Top Ten Examples of Bad Astronomy vs. The Martian

     The film industry is notorious for defying the laws of physics, especially the laws of space physics. In  an effort to make scenes more action filled or possibly due to lack of physics knowledge, film makers will give space certain properties and characteristics that it does not possess. Philip Plait, also  known as "The Bad Astronomer", wrote a list named "Top Ten Examples of Bad Astronomy in Major Motion Pictures" which lists the ten most common mistakes that Hollywood movies make in displaying the physics of space.

     I put the movie "The Martian" to the Bad Astronomy test and chronologically noted each time the movie tested an example that Philip Plait provided in his list. The first Bad Astronomy example that the movie tested was the fourth one, which speaks about the properties of light and lasers in space.

     Philip Plait claims that movies wrongly show light propogating space as though space is filled with air particles and is not a vacuum. The beams of light from a laster or any other light source cannot be seen in space since the light has no medium to reflect off of. Mars, however, has an astmosphere that light can reflect off of, so light beams are able to be seen clearly. Also, there is a dust storm in this scene that produces dust particles that the light can reflect off of. The Martian passes this test.

     The fifth example of Bad Astronomy speaks to the speed of space travel over large distances in films. Hollywood movies often have a rough understanding of astronomical units and large distances. The martian does a decent of relating distance and speed when they speak about sending a craft to land on mars. When the Earth and Mars are properly aligned, a manned spacecraft from Earth would take at least nine months to get to Mars. Nine months was the time frame that they had in mind to get a spacecraft to mars in order to get Mark Watney. What they didn't consider in the movie, however, was the 26 month period in between times when Mars and Earth are properly aligned.

     The last example that was present throughout the movie is Plait's first example, which is about sound propogation in space. Since space is a vacuum, there is no sound as there is no medium for the sound to propogate off of. Movie makers often include spacecraft noises as they move through space even though sound cannot propogate in a vacuum. 


     The Martian does a decent job dealing with sound. In the launch clip above, the rocket makes noise as it is in the atmosphere of mars but goes silent as soon as it it escapes the atmosphere which displays proper space phyics. However, there were a few instances where spacecraft thrusts and other noises were apparent when they shouldn't have been, like this scene:



     Mark and astronaut Lewis reach out for each others hands and a sound of friction is heard. It may have been an even more epic scene if the viewer had to watch it all in silence as though they are actually in space witnessing the collision in front of them. 

     There are seven other Bad Astronomy examples that didn't relate to the Martian. The second Bad Astronomy example was not present in the movie as there were no asteroid fields or astronomical objects that were maneuvered. The third Bad Astronomy Example was not present in the movie either as there were no spacecrafts that banked on air that was is not present in the vacuum of space. The sixth Bad Astronomy example was not apparent in the movie since Mark was on Mars and utilized water there. The seventh example did not make an appearence in the movie since gravity was properly portrayed, and the 8th example didn't either as there were minimal space travel scenes. The ninth example was not involved in the movie since there were no major explosions that would have created a mushroom cloud had it occurred on Earth, and the tenth example was not either as the moon never made an appearence in the movie.

I rate this movie PGP.


  1. You weren't meant to take the "Bad Astronomy" rules so literally. For instance, the need for water did play some role in the movie (Mark had to create it through chemical reactions), as did gravity (Mark had to escape Mars' gravity at the end). And there was an explosion, when they purposefully blew the air lock to slow the Hermes down. Finally, there were space travel scenes to consider and examples of maneuvering the Hermes spacecraft.


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