Steven’s Science in Cinema: Armageddon (1998)

I promised in my first blog that I would do equal amounts of STEM reviews on various movies. I have since realized that I have yet to do a physics review. I was actually excited for  this review as I really enjoy the sci-fi film genre. Most of the films that cover physics concepts are mainly space movies. Among all of them, there are the great movies like Interstellar which beautifully explores the 5th dimension, and then there is the movie that was rumored to be a screening test for NASA astronauts. The astronauts would have to watch this movie and point out the obvious flaws. This movie is Armageddon (1998) by Michael Bay.

The Asteroid

This isn’t necessarily an inaccuracy, as it is more of an extremely unlikely event to occur. The size of the asteroid in the film was said to be the size of Texas, which is a little over 1,200km in both length and width. The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs is said to be about 10km in length and width. This is a great example of the “let’s make it bigger” philosophy that Hollywood tends to employ. In reality, any asteroid that would be worth the same amount of concern that occurred in the movie would be anything 1 km or larger. Aside from the ridiculous size of the asteroid, the lack of perception of the asteroid is also an important inaccuracy in this movie. Let’s say that there is an asteroid that is this size, an astrophysicist would be able to see this behemoth coming more than months in advance. We would be able to do this for an asteroid that is only 10 km in size. In fact, with that behemoth of an asteroid flying towards Earth, someone could look up into the sky and see it earlier than the scientists in the film saw it. 

The Fire and Flames

Like most Michael Bay movies, there are always a large amount of explosions. The whole plot of exploding the incoming asteroid in order to protect Earth from impact is a cool idea to reduce damage. Except the wonderful explosion that it would produce would never occur. Even as the astronaut’s spaceship landed and there were flames along the whole ship and the asteroid, none of these flames would ever be present. This can be simply explained by the simple fact that fire requires oxygen. As we all know, there is very little oxygen in space. Therefore, the flames would never occur.

The Boom

We know that the epic explosion and cool flames could never occur in the triumphant final scene, that must be it…right? You can’t mess that much up in the most memorable part of your film. Turns out…you can. Except this inaccuracy is required. The sound of the explosion would never occur in space. Sound waves travel through vibrations in the surrounding area. Humans register those vibrations and then perceive them as sound. In space, the particles that are found in space are not close enough together to carry any vibration that would be perceivable to us as humans. It could basically be said that there is no sound in space. All that being said, the loud boom that occurs in the film would also never occur! However, I completely understand why this part of the film, and this aspect of every other space movie, is required. Otherwise, these scenes would never be as glorious as we all remember them to be. In fact, if it was dead silent, most audiences might view it as boring. Especially any fight scenes. It just has to be stated that this aspect of the film would never actually occur. 

The Solution

The solution of drilling to the center of the asteroid and planting a nuke is completely implausible for several reasons. First off, the size of the asteroid is so enormously large that it would be impossible to reach the center. A good reference would be if the asteroid was the size of an apple, the astronauts would have realistically only made it past the skin of the apple. Aside from the inability to drill to the center, the idea of nuking the asteroid would never be plausible. It would be much more efficient just to deflect it away if you had the time. Also, the nuke would not prevent all of the asteroid. There would still be the asteroid, but now the asteroid would just be scattered into clusters. Several pieces would still hit earth and cause apocalyptic levels of damage.  Instead of the impact being in one area on Earth, it will now be spread out across the whole planet. 

This is my father’s favorite film. Throughout my lifetime I must have seen this film at least twenty times. I never realized until I rewatched this film how many flaws are in this movie. With all the inaccuracy, it is unsurprising that the film has been made into a test for NASA astronauts. I really enjoyed reviewing a space movie, but most of the flaws presented in this film are universal across most space films. Armageddon really hit their use of scientific inaccuracy out of the park. For my next blog, I am excited to review the movie Her (2013) directed by Spike Jones. Before me doing this blog, I had never even heard of this movie. However, I have discussed the idea of science in cinema with some computer science enthusiasts, and they have suggested this movie to me for its accurate depiction of AI!

– Steven Zeko, Film blogger

Steven’s Bio:

Steven Zeko

Steven Zeko is a senior at Lewis University, working towards a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education. Currently, he is involved in immunology research and Chem-ED research. Following his education, Steven wants to teach Biology, Chemistry, and Physics at a high school level. In his free time, Steven enjoys playing video games, reading, playing golf, and watching movies. He is typically reading two books at any given time, with one book being a science book and the other being any good book that he can find. Currently, Steven is reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Educated by Tara Westover. His fascination with science began when he was a kid by watching the works of Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both being wonderful STEM educators, he hopes to invoke their ability to energize a crowd just by educating people about science.

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