Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bad Astronomy May Term: The Martian

For our third movie in my two week May Term class, the students and I watched The Martian.  Excellent, amazing movie!  I watched it in the theater when it came out.  It was just as good the second time.  The science im the movie is very good, but there are a couple of bad science moments worth discussing.

The entire basis of the movie is setup by a large dust storm causing the team of astronauts on Mars to leave quickly.  In the process, one astronaut, Mark Watney, played wonderfully by Matt Damon, is left behind, presumed dead.  Watney didn't die and now must survive until a rescue team can return.  The dust storm scene early in the movie has a few moments of bad science that the author of the book, Andy Weir, was well aware of.  Although Mars does have large dust storms, the density of the Martian atmosphere is much, much lower than that of Earth's.  Thus storms do not have nearly the same force as storms on Mars.  The force acting on the launch shuttle are not as they were portrayed in the movie.  The author, however, needed something to push the story line forward and decided this was best for the overall story.  Can't fault him.  

Another bigger bad science moment is late in the movie when Watney is about to be rescued.  He can't quite reach the rescue ship, so cuts a hole in his glove to provide an out-gassing of gas to propel himself forward.  The out-gassing will cause a force that pushes Watney in the opposite direction of the out-gassing, but in the movie he uses one hand only.  This will put in him an uncontrollable spin.  He needed to cut a hole in both gloves for more stability.  Even this, however, likely would not have worked.  If the out-gassing was stronger in one glove, he'd also go into an uncontrollable spin.  Even with two gloves out-gassing equally, if he started off a bit off-balance or moved his hands ever so slightly, he'd be off course and in a spin.  

Despite these bad science moments, The Martian is an absolutely amazing movie!!!  If you haven't seen it, please do!   

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