If you're a fan of astronomy and space exploration and, by the way, love a movie and sci-fi works, then you should be aware of the release of Ad Astra – Towards the Stars, which follows the journey of space engineer Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt as he travels through the Solar System in search of his father, Clifford McBride, lived by Tommy Lee Jones, who disappeared during a mission to Neptune.
The film promises many breathtaking scenes and very stressful sequences, and the producers consulted astronomers and other scientists – including astronauts and NASA people – to avoid gaffes. But how far is what shown in Ad Astra is scientifically correct or plausible, and where did the writers take film liberties (so to speak) that went a little too far? A movie buff named Andy Howell – who, by the way, is a professor of astrophysics at Rochester University in the United States – reviewed the film and shared his views with the site staff. Gizmodo, which you can check out below. Ah … And spoilers will roll, so be warned now!
(Source: University of Maine / Reproduction)
The plot is set in the not too distant future, where Roy's father departs on an antimatter-powered spacecraft to Neptune, the solar system planet farthest from the Sun, to attempt to detect signs of alien life in other planetary systems. The mission was supposed to last a few decades, but the spacecraft's propulsion system has problems, astronauts disappear, and the damage poses a huge risk to the solar system. Pitt's character then gets involved in a crash in a colossal tower that jumps from Earth to space, probably caused by antimatter pulses on his father's ship – and sets off on a voyage to try to find him and prevent possible tragedies.
When Clifford McBride's team departs on their mission, it is said in the film that the team will travel to Neptune, where the heliosphere boundary – which consists of the vast region where solar influence still exists – so that the sun's magnetic field will not affect the instruments carried by the astronauts. However, as Andy explained, this region does not end in Neptune. In fact, it extends far beyond the planet!
(Source: Chicago Sun-Times / Reproduction)
In fact, humanity has already sent artifacts beyond the heliosphere: the Voyager 1 and 2 probes. And just to give you an idea, the second ship, which was launched in 1977, took 12 years to cover the nearly 5 billion kilometers that separate us from the gas giant – and another 29 years to travel the remaining 13 billion km to effectively leave the heliosphere behind.
The accident on the tower
As we mentioned, Roy crashes into a colossal tower that jumps from Earth's surface to space – when a series of explosions happens and he crashes down from above. For, according to Andy, it is true that at the altitude the character is at, the atmosphere is too thin to offer sufficient resistance to the fall, and as depicted in the feature film, if someone fell from such a place, that person would surely begin to spin uncontrollably. probably even lose consciousness. But despite this "hit", there are several errors in the sequence.
(Source: Monsters and Critics / 20th Century Fox / YouTube / Reproduction)
In the plot, the tower was intended to assist in the search for life in the universe, but it seems that the structure consists of an antenna and, therefore, was built to capture radio signals. But these signals are able to penetrate the atmosphere and reach the earth's surface, eliminating the need to erect such a tower. And even if it were there to detect emissions in x-rays, gamma, or even pulses of infrared light, it would be much, much cheaper, more coherent and efficient to put satellites into orbit than to build such a megatorre.
The propulsion system
We comment that the Clifford ship is powered by a propulsion system based on the use of antimatter, right? But a malfunction would have caused the engines to fire Neptune's cosmic rays that would gain intensity as they travel toward our planet – and could trigger a chain reaction with the potential not only to kill thousands of people on Earth and Mars ( yes, in the feature, there is already a colony there), as of destroying the entire Solar System.
(Source: The Verge / Twentieth Century Fox / Francois Duhamel / Reproduction)
However, according to Andy, the cosmic rays do not become more intense as they move away from the emitting source and travel through space – the opposite is normal – and if they had enough energy to cause the deaths of thousands of people here in the world. Earth, they would surely annihilate whoever was at the source of their wrists.
Moreover, although they have not yet been developed, antimatter-powered rockets are a plausible alternative to long space travel, such as going to Neptune. But the writers seem to have gotten lost in the concepts and mixed what happens in the reactions between matter and antimatter with what goes on in nuclear reactors. In the first case, simply no chain reactions happen, as matter and antimatter annihilate, produce energy, and that's it. But in the second case, since the fission process breaks atomic nuclei, which in turn leads to the release of neutrons – which act like the shrapnel of a bomb and break more and more nuclei. Moreover, while antimatter could cause so much trouble, a mere ship engine would not have enough of it to endanger the entire Solar System.
In the movie, Pitt's character needs to stop by the moon before traveling, but the Hidden Side is basically a territory dominated by lunar pirates. Then, as Roy moves from base to base on the satellite, there is a tremendous pursuit of vehicles flying until they fall into craters and even shooting – where weapons that shoot energetic lightning come into play.
(Source: Space.com / Francois Duhamel / Twentieth Century Fox / Reproduction)
The sequel is one of the most amazing in the movie, and while no information is provided on how weapons work, it is plausible that they will one day be used in space. About "flying" vehicles, considering that the moon is only 1 sixth of the Earth's gravity, buggies would actually take longer to "land" than here.
During the moon's trip to Mars, Roy's spacecraft receives an emergency call from another spacecraft, one conducting studies on comet 17P / Holmes. However, when boarding the rocket in distress, the character and his companions are attacked by a primate – which Roy overpowers and explodes after being placed in an area that is subjected to depressurization. Because this sequence has several errors …
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For starters it is not at all simple to make detours or parades between one path and another in space, since the amount of fuel required for these maneuvers is simply absurd – and if Roy's ship's propulsion is based on ion-powered engines, this system could not get your spaceship out of place. Moreover, although several animals have already been sent into orbit around the earth, why would anyone send primates to a comet? Whatever the purpose of the film's research, the same studies could certainly be conducted in our low-orbit – and cost much less. And we needn't remind you that neither humans nor monkeys would explode if exposed to the rigors of space, right?
After arriving on Mars, the ship is ordered to depart for Neptune without Roy aboard – but the character manages to board underground after swimming through an underground lake, reaching the gas giant 79 days later. Considering that the moon's journey to the Red Planet took 19 days (in the long), and the distance between Mars and Neptune is between 10 and 60 times longer than the first stretch (depending on where the two worlds meet in their orbits around the Sun), the journey should take between 190 and more than 1.1 days. Not to mention that the same ship could hardly store fuel to get this far. By the way, and the necessary provisions for such endeavor, how are they?
(Source: Space.com / Reproduction)
About diving in Martian Lake, according to Andy, scientists suspect these water bodies exist, but they are probably at great depths, extremely cold temperatures and possibly incredibly saline and toxic.
In the movie, after Roy's ship passes Saturn, it crosses the path with a space telescope orbiting those sides. However, contrary to what many people think, these devices do not travel around the Solar System and beyond to capture images or perform studies. They are simply launched into orbit around the earth, remaining about 2,000 kilometers from the surface of our planet.
(Source: The New Yorker / 20th Century Fox Film / Alamy / Reproduction)
When Roy finally arrives at Neptune, he discovers he's off course and needs to use a secondary craft to reach his father. But failing to dock, he is forced to improvise and hitchhikes on what looks like a radar to return to the ship – and uses a panel to protect himself from materials that orbit the planet. However, as a …