This flick was nominated for 4 (COUNT 'em) FOUR Academy Awards. Fine. And, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this movie. It has just the right combination of silly humor and pointless violence to rate highly on the famous Taylor-O-Meter . However, the science in this movie is horrendous. I panned this movie in October, 98, at the NJ Science Teacher's Convention (after seeing it in the theater 10 or 12 times....). I then found a Website dedicated to it and others. It's worth a few minutes to visit Phil Plait's BAD Astronomy . Dr. Plait is an honest to goodness Astronomer/Scientist formerly of the Goddard Space Center in Maryland, but currently toiling away as an Astronomy Prof an all-round good guy in Southern California! Poor Guy, huh? [Update 05/18/09: Phil is now a famous author, Bad Astronomy & Death From the Skies , and President of JREF , and Lord of All Time Space & Dimension .]
He runs an excellent website on astronomy and it's misconceptions, misrepresentations, and downright wrong-headedness in society.

Astronomy in the News : In the May 21, 1999 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer an article appeared on page A6 from NASA via Washington about the path of asteroid 1999AN10. This guy, discovered in January, 1999, is only 1/2 mile wide, is quite visible to NASA, and they have a pretty good idea of where it's going. It will pass somewhere between 19,000 miles and 600,000 miles of earth in the year 2027! Why am I mentioning this? No one in this movie could see an asteroid "the size of TEXAS", 1250km wide, until it beat up the shuttle and was 18 only days away! Boy, these movie NASA guys just aren't as good as the real NASA guys, huh?

[Update 05/18/09: Asteroid 2009 DD45 came 'close to the earth on Monday March 02 at around 8.30am ET, at just under 45,000 miles above the surface of the planet. That's about twice as far as the typical high altitude satellite.]

An overview of the movie:

  1. Opening scene shows the "Dinosaur Killer" asteroid impacting with the earth long ago. A few things about its presense:
  2. The narrator, the great Charlton Heston, claims the impact had the " force of 10,000 nuclear weapons ". The writers of the show even admitted later that the number 10,000 sounded good. Unfortunately, 10,000 nukes wouldn't even start nuclear autumn, let alone nuclear winter. By the most conservative estimates, it would require 800,000 nukes all exploding at the same point at the same time AND simultaneously to cause a nuke winter.
  3. Next scene is a shuttle repair mission to some satellite. Soon, flaming streaks (See images below) of asteroid hunks are swooshing by and through everything. A few problems with this.
  4. Barrage of meteors striking NYC: Notice in one shot, a hunk made a semi-smooth hole in the sidewalk and left a puppy named Reggie and a large Hawaiian dangling over the side (See image below). Don't think a meteor thta large would just carve a cylindrical shaped hole. Makes a crater, yes. LARGE crater, yes. Smooth hole, no.

    Also, notice the two images below. They are taken from inside Grand Central Station. 1st image is fine. 2nd image is a moment before a meteor comes crashing in. Notice, windows and such are already being blown inward before the meteor is even there. This is good, I think. The shock wave of something moving that fast would compress so much air in front of it that the air itself bangs into the object before the meteor gets there.

  5. This asteroid is " the size of Texas ". WOW! Where the heck did that come from? The largest asteroid in our system, Ceres, is only 1/3 that size (diameter of 472km) and is visible with even a good pair of binoculars under good conditions. No one ever saw this thing till it was 18 days away? I'm sure someone would've looked up in the night sky and yelled, "Hey, Mom! Look! Here comes Texas!"

    Ceres: 472Km
    Texas: 1200Km

  6. It is supposedly what's left over from an explosion that followed a collision from a "rogue" comet. C'mon! A tiny comet, not much more than a big snowball, hitting the mother-of-all ironclad asteroids, which is larger than the piece headed our way, would do no more than tick it off! The NASA guy, Truman, even explains this with an animation for Harry (Willis). Check the size of this comet compared to the size of the asteroids! That comet is the size of a planet!

  7. The main hunk will be here 18 days AFTER the first fragments hit. What? It has us in its sights and is following our orbit? Where are we 18 days later? At an orbital velocity of 30 km/s, we are 46,656,000 km AWAY from where the first ones hit us! The asteroid cluster, Shoemaker-Levy9, had a batch of its 22 fragments hit Jupiter a while back. It took 5 days or so to hit and the last couple pieces of it missed Jupiter because Jupiter was moving out of the way! SL-9 was moving at 60 km/s or 216,000 MPH while Jupiter mopes along at only 13 km/s and presents a target more than 10 times the width of the earth! This asteroid in the movie, the "Global Killer", was moving at an unimpressive 22,000 MPH. That's only 10 km/s. Very slow by cosmic standards. That means it was only 15 MILLION km away from earth at the beginning of the movie. That is ONLY 40 times the distance to the moon! No one saw this Texas-sized thing? C'mon!

  8. Additionally, due to the inverse square law of illumination (impressed with them big words?) the relative brightness of this asteroid is about 16 times as much as Ceres! Now, 3 times BIGGER than Ceres, 16 times BRIGHTER than Ceres, 18 times CLOSER than Ceres (or is that Ceres is 18 times farther away?), and NO ONE HAS SEEN IT? C'MON! My Gramma could see it!

  9. The whole idea of drilling 800 feet into an asteroid the size of Texas and setting off a nuke is ridiculous at best. How far is 800 feet compared to the 1250 or so Kilometers? That is less than one 5208th of the diameter! Less than a fingernail thickness to you and me. All that does is tick it off MORE! Think of getting a DNA molecule stuck under your fingernail and you dying from it. Same thing, but different.

  10. The new TWO shuttles take off side-by-side! This would create such turbulence for each other they would both lose control, not to mention the 2 nd one would have been semi-vaporized and rocked right off it's pad. I saw a shuttle launch, Mission 51D, in 1984. Oh, My! The power is way beyond words.

  11. After take-off, the two specially built shuttles jockey around like kids in 4-wheelers. A few notes of wrongness before they make it to the Mir space station.

  12. Since when does the Mir have vast amounts of Liquid Oxygen on board as a fueling station? About the only thing they would have had a lot of is Duct Tape!

  13. Since when can the Mir get gravity to its floor by rotating? Rotation can simulate gravity only on the inside surface of a rotating wheel like structure as shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey . Basic high school Physics problem...

  14. Since when can a shuttle dock with a rotating Mir. It's hard enough docking with a relatively stationary Mir! According to NASA, that maneuver would have been impossible. Keep in mind, BOTH these objects are moving at THOUSANDS of kilometers per hour with one rotating!

  15. The shuttles travel out past the moon, a basic impossibility due to the physics involved with the construction of the shuttle itself. Also, the gravitational slingshot maneuver would be doubtful. Another basic high school Fizzix problem is to find the one position between the Earth and the Moon where gravity from each would "cancel out" and an astronaut could be considered "weightless" in this system, yields the answer to be MORE THAN 90% of the distance to the moon! That means that till these shuttles get to within "spitting" distance of the moon, the earth is still overpowering them and "sucking" them back home...

  16. These shuttles were described as "impervious". However, after crashlanding, Ben Aflack shot the hell out of the wall of one of them with guns mounted on their rover (Why are there guns in space??).

  17. Note that while Bruce is trying to "pull the trigger" on the asteroid, it's raining! SAY WHAT? HOW could is rain on this asteroid? Apparently it has its own weather systems complete with atmosphere, water cycle, temperature gradients, convection currents, and full gravity system all of a sudden that can pull the water back to its surface. COOL!

  18. Note during the movie as they show reactions to the success of the mission in different parts of the world, it is always day time. Gee, I guess the earth IS flat. It's day time in US, Turkey, Moscow, India, Japan, all at the same time. Cool trick. It's sorta that the Taj Majal and the US are on different sides?

  19. And the "ever popular" on and on and on

Visit Phil's BadAstronomy site for lots and lots more....

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