Scientific myths are often taken at face value, and you can’t blame us: said enough times by enough people, it’s easy to believe them. And sometimes what was once commonly accepted knowledge becomes a proven myth later.
It’s likely that you’ve fallen for a few, if not all, of these 25 commonly believed (yet completely false) “facts” about the Earth, space, and physics.
Don’t feel bad about being duped…Just test your knowledge below!
1. Myth: The sun is yellow.
Wikimedia Commons / Deavmi
Nope, it’s white! It may look yellow from our perspective, but that’s just because the Earth’s atmosphere affects the wavelengths of color that reach our eyes.
2. Myth: The Sahara is the biggest desert on Earth.
Wikimedia Commons / Stephen Hudson
At 3.6 million square miles, the Sahara is actually not the biggest desert on Earth. That superlative goes to Antarctica, which is 5.4 million square miles. Surprised? Don’t be: deserts only need to be dry, inhospitable, and lacking in precipitation. They don’t necessarily need to be sandy and hot!
3. Myth: Astrology predicts your personality or future.
Flickr / Peter
Astrology has not been proven to have any bearing on the future or anyone’s personality, despite what roughly half the world believes to some degree.
4. Myth: Your cell phone signals bounce off a satellite.
Unless you’re in the military using a satellite phone, your mobile phone employs cellular towers to receive and send signals. There’s a small chance a satellite may be part of the process of an international call, but even then, undersea cables are what power 99% of communications across the planet.
5. Myth: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space.
Wikimedia Commons / Severin.stalder
This is false, largely because the idea of where Earth ends and space “begins” is all relative. If you’re measuring from the International Space Station 250 miles up, you can see plenty of other objects. If you’re measuring from the moon, then you can’t see anything except clusters of light from major cities.
6. Myth: The ocean’s tides are caused by the pull of the moon’s gravity.
Wikimedia Commons / Bill Anders
Not entirely, anyway. The moon pulls the earth’s center of gravity towards itself, causing high tides. However, that’s only true for the part of the Earth that’s facing the moon. On the other side of the planet, tides are caused by centrifugal force (due to the fact that the center of gravity is offset) and the Earth’s rotation creating inertia in the water.
7. Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Tell that to the Empire State Building, which gets zapped up to 100 times each year.
8. Myth: The Earth is a perfect sphere.
Because it rotates at about 1,040 miles per hour, the Earth is flattened a little bit at the poles. This also causes it to bulge out around the equator.
9. Myth: Mount Everest is the tallest thing on Earth.
Wikimedia Commons / Vadin Kurland
At an impressive 29,035 feet, it’s the tallest mountain above sea level, but Hawaii’s Mauna Kea starts at 19,700 feet below sea level and then extends another 13,796 feet above, making it 33,500 feet in total—over a mile more than Mount Everest!
10. Myth: Water conducts electricity.
Water doesn’t conduct electricity—at least not when it’s distilled or pure. We get shocked when electricity and water combine only when the water is mixed with dirt, minerals, and other materials that have the capability of conducting electricity.
11. Myth: The moon has a dark side that we never see from Earth.
Wikimedia Commons / Apollo 16 astronauts
Technically, there is no “dark side” of the moon. We may not see the far side that isn’t facing us due to synchronous rotation, but it’s never dark. During a new moon on Earth—where its face is in the Earth’s shadow—there is a full moon on the opposite side that we can’t see. In that sense, there may be a “dark” side of the moon, but sometimes it faces us directly, and it never stops moving.
12. Myth: Volcanism moves the tectonic plates.
Wikimedia Commons / USGS
Volcanism is not the reason why tectonic plates move. Older tectonic plate edges are recycled when they sink into the mantle because they are denser and cooler. Ocean ridges form when two plates are pulled apart from the sinking. In these ridges, hot, floating rocks are forced upward and come out of the weak points of the ridges, which are stretched out. This results in volcanism—but the volcanoes themselves were not the cause of the tectonic plates.
13. Myth: You become weightless when you move past the edges of space.
Wikimedia Commons / Hooter
You don’t become weightless when you move past the edge of space. According to scientists, “space” begins 62 miles above the Earth, but you maintain your weight after going past this point. In fact, if you were speeding through in a spaceship, your sense of gravity will increase exponentially. You feel weightless, though, once you begin falling.
14. Myth: Diamonds are made out of coal.
Wikimedia Commons / Helgi
Diamonds don’t come from coal—not usually, at least. Most diamonds are made from compressed carbon 90 miles beneath the Earth’s surface, where it gets heated. Coal, on the other hand, is found only two miles below the surface.
15. Myth: Everyone in the Middle Ages believed the Earth was flat.
Wikimedia Commons / Orlando Ferguson
Contrary to popular belief, most scholars in the Middle Ages knew the Earth was round. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the flat-Earth theory became widely distributed, as discussions about evolution caused a remarkable divide between the scientific and religious communities.
16. Myth: Summer is hot because the Earth is closer to the sun.
Actually, just the opposite. In the Northern hemisphere, the Earth is farthest from the sun in the summer. During this season, the Earth’s tilt allows it to more directly receive sunlight, which is why it gets so much warmer.
17. Myth: Thunder is caused by lightning.
Wikimedia Commons / Thomas Bresson
Lightning is formed when electrons connect and jump between clouds. This creates a tube of plasma from the heated air that’s three times hotter than the sun. You hear thunder when the tube contracts and expands the air around it. It has nothing to do with the electrons flowing in the tube.
18. Myth: The asteroid belt is dangerous.
Wikimedia Commons / NASA/JPL-Caltech
There is nothing particularly dangerous about the asteroid belt, despite what pop culture would have you believe. The belt is somewhere between 200 and 300 million miles away from the sun, and there’s not much there. Even if you pushed all of the asteroids together, they would only weigh about 4% of the moon’s mass. Most of the asteroids are the size of a dust particle.
19. Myth: The moon is close to Earth.
Wikimedia Commons / NASA/JPL
The moon is not as close to the Earth as most people think. It’s 239,000 miles away!
20. Myth: You can only balance an egg during the Spring Equinox.
Flickr / James Jordan
You can actually balance an egg any time of the year. You just need to be good with your hands (and find an egg with a textured shell).
21. Myth: A nuclear weapon could vaporize an asteroid.
Wikimedia Commons / NASA
The film Armageddon might not have been entirely accurate, but this is one concept they got right: if hit with a nuclear weapon, an asteroid might break apart into smaller bits of rubble—but it’s extremely unlikely that it would ever vaporize completely.
22. Myth: Nothing moves faster than light.
Wikimedia Commons / Rama
It should be noted that light travels fastest when going through a vacuum—299,792,458 meters per second, to be exact. But it does move slower through other substances like water and diamonds, at which point its speed can be surpassed by substances like neutrons and electrons.
Of course, if the wormhole theory is true, then anything moving through it would travel faster than the speed of light.
23. Myth: Space is cold.
Wikimedia Commons / NASA
The vacuum of space is not cold. That may be the case when you’re in total darkness, where the temperature can drop down to -450°F. Yet if you’re in a part of space that receives sunlight, you might feel temperatures up to 250°F. You’d be burned to a crisp.
24. Myth: Enrico Fermi created the Fermi Paradox about aliens.
Wikimedia Commons / George Stock
The Fermi Paradox questions why we haven’t seen intelligent aliens yet, even though we know the universe is old and we’ve identified similar solar systems that should, hypothetically, host alien life.
It’s a legitimate question—but the wrong man is credited with it. While it’s true that, in 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi famously asked “Where is everybody?” after spotting a New Yorker cartoon depicting a flying saucer, it’s wrong to assume he was questioning the evidence of alien life. He was really just wondering how feasible it was to travel through space.
The question had been asked long before Fermi, but it wasn’t until the 1970s and ’80s that physicist Frank Tipler and astronomer Michael Hart really developed the theory. Sorry, Enrico!
25. Myth: Solid, liquid, and gas are the only phases of matter.
Wikimedia Commons / Luc Viatour
Despite what you learned in grade school, there’s another phase of matter: it’s called plasma. We don’t think about it much because it’s much more prevalent throughout space—but it’s there.
It’s shocking that we accepted so many of these myths as fact, but knowing the truth definitely makes us feel smarter. Hopefully, this will help more people become informed!
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