4The Sun Is Yellow
Quick, grab a crayon and draw the sun. If you grabbed anything other than the yellow one, you're a smartass, or else you're about to fail kindergarten.
"I'm failing at a 10th grade level!"
The sun is yellow; that's one of the first things most kids learn about it, right after the whole "hot" thing but before the "horrific mass of nuclear hellfire" part. The color of the sun is one of the easiest things in the world to verify, if you don't mind your eyeballs catching fire after staring at it too long. Hell, even its classification is yellow dwarf.
Actually, we have a pretty good idea of what color the rest of our immediate space is, too. That's because we have plenty of visual material of our galactic 'hood, from the pictures provided by Hubble to numerous satellite images and the various probes roaming the solar system. That's how Hollywood knows what color the Martian sand under Arnold should be when he does the eye-bulge fandango in Total Recall.
We've always assumed they just killed off his stunt double for this scene.
At the risk of crushing the memory of every painting you had to make in grade school art class, the sun is not really yellow, nor is it engulfed in wavy flames. In fact, it doesn't really look like anything much. An intergalactic cue ball, maybe.
The reason the sun appears like it does to us is Earth's atmosphere, which makes its rays appear yellow-tinted. However, the temperature of the Sun is 6,000 degrees Kelvin, and any star of that particular temperature has only one color it can be: white.
Boring white, too. Here's a picture of the sun viewed from space, courtesy of NASA:
It's like the testicle of an albino man with impeccable skin care.
Yes, the sun looks like the moon, but without the face to make it interesting.
But what about the rest of our solar system? We're not dependent on our eyes when it comes to the colors of, say, Mars. We've got pictures. Hell, we had a Mars rover that was right there on the ground, it took snapshots of the red planet from inches away.
So, yes, you can call Photoshop on space.
It's not NASA's fault -- extraterrestrial photography is tricky, and the pictures that result do not necessarily represent the most accurate version of the subject. Instead, the scientists involved in the process tend to go for the combination of colors that help their work the most. Zolt Levay of the Space Telescope Science Institute says:
"The colors in Hubble images are neither 'true' colors nor 'false' colors, but usually are representative of the physical processes underlying the subjects of the images. They are a way to represent in a single image as much information as possible that's available in the data."
So, yeah. Basically, all those awesome pictures space research has been throwing our way for years are nothing but black and white images colored in to show how much science each part of the picture features. The Mars rover will send back this:
And NASA will run it through filters to approximate what the full color version would look like if you were actually there sitting on the rover:
New Mexico floating in pee.
But then you have to remember that Mars gets less than half as much sunlight as the Earth, and that said light is shining down through an atmosphere full of dust made of iron oxide (rust) particles. What we're saying is, the question of "What color is ________?" never has a simple answer when you're talking about outer space.
3Meteorites Are Hot
Let's say a meteorite landed in your yard, right now. You run out there and see the thing sitting in a little crater.
Would you touch it?
Hell, no. Not until it cools down, right? After all, these things follow trails of flame through the sky. You've seen it in every disaster movie -- take the scene in Armageddon where the smoking, fiery meteor shower bombards New York, exploding stuff on impact.
It's never Dave's mom's house that these things crash into, is it?
Although we realize this is not the most scientifically accurate of movies, that's the one scene they might have gotten right. Where a meteor lands, you'll find a charred, smoking crater. Right?
Said chunks of rock have been in the balls-shriveling cold of space (about 3 degrees above absolute zero) for billions and billions of years. When they enter the atmosphere, they're only there for a few minutes because of their extreme speed. This means that no matter what Michael Bay would have you believe, meteors just don't have the time to become all scorching hot and explodey before impact. In fact, they're usually just lukewarm when they hit.
Less dangerous than a Hot Pocket.
But what about the fireball, then? Most everyone has seen a meteor shower, and those bastards are most definitely on fire.
In fact, the fireball has little to do with the actual physical meteor. The flames we see are the air in front of the object being compressed at incredibly high speeds by ram pressure. Basically, the meteor has a layer of air in front of it, surfing the shock wave it creates all the way down. That layer of air is what gets heated to the point of catching fire.
With those wriggly tails this is all starting to look like interstellar bukkake.
The phenomenon actually does manage to heat up the outer layers of the meteor somewhat, but since those always get blown off on impact, that doesn't really matter. So the next time a meteor lands, just go pick that shit up! Rub it on your face, it's fine.