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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Myth Busting Monday - Hearing Sound in Space

MYTH: You can hear sounds, like explosions, in space

I found the answer to this myth on a blog entitled Tell Me Why? that answers a lot of interesting questions on a vast verity of topics. Here is what the author says about sound in space:

Sound can only travel through a medium (solid, liquid or gas) by making their molecules vibrate. This therefore means that sound need any one of the three states of matter (solid, liquid or gas) in order to travel. Space being nearly a perfect vacuum, means sound waves can not travel from its vibrating source through the vacuum to another point in space or to the ear of an individual. In order for one to hear sound it must travel through gas particles which space has very few per cubic centimeter. This is very much less than that in the Earth’s atmosphere. So, can you hear sound in space ? or does sound travel in space? The answer is no, space is silent.

So do not be fooled by space movies where you can hear the loud explosion in space of a space ship or planet, spaceships engine giving off sounds or the firing of guns. This myth of sound in traveling in space, is spread mostly by Hollywood space movies and also by TV. This is only added for special effects as sound effects and music greatly enhance the psychological effects that movies have on an audience thus, making the movie a lot more interesting and entertaining.[source]
The Tell Me Why blog goes into more detail about sound in space here.

Before I read this article I never really thought about being able to hear sound in space; I am a huge Star Wars fan and after I read about this I imaged what it would like to see the Death Star explode without the big explosion sound and concluded it wouldn't be as spectacular.

Lynn Carter, a graduate student in astronomy at Cornell University has this to say about hearing sound in space:
We wouldn't be able to hear the sound because our ears aren't sensitive enough. Maybe if we had an amazingly large and sensitive microphone we could detect these sounds, but to our human ear it would be silent.
Although it is true that there is enough gas in space to propagate sound, but not enough for us to hear the sound. So even though space movies are propagating the falsehood of being able to hear explosions and laser cannon fire, I am glad they do it; otherwise space movies would be dull and boring, and Star Wars wouldn't have been the second highest grossing film of all time.

What are your thoughts about this myth, let us know in the comments

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