Sunday, June 19, 2011

Solar eclipse: when TV gets it wrong

During dinner this evening, I caught part of Robin Hood on the ABC. (My internet-fu and ABC's handy iView tells me it was episode 1 of season 3, if you're interested.) Part of this episode involved a solar eclipse. I don't have a problem with solar eclipses. I don't object to them often having mystical significance or being used as a plot device.

What I do object to is the creators investing all their efforts into the CGI-ing of the eclipse (link to screen-cap) and not stopping to think about the immediate consequences. What am I talking about? Not five minutes after the eclipse has passed, we see Robin Hood standing on the battlements doing some heroic arrow firing with a backdrop of blue sky and a half-moon over his left shoulder.

A half moon. Right after a solar eclipse. What. The.

If you're feeling slightly lost at this point, allow me to explain. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly between the Earth and the sun. By a happy coincidence, the angular size of the moon in the sky is approximately the same as the size of the sun. This means that the moon, when passing in front of the sun, can cover it neatly and completely.

Anyone who has stared at the moon for any reasonable length of time will have noticed that it doesn't move around the sky all that quickly. More quickly than stars, maybe, but certainly not halfway across the sky in the space of five minutes. Five minutes after the moon has passed in front of the sun, it's still going to be near the sun in the sky. This means that, since it's day time, it will cease to be visible as the illuminated side of the moon—the part facing the sun—is most certainly not facing the Earth since it just passed between sun and Earth. For there to be a half-full moon in the sky, it needs to be about 90ยบ away from the sun which amounts to about halfway across the sky.

Would it really have been so hard to photoshop (or whatever the movie equivalent is) the moon out of that shot? Really?

People not thinking these sorts of things through make me angry. Especially since lots of people must have been paid to think about the solar eclipse and they all apparently forgot about the mundane moon in the sky.


  1. Amen to all what you have said, Tsana.

    And the worst thing about such misrepresentations are that people who don't know the science or don't think critically about what they are seeing are lead into misconceptions about the way the world works.

    Sigh. I've had to spend quite a few dinner times correcting errors propagated through popular media.

  2. I have made a few friends reluctant to watch SF movies with me because I spend the whole movie pointing out the physics fails. HOWEVER, often said SF movies aren't trying to take themselves too seriously (example: red matter in the new Star Trek film) and no one really expects scientific rigour from them (although when a cube of fissionable material the size of Manhattan a) has it's own appreciable gravity and b) said gravity doesn't always point towards the centre like in Sunshine, I also get annoyed. Mind you, Sunshine also seemed to think fissionable material would restart the sun because the fusion reactions happening inside the sun are so similar to uranium decaying... sigh).

    When we're talking about a real world event (or a 100% plausible event in an Earthly fictional world), there's just no excuse for not knowing how the world works.

    As I said, it makes me sad. And that's what this blog is for.


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