Once More unto the Breach, Dear Friends
1. You Can’t Travel through an Asteroid Belt
This one we all know from Star Wars. Han Solo showed us he’s a badass pilot by flying the Millennium Falcon through a deadly asteroid belt and making it out the other side despite almost zero chances of survival. That’s impressive…except for the fact that you could also probably do the same thing (if you had a spaceship handy).
One of the main things that movies are bad at when it comes to space is accurately portraying size. And it’s not really their fault. If they were to show things how they really are, we’d just see a black screen with a few tiny dots here and there. Space is big. Really, really big. Even if an asteroid belt has millions and millions of asteroids in it, you’d have to be the unluckiest person in the universe to hit one. It’s not impossible, but the chances are astronomical.
Let’s look at our own asteroid belt as an example. It has hundreds of thousands of large asteroids in it and trillions of small rocks. The biggest thing in it is Ceres, a former asteroid, now classified as a dwarf planet. It’s around 600 miles (950 km) in diameter. Even so, it’s anything but crowded since it occupies trillions of trillions of cubic miles. There are literally hundreds of thousands of miles of nothingness between two objects in the asteroid belt. So far we’ve sent 11 probes through the belt without incident.
2. Earth Is Closer to the Sun in the Summer
At a glance, this one seems logical enough. Our planet is hottest when it is closest to the thing that makes our planet hot. However, this idea is caused by a misunderstanding of what actually causes the seasons. It’s not the proximity to the Sun, it’s the tilt of our orbital axis. The axis on which our planet spins is actually tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees. Because of this tilt, one part of the Earth points towards the Sun while the other points away from it.
What isn’t a myth, however, is the idea that the Earth is sometimes closer and sometimes further away from the Sun. Our planet has an elliptical orbit (like most other planets). The distance given from Earth to Sun (known as an astronomical unit) is approx 93 million miles (150 million km). However, at perihelion (Earth’s closest point to the Sun) that distance shrinks to 91.4 million miles (147 million km) and at aphelion (the longest distance) it goes up to 94.5 million miles (152 million km). So, as you can see, during the course of a year, the distance between Earth and the Sun changes by as much as 3 million miles (5 million km).
3. SETI Is Part of NASA
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is a non-profit, membership-supported organization. It is not part of NASA and it is not funded with government money. It does, however, frequently work with NASA, as you might imagine, since their goals and methods are oftentimes aligned. The goal of the SETI Institute, as the name suggests, is to monitor space for electromagnetic radiation coming from transmissions belonging to advanced alien civilizations. Earlier in 2015, the institute launched the Breakthrough Initiatives, a series of programs designed to improve their work using hi-tech, top-of-the-line technology. The institute also benefitted of a much-needed influx of cash in the form of a $100 million backing courtesy of Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and endorsed by Stephen Hawking.
4. NASA Takes Up a Quarter of the Government Budget
The biggest problem NASA faces is the public perception that it spends way too much money. People really overestimate how much money NASA gets on a yearly basis. Polls constantly reveal that the average person thinks NASA receives a significant chunk of the federal budget, going as high as 24% of the whole thing. In a time when many people are struggling economically, it’s no wonder that they want to see the space program gone.
The issue here is that NASA gets nowhere near that. In fact, NASA’s yearly budget is between 0.5 and 1%, as it has been for most of the organization’s history. It was at its highest during the space race of the 1960s and still it only reached a peak of 4.4%, nowhere near the 25% some people claim. Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out during a senate committee hearing that NASA’s budget is a meagre half a penny for every tax dollar.
5. Great Wall of China Is Visible from Space
We’ve actually talked about this already (as has everyone else on the Internet). At this point, it’s really shocking how a “fact” like this is still perpetuated.
6. Alan Shepard Is A-Ok
Alan Shepard made history in 1961 when he became the first American to travel into space. His iconic flight also coined the phrase “a-ok” or “a-okay”, depending on how you prefer it. However, according to the NASA transcripts, Shepard never said he was “a-ok”. In fact, the term originated with one of NASA’s PR officers who used the term to refer to Shepard during a press conference after the mission.
7. Venus and Earth Are Twins
Venus is often referred to as our twin but this shouldn’t give you the impression that it is exactly like our planet. We’ve covered Venus in-depth before so we won’t go into detail, but this idea came about mainly when we had no clue exactly what the surface of the planet is really like. Due to its incredibly thick atmosphere, it wasn’t until we sent a spacecraft to Venus that we discovered how deadly and unwelcoming the surface of the planet really is.
8. Moon Phases Are Caused by Earth’s Shadow
Phases of the Moon are caused by the Moon’s position relative to the Sun. Like other objects in space, our Moon is in motion and various parts of it are exposed to the Sun’s light at any given moment. Then, from our perspective, we only see certain areas of the Moon illuminated at night. That doesn’t mean that our planet is blocking the sunlight. In fact, when the Moon is hiding in our shadow, then we have a lunar eclipse.
9. Black Holes Grow Indefinitely
Admittedly, there is still a lot we don’t know about black holes. However, we now know that there is a limit to how big black holes get. We’re still a bit fuzzy regarding what that limit is exactly – supermassive black holes like the ones found at the center of most galaxies have the mass of a few billion suns, but theoretical colossal black holes can have a mass up to 50 billion suns. The Milky Way’s black hole’s mass is only about four million times our Sun so, on a universal scale, it’s tiny. Even so, it’s unlikely to get any bigger in the future since there is simply no more matter around it for the black hole to absorb.
10. NASA Made Tang
Many people will be familiar with the fruit-flavored drink called Tang that commonly comes in powder form. It’s also a good chance that NASA is the reason why many of those people heard of Tang in the first place. The drink became really popular in the early 60s when astronaut John Glenn used it on his Mercury flights. A strong association was formed between Tang and NASA and people started believing that the latter was actually responsible for the former.
Tang wasn’t created by NASA and already existed for a few years before it was adopted as the unofficial drink of the astronauts. However, nobody had ever heard of it due to very low sales.
Want more myths? Here you go:
Space Myths Part 1. History Myths Part 1. History Myths Part 2. History Myths Part 3. History Myths Part 4. Science Myths. Sports Myths. Medical Myths.Food Myths. Police Myths. Animal Myths Part 1. Animal Myths Part 2.