sky are arranged into 88 constellations that represent, among other activities, 29 inanimate objects, 19 land animals, nine birds and a dragon. These recognizable groupings have guided farmers and travelers for a large number of years, however in terms of proximity, they’re not necessarily sets of stars at all.

Despite coming across close together, the stars that form the constellations tend to be separated by tens or a huge selection of light years, extending backward into space. From our vantage point at first glance of the planet earth, Orion might appear to be a warrior with a shield, but from elsewhere in the galaxy, the stars would look distant and unconnected. They vary in age, size, type and brightness in fact it is by chance that people see them in groups.

Constellations is probably not scientifically meaningful sets of stars, however they do help split up the sky into recognizable and manageable chunks. By making associations between patterns in the stars and familiar animals or objects, the names and positions of individual stars suddenly become easier for astronomers to keep in mind.

That is mostly of the occasions when myths could be a good thing as the mythology and back-story surrounding each one of the constellations help fix them in people’s minds.

7. The moon includes a dark side

Starry Night Software graphic of a full moon shining brightly.

Throughout a full moon, the medial side we see is fully illuminated. (Image credit: Starry Night Software)

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The dark side of the moon has inspired studio albums, novels, television series, films and video gaming, however the moon isn’t quite what it appears. We only see one side of the moon from Earth, but because we can’t start to see the other side, it generally does not mean that it really is dark.

Considering the phases of the moon easily disproves this myth. Throughout a full moon, the medial side that we can easily see is fully illuminated and another side is really in complete darkness, but at any time of the month, we are able to only see portion of the moon. All of those other light is falling on the far side, or the so-called dark side.

For photographic evidence, you merely have to consider the first-ever images of the far side of the moon captured in 1959 by the USSR’s Luna 3 and how it had been perfectly lit up by sunlight. Not merely do these images dispel the myth that the dark side of the moon receives no light, however they also show that the rock is in fact lighter in color compared to the side that people can easily see, making our side the real dark side.

8. THE FANTASTIC Wall of China is seen from space

The Great Wall of China snaking through the rugged landscape.

The “you can observe the fantastic Wall of China” myth ‘s been around because the 1930s. (Image credit: dowell via Getty Images)

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THE FANTASTIC Wall of China may be the longest human-made structure on the planet and spans an unbelievable 13,171 miles (21,196 km). The theory that it may be visible from space is really a popular one and contains been around because the 1930s, but unfortunately, it really is only partly true.

THE FANTASTIC Wall may be lengthy but needless to say, it isn’t remotely as wide at only over 20 feet (six meters) at its base. Not just that, it is made of materials that blend well with the encompassing terrain. In low-Earth orbit, which starts at 99 miles (160 kilometers) altitude, the wall is simple to choose on radar images but is invisible to the naked eye. During his time on the International Space Station in March 2013, Commander Chris Hadfield tweeted “I did so not start to see the Great Wall of China from space and neither did the Chinese astronauts. With a large enough camera lens and clear air, maybe.”

Related: What human-made structures is seen from space?

9. Earth’s shadow causes the lunar phases

Infographic illustrating the different phases of the moon.

The moon undergoes several phases roughly every 30 days. (Image credit: NASA/All About Space Magazine)

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It appears plausible that the lunar phases will be the consequence of Earth’s shadow, however the moon is frequently visible alongside sunlight throughout the day, so what’s really evoking the lunar phases?

They’re actually the consequence of sunlight rising and setting on the visible side of the moon since it orbits Earth. Throughout a full moon, our satellite is on the contrary side of Earth to sunlight, so we start to see the sunlight illuminating its entire visible surface, while throughout a new moon, the moon comes between Earth and sunlight, therefore the light falls privately that people cannot see. In the intervening days, the quantity of light that people can easily see on the lunar surface gradually increases and decreases with the orbit of the moon.

A lunar eclipse may be the only time that Earth casts a shadow on the moon and these rare events only occur if Earth comes exactly between your sun and the moon, temporarily blocking out the light.

10. Light isn’t suffering from gravity

Hubble telescope image of a distant quasar. A ring of light surrounds a yellow spot. There are several bright spots in the ring of light.

In this Hubble Space Telescope view of the distant quasar RXJ1131-1231, a foreground galaxy smears the image of the backdrop quasar right into a bright arc (left) and creates a complete of four images a phenomenon referred to as gravitational lensing. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble/NASA/Suyu et al.)

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Gravity can be an attractive force between two objects with mass and light and is transmitted by photons, without any mass, so light can’t possibly be suffering from gravity. But, if that is true, how could it be that black holes can prevent light from escaping?

The laws of gravity that people know were the task of Isaac Newton, who said that gravity is really a pulling force that works when both objects involved have mass. However, Albert Einstein overhauled this theory by suggesting it had been the consequence of the form of the fabric of the universe.

Imagine placing much ball on a sheet of rubber. The rubber stretches, developing a dent. In the event that you make an effort to roll an inferior ball in one side of the sheet to another, rather than traveling straight, it has to curve. This is exactly what the stars and planets do to the dimensions of space-time.

These curves don’t just affect objects with mass, but light travels so fast that the dips in space-time have little influence on it. But black holes create space-time curves that bend toward infinity, so not light can climb out another side.

11. Mercury may be the hottest planet in the solar system

View of Mercury covered in craters. The planet appears blue and more yellow towards the poles.

This colorful view of Mercury was made by using images from the colour base map imaging campaign during MESSENGER’s primary mission. (Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

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Sunlight belts out an unbelievable 3.8×1026 Joules of energy every second and Mercury is right in the firing line, orbiting at the average distance of just 36 million miles (58 million km), almost 3 x closer than Earth’s solar orbit.

Throughout the day temperatures soar to around 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius), so surely it should be the hottest planet in the solar system. Nearly. Venus, which orbits nearly doubly far from sunlight has an conditions of 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius) hot enough to melt lead.

The difference is right down to the atmosphere. On Venus, the atmosphere is thick and composed mainly of skin tightening and, trapping heat within an insulating bubble, while Mercury includes a very thin atmosphere. When it turns from sunlight during the night the temperature plummets to -292 degrees Fahrenheit (-180 degrees Celsius).

12. Saturn may be the only ringed planet in the solar system

Backlit image of a silhouetted Saturn and it's striking ring structure.

Shot because the Cassini spacecraft was about 746,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) behind Saturn on July 19, 2013, this composite image reveals many ring structures backlit by sunlight. Venus, Mars and Earth (using its moon) are visible within or close to the rings. (Image credit: CICLOPS/NASA/JPL-Caltech / SSI)

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When a lot of people think about planets with rings, there’s only 1 that springs in your thoughts Saturn. The gas giant established fact because of its seven main rings and there is no denying they are incredibly photogenic, however they aren’t the only real ones in the solar system. Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune all boast their very own group of rings, although nobody could possibly be certain they existed before Voyager flybys in the 1970s and 1980s.

The rings are much thinner and less visible from Earth, but astronomers believe that this might not necessarily have already been the case. Saturn’s own rings might have been around because the formation of the earth itself, in fact it is thought these incredible structures have changed as time passes. Although Saturn gets the most stunning rings right now, within the next 100 million years (soon, by cosmological standards), Neptune’s moon Triton could even be torn apart by tidal forces, developing a dramatic new ring system of its.

13. Re-entry spacecraft heat up due to air friction

Spacecraft approaches Earth atmosphere below and begins to break apart, large orange streaking plumes of smoke and debris surround the craft.

Artist’s illustration of ESAs fifth and last Automated Transfer Vehicle, ATV-5 burning since it renters Earth’s atmosphere. (Image credit: ESAD. Ducros, 2014)

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When returning spacecraft re-enter the atmosphere, they’re traveling faster compared to the speed of sound and the temperature rises rapidly from around -250 degrees Fahrenheit (-155 degrees Celsius) to nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius). Could friction lead to all that heat?

Friction in spacecraft is really a significant problem for engineers, particularly if designing streamlined supersonic rockets. The more air that’s in touch with the top, the more frictional heating occurs. However, vehicles created for descent aren’t streamlined and friction isn’t the primary reason for the incredible molten temperatures during re-entry.

As a broad, blunt spacecraft plummets through the atmosphere, molecules of gas cannot re-locate of just how fast enough plus they start to build up, forming a cushion under the craft. This keeps the majority of the gas from the top, preventing heat from transferring to the automobile.

Frictional heating plays a part in the temperature rise, however the pressure achieves the true heating. The closer the compressed molecules arrived at one another, the bigger the temperature climbs. Eventually, the pressure becomes so intense that the molecules begin to tear apart, developing a layer of charged plasma and creating a searing plasma corona.

14. Stars twinkle

A star-studded image of yellow, white and blue stars.

The globular cluster Messier 92 situated in the constellation Hercules as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2006. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgement: Gilles Chapdelaine)

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A famous nursery rhyme is in charge of this myth, but although stars may actually twinkle in the sky, the flickering is merely an illusion. It could seem plausible a star would twinkle since it shines but as of this distance, the light that people see from their website is in fact very steady.

As light travels toward Earth, it passes through the gas molecules that define our atmosphere. They are not static plus they swirl as turbulence stirs the atmosphere. This deflects a few of the light, rendering it appear to be the light is shifting and twinkling. The more atmosphere the light must pass through, the much more likely these shifts are that occurs, making stars close to the horizon may actually twinkle more.

15. Comet tails indicate which way they’re heading

Bright comet in night sky with long white/blue tail. Desert sand dunes are present in the foreground of this image. The sky is also full of stars.

Comets burn because they get near to the sun. This image of Comet NEOWISE (aka C/2020 F3) shows its long tail since it travels over the desert sky. (Image credit: Getty)

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Comets are essentially lumps of dirty ice. Because they approach sunlight they heat up, releasing gas and dust. ON THE PLANET, we’d expect the resulting tail to point backward, just like the streak of a falling meteor, however in space, there is absolutely no air. Comets are shaped and blown by radiation pressure and solar winds, so that they always point from sunlight.

High-energy ultraviolet light crashes in to the evaporating gas of the comet, stripping away electrons and forming charged ions. These get swept up in magnetic field lines and shoot directly from sunlight in a blue ion tail.

Simultaneously, dust is released into space, forming a tail of particles as fine as smoke. Photons of light from sunlight create a rigorous bubble of pressure, which pushes contrary to the dust, guiding it right into a wide streak that curves round the path of the comet’s speedy orbit.

16. Meteorites are hot

Grey meteorite with mottled red coloring looks a bit like a bicycle saddle.

This Diablo Canyon meteorite fell to Earth around 50,000 years back and was initially discovered in 1891. (Image credit: Terryfic3D/Getty))

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As meteorites go through the atmosphere they heat up so rapidly that the top rock begins to melt. However, this is a bit like searing a steak: even though outside becomes intensely hot, the within remains cool.

The melted rock forms a crust just 0.04 in (1 millimeter) thick and by enough time the meteorite hits the planet earth, chances are to be only slightly warm to the human touch.

17. It is possible to hear sound in space

Ball of different color filaments curving in various directions. Blues and violets dominate the perimeters and oranges and yellows are closer to the center.

The supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Similar massive cosmic explosions could have spread large levels of stardust through our solar system vast amounts of years back. (Image credit: NASA/CXC/SAO)

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The sound of an exploding vehicle on the planet is transmitted by way of a pressure wave, which travels through fluids like air or water when vibrating particles bump into one another and pass a few of their energy on.

In space, the particles are up to now apart that sound waves cannot propagate, so even though way to obtain an explosion would vibrate, the movements have nowhere to go. Beyond Earth, only on planets with atmospheres would we hear sound.

18. Space can be an empty vacuum

Artist's illustration black hole void surrounded by stars.

Space is nearly an ideal vacuum, however, not quite. (Image credit: Aaron Horowitz via Getty Images)

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Space may be the closest spot to a genuine vacuum in the universe and is far emptier of any particles than anything we are able to produce on the planet. However, there’s so much hydrogen in the universe a few atoms can be within every cubic meter of space.

To all or any intents and purposes, this is a vacuum, especially when compared to atom-rich atmosphere of Earth, but it isn’t perfect and nowhere in space could be guaranteed to be always a true vacuum in the strictest sense.

19. There is absolutely no gravity in space

A person in a mock spacesuit

NASA used a Lunar Landing Walking Simulator to review astronauts’ capability to perform tasks whilst experiencing one-sixth of normal gravity in preparation for the Apollo moon landings. (Image credit: NASA)

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Actually, craft just like the International Space Station is continually consuming Earth’s gravity that’s what keeps them in orbit. The weightlessness that the astronauts experience is basically because they’re falling gradually toward Earth.

Gravity compels the ISS toward the bottom, however the station is moving so quickly that it shoots on the horizon, falling round the curvature of the earth instead of returning right down to Earth. Fundamentally the astronauts inside come in a continuing free-fall.

20. We’d explode in space with out a spacesuit

Close up of astronaut visor reflecting Earth in the background and the camera being used to capture the selfie.

Mark Vande Hei took this “space-selfie” throughout a spacewalk in 2018. (Image credit: Mark Vande Hei/NASA)

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Our anatomies are adapted to exist beneath the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere so when that is removed, water in the tissues starts to evaporate and your body starts to swell.

Human skin is stretchy enough that does not result in an explosion, but after around ten seconds of exposure, people become unconscious. This happened to an unfortunate space suit technician throughout a NASA test in 1966 after some equipment failed, but thankfully the pressure was restored after just 30 seconds and the technician recovered.

Join our Space Forums to help keep talking space on the most recent missions, night sky and much more! And if you’ve got a news tip, correction or comment, tell us at:

Laura Mears

Laura Mears is really a biologist who left the confines of the lab for the rigours of an office desk as an enthusiastic science writer and a full-time software engineer. Laura has previously written for the magazines HOW IT OPERATES and T3. Laura’s main interests include science, technology and video gaming.

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