Avatar science fallout: grading the scientific realism of the movie

Friday, December 25, 2009

Here's a much more detailed post than most of the science-related articles one can find about Avatar, over which parts of the movie deserve an A grade for scientific accuracy and which parts are a little far-fetched. Overall the movie gets a fairly good grade.

On a related note, I've always found the titles of articles like this one to be a bit odd. That one is also about whether a moon like Pandora could truly exist, and the exact title is "Avatar's moon Pandora could be real, planet-hunters say". Now, if the article was about the existence of such a moon around a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri system then there would be no problem with using the word could, but the article is about moons of gas giants in general. Being cautious to a certain extent is usually a virtue in science, but in this case it's an overabundance of caution because it's not talking about moons that definitely have life but rather just moons similar to the size of Earth in the habitability zone of a star. Of course those exist. The first extrasolar planets we found were hot Jupiters because they were the easiest to find, when we refined our ability enough to discover planets around the size of Neptune we began discovering those too, and as soon as we were able to locate super-Earths, lo and behold, we discovered them too. We know of four gas giant planets from close up and each one of them has a large number of moons, and added to that there are about 250 billion stars in the Milky Way plus another 250 billion or so extra galaxies on top of that. So yes, these moons do exist.

So what would be a better title? I would go with "planet hunters confident a Pandora-like moon will be discovered within a few years" or "improved telescopes expected to yield discovery of Pandora-like moons in near future", something like that.

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