7 Common Space Myths Debunked by Actual Astronauts and Science

There are some persistent myths about space that don't seem to go away. But these common myths have been debunked by astronauts and science.

7 Common Space Myths Debunked by Actual Astronauts and Science
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There are many things about space we simply do not understand. As very few of us have actually been there, this has led to many myths about space developing and persisting through the ages.

Whilst it may not be possible to debunk all of them, these 7 have been blown out the water thanks to the work and experiences of Astronauts and science in general,

1. All comets have tails

space myths debunked comet
Source: Joel Tonyan/Flickr

It is a commonly held myth, believe it or not, that all comets have tails. This is simply not true.

In fact, most of the time comets are very difficult things to find. Comets tend to spend large amounts of time in the darkness of space.

Here, far from the influence of stars, they remain frozen and relatively inactive. They only develop tails when they approach a star, like our Sun.

At this point, they warm up and develop a cloudy atmosphere (called a Coma) as well as their distinctive tails. These tails, as you'd expect, always point away from any star whose influence they are under.

These tails are effectively blown away from the comet by solar winds and solar radiation. In fact, the 'tail' can actually be ahead of the comet as it flies away from the Sun!

2. Earth-asteroid impacts are very rare

space myths debunked asteroid
Source: NASA/Planetary Science/Wikimedia Commons

Asteroid (aka meteorite once they survive entry into the Earth's atmosphere) impacts are not all extinction events. Whilst there have been some history-changing impacts in the past, most are never seen or even noticed.

But these are very rare events aren't they? The truth is that asteroid/meteorite impacts on Earth are a very common occurrence.

But don’t fret, the vast majority of these tend to be small Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that usually burn up in the Earth's atmosphere before ever threatening to wipe out life as we know it.

In fact, it is estimated that 37 to 78 thousands tonnes of space debris fall to Earth every year. Of that, an estimated 100 tonnes of sand-sized particles fall to Earth every day!

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A large proportion of these tends to consist of little asteroids (meteorites) called bolides that impact the Earth's atmosphere frequently. These are generally between 1 and 20 m in diameter.

That's not to say we shouldn't be prepared for the next big one according to former Astronaut Ed Lu.

3. The Moon has no gravity

There are some who claim that there is no gravity on the moon. This is, of course, completely absurd.

As any astronaut who has been to the Moon will attest, it does indeed have gravity. Conspiracy theories about the Moon landings aside, there is plenty of footage from the manned missions there clearly showing they are under the influence of gravity.

Whilst the Moon does have gravity it is only about 1/6th of Earth. Astronauts who've been there recall how they feel lighter and can leap around its surface with ease - although the space suit dampens the effect.

In an interview, Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the moon) explained what it felt like to walk on the moon.

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"The feeling of reduced gravity and the limitations of the space suit resulted in a slow-motion movement. Perhaps not too far from a trampoline, but without the springiness and instability."

4. The infamous Flat Earth myth

The Flat Earth Theory has been a popular conspiracy theory for a while now. Whilst it is unclear if this is a form of trolling or not, there are definitely some strong advocates of it out there.

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But, any astronaut will tell you that this is complete bunkum. Astronaut Terry Virts explained his own personal experiences in space in an interview with London Real in 2016.

He recalls how he personally saw the Earth's distinct curvature from orbit and vividly remembers the incredible experience of following the Earth's curvature as he orbited our home planet.

Terry also explained how there would be no such thing as a "Flat Moon Society" if we lived there. He recalled how Buzz Aldrin once joked about this.

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Buzz stated that you can clearly see the Moon's curvature from the surface as it is so much smaller than the Earth. You'd, therefore, be hard pressed to convince anyone otherwise.

Whilst such anecdotes are unlikely to convince hardened "Flat Earthers", the Earth's near spherical form has been a known fact since antiquity.

5. You would be burnt to a crisp if sucked out of an airlock

In truth, the reality is actually far worse. Any part of you 'in the shade' of space will experience temperatures somewhere in the order of -250 degrees Celsius - this would certainly begin to freeze you.

Any part of you that is facing the Sun will experience temperatures in excess of 250 degrees Celsius. At this kind of temperature, your body will not only burn but probably worse, boil.

This would be like lying on a 'red' hot stove with dry ice on your back -all at the same time (if facing the sun).

Of course, that's before we talk about your lungs collapsing and your blood boiling from the low air pressure.

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Astronaut Chris Hadfield explains that this would mean you burn, freeze, boil, get the bends and not be able to breathe, all at the same time.

There are certainly better ways to die. Unless, like in the Last Jedi, you have the Force - apparently.

6. The far too common "Dark Side" of the Moon myth

This myth was actually blown apart more than 50 years ago. Astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 mission became the first ever humans to leave low Earth orbit and take a peek at the forever-hidden side of our Moon.

In fact, this is the mission that gave us one of the most famous, and awe-inspiring, photos from space ever - "Earthrise".

The reason for this is that the Moon is in a state of being "tidally locked" to the Earth. The Moon does actually spin about its axis whilst orbiting the Earth at the same time.

The trick is that this happens at the same rate - about once every 27 days or so. This gives us here on the Earth the illusion that it never actually turns.

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But the origin of this myth is fairly easy to understand. Since we never get to see this part of the Moon it might seem reasonable to assume it's always clad in darkness.

In reality, it actually receives as much sunlight as the side that faces the Earth.

In actuality, the never seen side of the Moon experiences the same lunar phases as the near side. We just never get to see it from Earth.

For example, when there is a New Moon on the near side, the far side it actually a full Moon (if we were to be able to see it that is).

7. In space, no-one can hear you scream

For any fan of Sci-Fi films, the Star Wars franchise springs to mind, battles in space are a visual and audio feast. For this reason, you might be forgiven for believing that this is a fairly reasonable assumption about space in general.

But this is, of course, a complete fantasy. As the famous tagline to Ridley Scott's classic Alien beautifully illustrates "in space no-one can hear you scream."

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Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield explained in a recent interview with WIRED why this is the case.

He explains that although things like an explosion would generate sound waves, the vacuum of space prevents these sound waves from being carried over a distance to vibrate your eardrums.

Whilst initially disappointing, it is actually a good thing. For astronauts on spacewalks, the constant nuclear conflagration of the Sun would be completely deafening if not for the emptiness of space.

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