It’s hard to tell fact from fiction, especially when it comes to Science. There are several topics that are commonly regarded as scientific fact but are actually myths. Lightning never strikes the same place twice and the five-second rule are scientific myths commonly regarded as truths by many people, but it’s all made up.
Ever wonder about some of the biggest science myths that everyone believes? Then this list of the top 10 science myths is for you. Can a penny dropped from a tall building really kill a pedestrian? Is there gravity in space? Is a meteor fiery because friction produces heat? This list tackles common scientific myths and should debunk any silly yet accepted theory you’ve heard before because the ones listed here simply aren’t true. Here is a list of the top 10 most common science myths.
1. There Is No Gravity in Space
A very common image in everyone’s brain is an astronaut jumping around on the moon like it was a trampoline in his backyard. Bouncing around in space without a care, and without gravity. But that’s a load of bull because there is gravity in space – a lot of it. The reason that astronauts appear to be weightless is because they are orbiting the earth.
They are falling towards the earth but moving sufficiently sideways to miss it. Part of me is convinced that astronaut training is just a bunch of guys in a room reading Douglas Adams, at the heart of this theory is what Adams says is the knack to flying:
“The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. That is, it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.”
So, basically astronauts figured out how to fly in space and that makes them even cooler than they already were. But I digress, another interesting fact is that when a shuttle reaches orbit height (around 250 miles above the earth), gravity is reduced by only 10%, which means space is like being in a bounce house 24/7. There is still gravity in a bounce house and there is gravity in space.
2. Lightning Will Never Strike the Same Place Twice
What a bunch of hogwash! Lightning does strike the same place twice – in fact it is very common. This one is all about common sense, lightning does favors certain areas such as high trees or buildings. The reason being that they are tall and easy to strike, simple right?
So, in a large field, the tallest object is likely to be struck multiple times until the lightning moves sufficiently far away to find a new target. The Empire State Building gets struck around 25 times a year. So take that cliched proverb!
3. Meteors Are Heated By Friction When Entering the Atmosphere
Anyone who has ever been cold has rubbed their hands together to generate warmth. The rubbing of two objects together creates friction which in turn produces heat. It would make sense to think that when a meteoroid comes crashing into earth it’s friction that makes it turn into a fireball, but that’s not true. When a meteoroid enters the atmosphere the speed compressing the air in front of the flying object that causes it to heat up.
Just like with your hands the fast your move them the more it heats up. The pressure on the air generates a heat intense enough to make the rock so hot that is glows bright enough for our viewing pleasure. Another myth is that meteors are hot when they hit the earth. Meteorites are almost always cold when they hit – and in fact they are often found covered in frost. This is because they are so cold from their journey through space that the entry heat is not sufficient to do more than burn off the outer layers.
4. A Penny Dropped From A Tall Building Can Kill A Person Walking Below
The myth is if you drop a penny from the top of a tall building (like the Empire State Building) – it will gather up enough speed to kill a person if it lands on them. The fact is, the aerodynamics of a penny isn’t that great, it’s like putting a spoiler on a Honda…Hollywood can pretend Civics’s are racing cars but it’s still a Honda.
A penny dropped from a really high place is just a penny what would happen in reality is that the person who gets hit would feel a sting which is pretty anti-climactic. So if you’re planning on offing a bunch of people with pennies, you may want to head back to the drawing board.
5. Brain Cells Can’t Regenerate
Of course they can! Every cell in the human body can regenerate if you give it enough time. The reason for this myth is actually kind of shocking it was believed and taught by the science community for a very long time.
In 1998, scientists at the Sweden and the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California discovered that brain cells in mature humans can regenerate. It had previously been long believed that complex brains would be severely disrupted by new cell growth, but the new study found that the memory and learning center of the brain can create new cells – giving hope for an eventual cure for illnesses like Alzheimer’s. So all those years of hearing that drinking and bad decisions killed your brain cells were completely false, you can continue making stupid faces too your face wont’ get stuck that way.
6. There Is a Dark Side of the Moon
No, there’s not. But there is an awesome album called the Dark Side Of The Moon so..at least we have that. Every part of the moon is illuminated at sometime by the sun. This misconception has come about because there is a side of the moon which is never visible to the earth. This is called tidal locking, the fact is that Earth’s gravitational pull on the moon is so immense that it can only show one face to us. Wikipedia puts it rather smartly:
“Tidal locking occurs when the gravitational gradient makes one side of an astronomical body always face another; for example, one side of the Earth’s Moon always faces the Earth. A tidally locked body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner. This synchronous rotation causes one hemisphere constantly to face the partner body.”
You feel like your IQ just went up about 10 points after reading that don’t you?
7. The Five Second Rule
The rule states that if you drop food on the floor you have five seconds to pick it up before it becomes contaminated, sometimes if the food is really delicious it’s the “10 second rule”. But, I’m sorry dear friends this is false. If there are germs on the floor and the food lands on them, they will immediately stick to the food. Greedy little guys!
Having said that, eating germs and dirt is not always a bad thing as it helps us to develop a robust immune system. I’ll be honest, if something with cheese or peanut butter falls on the floor, five seconds or not I’m still eating it.
8. Polaris Is the Brightest Star in the Northern Hemisphere Sky
Polaris is the Thomas Edison of the stars, it just knows how to position itself to get all the credit. Sirius is actually brighter with a magnitude of −1.47 compared to Polaris’ 1.97 (the lower the number the brighter the star). The importance of Polaris is that its position in the sky marks North – and for that reason it is also called the “North Star”. So, Sirius just gets completely screwed in this deal but it can always throw the fact that there’s a whole satellite radio company named after it in Polaris’ face.
9. Human Beings Explode In Space
This myth is the result of science fiction movies which use it to add excitement or drama to the plot. In fact, a human can survive for 15 – 30 seconds in outer space as long as they breathe out before the exposure (this prevents the lungs from bursting and sending air into the bloodstream). After 15 or so seconds, the lack of oxygen causes unconsciousness which eventually leads to death by asphyxiation, but no explosions.
10. Evolution Causes Things to Go From Lower to Higher
While it is a fact that natural selection weeds out unhealthy genes from the gene pool, there are many cases where an imperfect organism has survived. Some examples of this are fungi, sharks, crayfish, and mosses – these have all remained essentially the same over a great period of time. These organisms are all sufficiently adapted to their environment to survive without improvement.
It’s not always an onward and upward climb in evolution, which is why if we did in fact evolve from monkeys their species would not be eradicated, just upgraded according to the environment, take that creationists!