Tuesday, May 10, 2011

There is no sound in space

Sometimes people complain that science fiction is hard to write or create because engineers and scientists are too critical.

This is of course balderdash.

If I wrote a book or made a movie that was set in 1605, and a character appeared wearing a watch, people would think I was an idiot. They would probably mock me and criticize me for not doing my research into the time period. And yet, when some people (clearly not all) write science fiction books and movies, they think they have a free pass to ignore some of the most basic obvious facts--facts that anyone who has a slight interest in that area of science would be able to tell you.

Like the fact that there is absolutely no sound in space. So all those loud explosions you here? Not possible. Any first year physics student, heck anyone who has taken physics 1, should be able to tell a writer this. Sound waves can only travel through a medium because they are longitudinal waves of varying pressure. Since space is practically* a vacuum, there is no pressure to vary. Thus, no sound.

I feel like this should be common knowledge, and yet it's not. Or at least, writers continually ignore it--among other obvious engineering/scientific principles. Watching science fiction movies is sometimes painful. And often hilarious.

For example, in Tron Legacy "genetic algorithms" are mentioned. And yet they're mentioned in such a ridiculous way that when I went to see it in theaters, I burst into laughter in the middle of the movie. The people in the movie theater thought I was insane. Possibly I am insane, and yet when I watched the movie with my engineering friends, they burst into laughter at the exact same point.

I was reminded of how ridiculous science fiction could be when I was watching Armageddon. On many levels, Armageddon is a good movie, but from an engineering (especially an aerospace engineering) aspect, there are just so many things wrong with that movie. Things that could have been fixed if they had simply asked an engineer.

So my thought on these Engineering Tuesdays is that I could go over common movie errors or even dissect particular movies, so that future movies/books don't make the same error. What do you guys think? Any movies you would like to see discussed? Any movie scenes that you're unsure of the veracity? Let me know and I'll be sure to look into them. :)

*There are, of course, particles in space and space's pressure is not exactly zero. However, it is incredibly close, so for most purposes its treated as thus.

1 comment:

  1. I also laughed at the abuse of the term "genetic algorithm." it wasn't enough to make a dent in my appreciation for the movie, though!