In the opening scene of ‘The Martian,’ a sci-fi thriller movie lauded for its realism, a colossal dust storm threatens to tip over the only rocket a group of astronauts can ride home. So they decide to abandon their mission and evacuate.
As soon as they step out into the storm to make a break for their spacecraft, they’re plunged into darkness and powerful winds:
The winds are so strong they break off a satellite dish, which strikes the film’s main character, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon), and drags him away from the group:
With Watney lost and the spacecraft swaying dangerously, the crew takes off.
The dust storm scene is an intense and exciting start to a highly anticipated blockbuster by director Ridley Scott.
It’s also completely unrealistic.
Dust storms routinely sweep across the planet, but the atmospheric pressure of Mars is about 1% that of the Earth’s. This means the air on Mars is simply too thin for the wind carry much force or do any damage, Jim Greene, NASA’s planetary science director, told The New York Times.
“If standing on Mars, a 100 mph wind would feel like someone was throwing a bag of feathers at you,” Jim Bell, a scientist who works with NASA’s Mars rovers, told Forbes.
It may come as a surprise that Andy Weir, the author of the sci-fi novel that Scott adapted, knew the scene was pure fiction. In a Q&A at the end of the book, Weir explains that he wanted to make the story as scientifically accurate as possible, but he needed the dust storm at the beginning to get the plot moving.
Weir further hashed out his reasoning to Nautilus in January:
That was a deliberate concession I made, because I just thought it was more dramatic to have him get stranded by a weather event. It kind of plays well into the theme of it’s him versus Mars, and it starts off with Mars smacking him around. But realistically, that could not possibly happen.
With so much meticulous research and attention to scientific detail throughout the rest of the book, we’ll forgive Weir and Scott for taking a little creative liberty here. It is a science fiction story, after all, and the scene in the movie looks really, really cool.
“The Martian” is now open in theatres everywhere.
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