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Disaster movies are meant to thrill us, not give us an in-depth understanding of real-world dangers. Having said that, real-life scientists can attest to the fact that some movies are more accurate than others. When it comes to movies like Armageddon, one astronomer admits that she’s been asked the same question about the Bruce Willis blockbuster for years.
In Michael Bay's Armageddon, a huge asteroid that went undetected until it was far too late is dangerously close to hurtling into Earth. NASA recruits a team of deep-well oil drillers, including Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, to intercept the asteroid and destroy it before it wipes out all of humanity (because… why not?).
It’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but the 1998 film was a huge hit -- it made more than $500 million at the box office. Despite the fact that no one really took it that seriously, apparently the threat of global distinction via space rock has continued to weigh on the minds of many over the years.
Jackie Faherty, who is an astronomer at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, gets asked questions about scientific accuracy in movies all the time. She recently revealed to Yahoo! News that she still gets asked about Armageddon:
Is there an asteroid out there that is gonna hit earth and cause either massive destruction or possibly destroy the planet? The movies that exist out there about what could happen — Armageddon being one of the more famous ones — that movie is about as scientifically incorrect as one can get.
Surprisingly, she didn’t call out the fact that it’s pretty unlikely that a drill team could be trained in the perils of space travel in under two weeks and effectively dismantle an asteroid as Armageddon’s main scientific inaccuracy. The good news is that, according to Jackie Flaherty, a lot of the reason Armageddon is so inaccurate is because it’s not very likely Earth could ever be in that much danger from an asteroid:
There might be a big rock out there with our name on it. If there is, there’s a good chance that we’ll find it, because we’ve got a lot of these really great surveys. And there’s people thinking really hard about this, about whether or not we could do something. But because we’re taking this seriously, there’s some cool ideas that people have. Can we deflect it? Could we yank it away from the Earth?
So, basically, while movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact make it seem at least somewhat possible, we probably don’t have to worry about getting flattened by an asteroid any time soon. That means Bruce Willis can probably put his “saving the world” costume back in storage.