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The Science Behind the Movies: Five movies about space that get their science right

2001-space-station
Screencapture via Stanley Kubrick/YouTube

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, November 7, 2014, 5:35 PM - From various reviews around the web at the moment, it's starting to look like Christopher Nolan's Interstellar may not be quite so steeped in good science as it originally seemed. To make up for this, here are five movies about space that really got their science right (Spoiler Alert for anyone who hasn't seen these)!

Five: Europa Report

While our current search for life beyond Earth is mainly focused on Mars, Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, is a prime candidate for future missions. In the 2013 movie, Europa Report, a team of 6 astronauts makes that journey, hopeful for amazing discoveries. Unfortunately their greatest hope becomes their worst nightmare.

Despite being a horror movie set in space, which is usually a cue to just give up on there being any chance at realism, according to what Kevin Hand, the Deputy Chief Scientist of NASA's Solar System Exploration Directorate, told Popular Science, the science contained in Europa Report is fairly accurate.

"There are a few mistakes here and there, but I have to say it's well above average in terms of scientific accuracy," he said in the interview.

The areas that were stretched a bit, for the purposes of furthering the story, mainly had to do with the Europan(?) environment. For one, the ice that forms Europa's outer surface was much too thin in the movie (it's apparently at least a few kilometres thick in reality). However, what works better in a movie, having the backdrop of Jupiter in your scenes from Europa's surface or having the astronauts in total darkness after drilling down three kilometres into the ice? Also, finding life on the surface is probably unlikely, given the levels of radiation there. There are certainly extremophile organisms here on Earth, but Hand says they don't expect to find anything living on the surface.

"The harsh cold and radiation make that a losing proposition," he told PopSci. "That's not the way it'd happen. We could, however, find complex organic molecules or maybe dead, frozen life on the surface."


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