Another Day, Another Blog

June 26, 2007

Excuse me, Sir, but your dark matter just ate my moon!

Filed under: curiosities, sci-fi, when natures strikes back — iamza @ 3:51 pm

Why is the science in made-for-TV movies often so laughably bad? Not that Hollywood blockbusters are all that much better, but at least the blockbusters have bigger budgets, giving them sparkly special effects and other assorted eye candy.

In Dark Storm, a bunch of scientists come up with a way to super-charge dark matter, and transform it so that it disintegrates matter. Of course, one of the scientists decides super-charged dark matter would make a really handy weapon of mass (literally!) destruction, and sets in motion an evil scheme which puts the fate of the world in jeopardy. Also, Stephen Baldwin gets infected with dark matter and becomes a lightning mage. Stephen Baldwin’s movie wife is less than enthusiastic about the new spark this introduces into their relationship. Oh, and the Smoking Man from X-Files makes an appearance — he’s now General Smoking Man.

I think my favourite moments in the movie were when the super-charged dark matter made tornadoes that ate famous landmarks. Lesson learned from disaster movies: Never buy a house near by a famous landmark. You’re just asking for trouble…

Someone in Sci-Fi UK’s  programming department has a wicked sense of humour. No sooner was Dark Storm complete than Stephen Baldwin returned to the screen in another disaster flick, titled Earthstorm. A massive asteroid impact knocks the moon from its orbit, and sends debris raining down on Earth. Tides and weather are affected by the changed lunar orbit, but, more critically, the asteroid impact has cracked the moon, and it is slowly coming apart. It is up to a demolitions expert (Stephen Baldwin) and crackpot scientist to save the planet…but first they must overcome the resistance of egomaniac and sceptic Dirk Benedict.

Biggest pet peeves: (1) The ease with which the shuttle became available for launch to the Moon — with turbo-boost nuclear pulse engines, to boot! (2) As far as I know, the crew aboard a shuttle in high Earth orbit is weightless. (3) Sealing the crack, if it’s even possible, would do nothing to stabilize the lunar orbit. “Too bad, so sad” for the Earth on that score.

I’m quite intrigued by the idea of using an electromagnetic bomb to collapse the chasm walls of the Moon in towards one another. I don’t know how the bomb would work — how does it impart a sufficiently large charge to one wall of the chasm without similarly charging the other wall? How magnetically susceptible are Moon rocks, anyway? 

I started off scoffing at the notion of a satellite-cracking asteroid impact. But the leading hypothesis for moon formation suggests that the Moon formed when a Mars sized body collided with Earth, knocking out a huge chunk of the planet. That debris later acreted to form the Moon.

Funnily enough, one of the strongest  arguments in favour of the impact origin for the Moon is the lack of a significant iron-rich core — results from the Lunar Propector experiment back in 1999 suggest that the lunar core makes up maybe 3% of the Moon’s mass. In contrast, the Earth’s core accounts for roughly 30% of the planet’s mass.   

Images of the Moon’s magnetic field are fascinating. Unlike the Earth, the Moon does not currently have a global dipolar magnetic field. This does not negate the possibility that, in the past, there was a functioning geodynamo on the Moon, but, given the small size of the lunar core, any such geodynamo was likely short-lived. The magnetic anomalies observed on the Moon are isolated and, on average, have an amplitude less than a hundredth of those observed on the Earth. Given their spatial correlation with significant craters (the strongest anomalies are located on the opposite side of the Moon from the youngest and largest impact craters), it is possible that the magnetic anomalies we observe today on the Moon were created by transient magnetic anomalies during impact

If nothing else, Earthstorm succeeded in one respect: it piqued my interest sufficiently that I found myself googling the Moon’s magnetic field. It’s a pity the same cannot be said for dark matter and Dark Storm.

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