Saturday, July 18, 2009

Beyond Impact ... struck dumb

I've generally resisted ranting about bad science in TV and movies. There's so much, it seems as if complaining has no point.

And then Impact came off the DVR ...

Here's where I would post a spoiler alert -- if only it were possible to spoil this miniseries.

In brief: a piece of space junk threatens Earth; brave scientists / plucky heroes must save us all. We've seen it all before, right? As in the late, unlamented Armageddon.

Wrong. The "science" in Impact makes Armageddon look like a graduate course in astrophysics. But rather than turn off the TV after five minutes, I bravely persisted -- howling alternately in outrage and laughter. To name only a few absurdities:

The impactor: a piece of a brown dwarf, described as a dead star. Umm, no. A brown dwarf is a failed star, an object that, if a bit larger, would have heated enough from gravitational collapse to start fusion. (Think something like Jupiter, only many times bigger.) Now a piece of a white dwarf or a neutron star would (on this single point) have made sense.

Scale of the impactor: about 1.8 Earth masses, but physically tiny. Despite its mass, it hid in a swarm of meteors. No one noticed any gravitational effect on the meteors (or the planets)? Hel-lo?

Shape of the impactor: very irregular and jagged. Umm, why wasn't it round? Planets are round because gravity pulls down any big irregularities. (The standard definition of a planet includes the object having enough mass for its gravity to make it round.)

How round is round? The tallest feature on Earth, Mount Everest, stands 29,029 feet (about 5.5 miles) above sea level. Earth itself is about 8,000 miles in diameter. So: Everest represents less than 0.1% deviation from roundness.) The impactor isn't called a planet, but it masses more than Earth, which IS. Why isn't the impactor round?

Impactor's effects: The object embeds itself in the moon -- giving the combined body a mass of about two Earths. The resulting object will soon crash into Earth.

It's mentioned the (unaltered) moon has a mass of 1/6 Earth. No! The moon has a mass 1/81 of Earth, and -- because of its smaller radius -- a surface gravity of 1/6 Earth. Moon plus very dense impactor would have a *very* high surface gravity, the exact number depending on how deeply the impactor embedded itself, and where on the surface (how near the embedded mass) one measures. In any case, *many* times Earth's gravity. So when, inevitably, our plucky heroes go to the moon -- the solution they implement there too handwaving to bear describing -- they should be crushed flat.

(Okay, a partial explanation of my gripe: our heroes bring a miracle machine that ejects the embedded mass -- which has a mass of 1.8 Earths! That's some portable generator!)

I could go on, but I won't (and you're welcome). The "science" was simply appallingly awful. One can only shake one's head at this miniseries airing (June 22nd and 29th) so close to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (July 20).

Must stop. Head spinning ...

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