Sunday, October 13, 2013
A Matter of "Gravity"
The new space-disaster movie "Gravity" is very much in the spotlight these days. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose articulate and good-humored commentary is justly earning him the title of America's public astronomer (a title Carl Sagan used to hold,) recently found some problems with the science in the film and it caused a stir. But two other astronomer-writers have done an even more detailed analysis of what is right and what is wrong with the film.
Before I send you to the web pages where the analysis can be found, let me urge you to see and enjoy the movie first. Those of you with some science background, see if you can spot what is so well done and what is not quite right with the science. Everyone else, please go and enjoy the 3-D spectacle. Then you can come back and read about the issues with the science.
Phil Plait, the "Bad Astronomy" webmaster, gives his articulate analysis at:http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/10/04/ba_movie_review_gravity.html
Jeffrey Kluger discusses the film's pluses and minuses for Time Magazine at: http://science.time.com/2013/10/01/what-gravity-gets-right-and-wrong-about-space/
Neil Tyson's tweets and a response from astronomer Kevin Grazier, the science advisor for the film (and a number of TV shows) can be found summarized at:http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2013/10/neil-degrasse-tyson-fact-checks-gravity/70234/
As for me, I am always happy when film blockbusters get kids and the public thinking about things beyond the Earth. Some of my favorite films that have good science ideas to recommend them include "2001," "Contact (where Jodi Foster's character was based in part on one of my favorite astronomers, Jill Tarter), and the older (and more philosophical) "Five Millions Years to Earth."
And I heard it from astronomer Fred Hoyle that the old British horror movie "Dead of Night" was one of the contributing inspirations to the steady-state theory of the universe that he and Hermann Bondi came up with (together with Thomas Gold.) Hoyle and Bondi saw the film (which has no real beginning or ending -- watch it to see what I mean) and asked themselves, "Could the universe be like this?"