Debunking science in the film Gravity

The Girls’ Schools Association recently coordinated a Science blog competition in support of British Science Week. This represented an exciting opportunity for our girls to draw on their subject knowledge and creative flair, in order to create work in a format a little different from that which they produce in an academic setting.

Contributions were of a high quality and the range of subjects covered is testament to our girls’ freedom to explore their individual curiosity. Following a difficult shortlisting process we received some exciting news this week…

We are delighted to announce that Sixth Form Science student, Anastasia Petrovic’s blog has been published on the Girls’ Schools Association’s website.

Miss Petrovic wrote a witty piece debunking the science in the popular film ‘Gravity’. But enough from us, we’ll hand you over to the professional. Please read the text of Miss Petrovic’s piece below, or follow the link to view on the GSA’s website: https://gsa.uk.com/science-week/film-science/

GRAVITY

Gravity is a science fiction film about an astronaut and a medical engineer trying to repair a spacecraft when everything goes wrong. Here I will address some of the science that was not quite accurate in the film.

Warning: contains spoilers!

The first thing I find a little strange is the idea that NASA would send a medical engineer to repair a spacecraft.

Moving swiftly on, another part of the film which, although poignant, didn’t make sense was George Clooney letting himself go, instead of continuing to hold on to the long rope-like thing at the other end of which was Sandra Bullock. The idea was that the rope would save her from the same inevitable fate as Clooney i.e. drifting off (It’s like the Titanic all over again). In a more realistic universe, they would both have been in free-fall and, therefore, essentially weightless. This means that she could have quite easily pulled him back towards her. Alas, in the film, it transpires that a mysterious force prevents her from doing so, and pulls Clooney’s character away from her.

To this day I can find no evidence that anyone has been able to identify this mysterious force – maybe because it shouldn’t have been there in the first place!

According to Newton’s first law of motion, as a stationary being, Clooney’s character should have stayed stationary in the absence of any application of force. Indeed there is no indication in the scene that any tangible force was applied, so one must ask, what exactly was pushing him away from his colleague, towards the vastness of space? What really tickled me was reading that some scientists have even said that Bullock’s character could in fact have left him where he was, gone back to the spacecraft to get more rope, and then returned to save him.

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The second event I identified as potentially scientifically inaccurate, was when Bullock’s character cried and her tear immediately floated away from her face. In reality the surface tension of water would have meant the tear would have stayed on her face, surrounding her eyes, instead of floating away so quickly. This theory was actually put to the test by astronaut Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station; the water simply formed a small bubble under his eyes, which evidenced that a good cry in space will not a flood of tears produce.

The pièce de résistance of the ‘science fiction’ in this film has to be the rather convenient finale. Shortly after the pod lands softly in the ocean – well, in water, several feet from the shore – Bullock’s character swims back to sure footing. In reality, it would take quite a long time to adjust from an environment with near zero-gravity to the earth, which boasts its fair share.

In summary, I’m confident the film Gravity accurately represents many scientific details. If only I had a significantly longer blog space and a hefty research budget, I’m sure I could find one, maybe even two, about which to tell you.

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Written by Anastasia Petrovic Lower VI St Augustine’s Priory, Ealing

Contributor: TFarmer

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