It is impossible to determine just how much science misinformation audiences retain, but it's safe to say the minuscule amount of good science in the movies is entirely outgunned. After combing through a vast library of science fiction flicks both sublime and ridiculous, your intrepid Bad Astronomer sat down to explain the best and worst of movie science. So grab some popcorn, relax, and be glad that when the lights go back up, the real universe will still be out there for us to enjoy.
This gallery is a sample of content from DISCOVER's special Extreme Universe issue, which is available on newsstands only through March 22, 2010.
Bad Movie #1: The Core
For unexplained reasons (because honestly, it's not possible), Earth's core has stopped spinning, causing our planet's protective magnetic field to collapse. The movie almost gets this one right: Earth's magnetosphere does protect us from blasts of subatomic particles from the sun.
But for some reason the writers chose to say that it protects us from deadly solar microwave radiation. They even show a beam of microwaves cooking the ocean and destroying the Golden Gate Bridge (why don't catastrophes in movies ever happen in the middle of nowhere?).
Two problems: The sun is a very weak emitter of microwaves, and worse, microwaves are not affected by magnetic fields! The feeble glow of microwaves from the sun is absorbed by our air on the way down, anyway, so unless the core somehow also strips off Earth's atmosphere--in which case we have bigger problems than solar radiation--we should be safe enough from microwaves if our planet's center stops spinning. Which it can't.