Anatomy of Myth (2)


What makes myths dangerous is that they are usually developed through verbal tradition. Ironically enough, among the most commonly believed myths nowadays are scientific myths, some of which we bust here.

There is a Dark Side to the Moon

Actually, every part of the Moon is illuminated at sometime by the Sun. This misconception has come about because there is a side of the Moon that is never visible on Earth; this phenomenon is called tidal locking. A tidally locked body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner; this synchronous rotation allows one hemisphere to constantly face the partner.

Meteors are Heated by Friction with the Atmosphere

When a meteoroid enters Earth's atmosphere, becoming a meteor, it is actually the speed compressing the air in front of the object that causes it to heat up. It is the pressure on the air that generates a heat intense enough to make the rock so hot that is glows brilliantly for our viewing pleasure if we are lucky enough to be looking at the sky at the right time.

We should also dispel the myth about meteors being hot when they hit Earth, becoming meteorites. Meteorites are almost always cold when they hit; in fact, they are often found covered in frost. This is because they are so cold from their journey through space that the entry heat is not sufficient to do more than burn off the outer layers.

The Human Body Pops when Exposed to Space Vacuum

This myth is the result of science fiction movies, which use it to add excitement or drama to the plot. In fact, a human can survive for 15–30 seconds in outer space as long as they breathe out before exposure; this prevents the lungs from bursting and sending air into the bloodstream. After 15 or so seconds, the lack of oxygen leads to unconsciousness, which eventually leads to death by asphyxiation.

Brain Cells Cannot Regenerate

The reason for this myth being so common is that it was believed and taught by the science community for a very long time. It was not until 1998 when scientists discovered that brain cells in mature humans can regenerate. It had previously been long believed that complex brains would be severely disrupted by new cell growth, but the study revealed that the memory and learning center of the brain can create new cells, giving hope for an eventual cure for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.

Lightning never strikes the same place twice

Next time you see lightning strike and you consider running to the spot to protect yourself from the next bolt, don't! Lightning does strike the same place twice; in fact, it is very common. Lightning obviously favors certain areas such as high trees or buildings; in a large field, the tallest object is likely to be struck multiple times until the lightning moves sufficiently far away to find a new target. The Empire State Building actually gets struck around 25 times a year.

Unfortunately, among the myths that are continuously being generated and propagated, even in this day in time of unprecedented knowledge, more often than not causing mass disturbance among the population, are eschatology myths, which are myths that revolve around the end of the world; the Apocalypse.

*ٌRead Anatomy of Myth (1).

**The original article is published in the PSC Newsletter, Big Questions (Winter 2012) issue.

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