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Artistic License Space

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Because... you know... space is grape-flavored.

"Captain, we've been attacked by some sort of force ray! Gah! Gyah! Space air is flooding in!"
"Right. Goggles on!"

Thanks largely to Science Fiction, space is probably one of the most inaccurately portrayed things in modern media, to the extent that complete falsehoods are widely accepted as fact.

Earlier media can get a pass since they were made in a time when there hadn't been much research on the subject yet. Modern portrayals of space, however, still haven't changed much from the rock-filled, noisy place where an unprotected human can instantly explode into clouds of ice. However, some of the modern misrepresentations can be put down to the Rule of Cool, Rule of Drama, Acceptable Breaks from Reality, or simply the belief that audiences wouldn't accept it any other way.

Subtrope of Artistic License – Physics. Not to be confused with Astrology, no matter how open to interpretation the stars may be.



Unclassified Examples

Can't figure out where to put your astronomy-related example? Leave it here. When we get enough like it, a new trope will begin to form. Kind of like a solar system, if you think about it.

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    Mangled Celestial Motion — Relative Planetary and Stellar Placement 
  • In an energy snack commercial, a basketball player (Lamar Odom) shows off his ability to dunk to the Moon. On his way, he tells Saturn to get out of his way. If we're suspending our disbelief enough to buy that a guy jump to the Moon, Saturn might as well be between the Earth and the Moon. The next guy says he's going to dunk on Pluto. Okay. For all we know, that might be a shorter trip than one to the Moon, in this ficton's astronomy.


  • When the aliens attempt to reach Earth in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series, the narrative inexplicably swaps Jupiter and Saturn's positions in the solar system.

Film — Animated

  • In Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Jimmy claims that the Yokian's home planet is in the Orion system, approximately 3 million light years away. Not only is there no such Orion system, the stated distance would put the planet somewhere in the Pegasus Galaxy. Even if he was talking about the Orion NEBULA, that would only be 1,344 light years away.

Film — Live-Action

  • In Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, all the planets including Pluto (which at the time, was a planet) are aligned. Okay. Pluto's orbit is highly erratic, tilted at an angle of 17 degrees to the ecliptic and highly eccentric (being the wrong kind of ellipse). It will probably never align closely with all the other planets in the lifespan of the solar system, but you can't have a really good planetary collection without having the whole set.
  • Star Wars: Tatooine is one of the most famous live-action examples ever of Binary Suns. However, this causes the franchise a few problems with Special Effects Failure.
    • Throughout the franchise, in shots set on Tatooine during the daytime, everything only has single shadows (an Acceptable Break from Reality in live-action given they have to film on Earth). Realistically, this could only happen were the two stars extremely close together, and they'd still have a blurry boundary.
    • On the other hand, the iconic shot in A New Hope where Luke looks wistfully into the sunset is done by compositing a shot of a setting sun next to one of a visibly rising sun. Besides the fact Tatooine is shown shortly after to have a true night where no sun is visible, for the suns to be arranged this way ought to mean that the Tatoo System is geocentric, which violates basically all of orbital mechanics. (Could they not have just played the clip representing Whitesun backwards?)


  • This is Older Than Print. In The Divine Comedy, Dante violates a principle of medieval astronomy, that the Sun, Mercury, and Venus were always close as they orbited Earth, in order to have Mercury and Venus appear in the shadow of the Earth. Doing so allows Dante to use darkness to symbolize the deficiencies of the souls of Mercury and Venus.
  • In Foundation's Edge, Trevize and Pelorat are discussing a legend about a particular pentagon of stars. Pelorat assumes it's a legend centuries old, but Trevize states it must be a recent one and, moreover, one originating from the particular system they are in, because there is only one inhabited system from which the stars form a perfect pentagon. Moreover, it is composed of stars with high proper motion, and was noticeably distorted as late as a century ago.
  • Towards the end of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in mid or late June, Harry is taking his astronomy O.W.L. and charting Orion. Orion is not visible in the night sky in mid or late June at any latitude. The same scene also has him looking around for Venus (which is never more than 47 degrees away from the sun) around midnight. Needless to say, he didn't do particularly well on that O.W.L.. Just as well. Muggles have to be better at something.
  • The World Treasury of Science Fiction: The cover presents an awesome Earth-rise from behind the moon, framed by a red nebula that goes from hot pink to dark black. Awesome cover, but complete fiction.

Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
    • The 1996 TV movie places Gallifrey, the Doctor's home planet, some 250 million light years away from Earth, on "the other side" of the Milky Way. That's about 249.9 million light years past the other edge of it. The Milky Way is estimated to be only around 100 thousand light-years across.
    • "Partners in Crime": Wilfred Mott is looking at Venus through his telescope. His telescope is angled too high to see Venus, which never strays too far from the Sun in the sky due to being closer to it that Earth.
  • In Firefly, the 'Verse is set in a quintiple star system that was reached and settled by 2517 via Generation Ship. In reality, there isn't actually a system of that kind that can be reached in that timeframe, so they had to make one up. note 


  • The 5th Dimension: "Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In" describes a new age that will come "When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars." In actuality, the moon is in the seventh house part of every day and Jupiter and Mars align multiple times each year.

    Mangled Celestial Motion — Made-to-Order Eclipses 
  • In Canada, BMO (Bank of Montreal) has a credit card commercial taking place on the day of a solar eclipse. However, the eclipse's totality starts and ends within mere seconds.

Film — Live-Action

  • Apocalypto features a solar eclipse. The very next night, there's a full Moon, which is odd considering that a solar eclipse can only happen at new Moon. (Lunar eclipses, on the other hand, can only happen at the full Moon.) The Moon is obviously like a great big lightbulb a writer can turn up or down, depending on the level of light needed at night. Since it's heavily implied that the Mayan priests secretly know how to predict eclipses, this leads to the amusing Fridge Logic that the characters know better astronomy than the writers.
  • Ladyhawke: A full moon is followed a few days later by a solar eclipse, followed a few days later by a quarter moon. Though the novelization, by SF writer Joan Vinge, corrects this.
  • In The Kid Who Would Be King, at night we see some lovely shots of the full moon. This is all happening within 3 days of a solar eclipse.

Live-Action TV

  • Something alike happens in the Spanish TV series Águila Roja. A few days before a full moon there's a solar eclipse.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Season 3 finale features a solar eclipse that goes from zero to total in about five seconds, then stays that way for the duration of the entire climactic battle. Apparently the mayor's magic is powerful enough to first speed up the earth's rotation, then stop it dead in its tracks for a while.
  • Heroes has issues with eclipses. The pilot has a reasonably brief eclipse, but it's visible in both New York City and Tokyo at the same time. The eclipse that robs everyone of their powers in Season 3 is even worse; not only is it visible across the globe, it lasts for hours. Why? Because is it says so, right here in the script, that's why.

Video Games

    Mangled Celestial Motion — Constellations Are Constant 
Film — Live-Action
  • In Prometheus, the titular ship's destination is derived from an image of five stars which shows up in ancient sites around the world. The archaeologist hero says that a certain region of a very distant galaxy is the only possible match for this stellar configuration.
  • Stargate: The way that constellations are used as a Cartesian coordinate system begins with the idea that a constellation is a fixed point in space. That probably makes it easier to build things you can just walk through to cross interstellar distances.

Live-Action TV

  • In Childhood's End, the glyphs the Overlords use to communicate amongst themselves are in the shapes of constellations as seen from Earth's sky. If this system of writing had really been invented by the Overlords, they would most likely have used the shapes of constellations from their own homeworld's sky.
  • In Neverland, a certain character points out that the constellation Orion is in a different position in the sky as opposed to Earth, due to Earth being situated in a different galaxy.
  • The Orville: "All the World Is a Birthday Cake" deals with a We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill scenario with a planet of astrologers: first officer Kelly Grayson and tactical officer Bortus are imprisoned in a concentration camp for being born under the wrong star sign. Several problems come up:
    • The entire conflict plays with astrological science. For starters, Earth, Moclus, and Regor II are in completely different star systems, so Kelly and Bortus couldn't have been born under Regor II's astrological signs: constellations don't look the same from other star systems, and their component stars can change positions significantly over time. Secondly, to calculate the crews ages the way the Regorians did, that would mean Earth, Moclus, and Regor II all have the same day/night cycle (24 hours) and the same year length (365/366 days). In all likelihood, Kelly and Bortus were born under different Regorian signs, but their current birthdays happen to coincide with Giliac.
    • The prejudice against an specific astrological sign was the result of a star in that constellation being swallowed by a black hole, around 3,000 years prior, and the Regorians witnessing the event. This doesn't take into consideration the interstellar distances and the time it would take for the light of the star to travel to Regor II. It would take hundreds if not thousands of years for the Regorians to notice the star had gone dark, and the dates of the star's destruction and the Regorians' cultural change would not match.
    • The crew resolve the conflict by planting a solar sail in a position to reflect the sun and imitate the "missing" star, using electronic countermeasures to fool any observers; the crew reason that it will take a long time for the Regorians to advance their technology enough to figure out they'd been duped, at which point they might have Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions anyway. It wouldn't take advanced technology to discover the new "star" was a fake, as it was shown as deployed close enough to the planet that due to the planet's orbit it would appear in different positions in the night sky over the year, and even during the same night different telescopes would show it in different positions compared to the background stars, and thus far, far closer.
  • In the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1, Sam suggests that the reason none of the gate addresses on the Abydos cartouche still work is because the expansion of the universe has changed the stellar coordinates they represent. While this could be true for the 8-symbol extra-galactic addresses introduced later in the series, e.g. the Asgard homeworlds or Atlantis, it's Right for the Wrong Reasons within the Milky Way: the stars do move relative to Earth over the described timescales, but because of differing orbits around the galactic core (e.g. Kapteyn's Star orbits retrograde and at an unusual angle) rather than universal expansion.

    Mangled Celestial Motion — Spacey Schedule Errors 
  • A scene in Olivia Manning’s Levant Trilogy has the main character watching a moonrise in the late afternoon. It is described as a new Moon.
  • In the 1892 novel Mona McLean, Medical Student (which is essentially Exactly What It Says on the Tin), a full Moon is in the sky at the same time as the Sun.
  • As Stephen King admits, the moon cycle Cycle of the Werewolf is designed to have a full Moon fall on various holidays rather than an actual 30-day interval.
  • A minor plot point in one Marcia Muller mystery involves two characters knowing that the next high tide will come 24 hours after the current high tide. In reality they are every 12 hours 25 minutes.

Live-Action TV

  • In She-Wolf of London, Randi tells Ian not to worry about her transforming into her wolf form because "there won't be another Full Moon for months".
  • In Time Scout, reading stars like a clock is portrayed as much more difficult and complex than it actually is.

Video Games

  • In the final level of Halo 4, Earth is depicted with the sun casting a shadow covering the arctic. Since this level takes place in July however, the sun should be giving the arctic perpetual daylight, meaning that either the angle of the Earth or the relative location of the sun is incorrect.

Western Animation

    Mangled Celestial Motion — Planets Never Move 
  • Looney Tunes: Marvin the Martian wants to blow up the Earth because it obstructs his view of Venus. Just wait a moment... In reality, astronomers would flock to such an event. There is plenty one can learn about both objects when a planet eclipses a star (or another planet).

    Mangled Astrophysics — Timescales of Stellar Evolution 
  • Star Wars Legends: In the novelization of Revenge of the Sith, Anakin recalls a visit to a black dwarf star system: a frigid dwarf of hypercompacted trace metals, hovering a quantum fraction of a degree above absolute zero. Even now, black dwarfs have yet to exist, as they require hundreds of billions of years to cool, and our Universe is just around 13.8 billion years old. Plus, Star Wars is set "A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...", in a universe even younger than ours.

    Mangled Astrophysics — Supernovae: Causes and Effects 
Comic Books
  • The final result of Adam Warren's Dirty Pair arc "Fatal But Not Serious" (during which a cloned Yuri raises hell on a planet) is the launch of a supernova-causing weapon to the nearest sun, which makes it explode with such power that other supernovae will occur from the shockwave. This is not possible-supernovae don't produce a "shockwave" powerful enough to create "sympathetic explosions" of other suns (especially because they are normally too far away from each other for this to happen, if it could happen in Real Life), and while it's never said about what the weapon can cause other than that it can cause supernovae, it's easy to assume that such a mess would be beyond the designer's original desire (and it was unmodified, mind). Just another thing that could be chalked to their inhumanly bad luck, apparently.

Film — Live-Action

  • In Fantastic Four (2005), Johnny Storm's power is to make himself hotter while being immune to the effects of his own heat. Reed Richards speculates he could make himself hot enough to make the air molecules around him "go supernova"; it turns out Reed's theory is correct as Johnny makes himself hot enough to create a supernova to incapacitate Doctor Doom. The term supernova implies an immediately unstoppable explosion on an astronomical scale, of massively high temperatures. Johnny raises the temperature by creating a fiery tornado limited to a twenty foot wide area. The Invisible Woman waits a few seconds to begin containing this blaze by surrounding it with her force field, not encasing it in a sphere, but leaving the top and bottom ends open as the force field slowly goes up to follow the rising flames, and then contains it at the last second. The flames appear no hotter than an ordinary blaze, yet this blaze is supposed to represent the temperature of the air rising over a few seconds until reaching the superhot temperatures required to create this explosion. This extreme rise in temperature does not suddenly kill everyone around him due to radiant heat. The explosion goes off with a small pop, and is shown slightly expanding the force field as it appears to buckle, while a real supernova, going off within the atmosphere, on the surface of the planet, would have already obliterated the planet. The effect stops, leaving a charred ground within the area of the blaze, without showing any physical effect outside the confines of the force field, without creating deadly radiation, and without burrowing through the Earth's crust or igniting the rest of the atmosphere. The Earth is still fine, the ground is scorched at the surface, the metal suit Doctor Doom wears only appears hot, but is not hot enough to burn through his body, and underneath the suit his body is somewhat burnt but he still survives intact. Because a nuclear fusion reaction going off at close range is not that hot. It looks like this was never a real supernova in the first place, but a flamey explosion effect that happened to be called a supernova.
  • In Star Trek (2009), the Romulan system is destroyed by the shockwave from a supernova. Trouble is, the star shown exploding is an average-looking yellow Main Sequence star (like our own), which are neither hot enough nor massive enough to generate a supernova. Supernovae form almost exclusively from extremely massive blue-white stars. Also, a supernova can't destroy the galaxy or even a warp-capable multi-planetary civilization like the Romulan Star Empire, since, like everything else in the universe that doesn't have a warp drive, the expansion of its radiation and shockwave is limited by the speed of light: even a very powerful nova should give the Empire years to evacuate its core planets. Star Trek Online, which takes place in the prime universe 22 years after the supernova, acknowledges its implausible behavior and justifies it: it was deliberately induced by the Iconians using technobabble.


  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: In Life, the Universe and Everything the Ultimate Weapon of Hactar and the Krikketers is a cricket-ball sized bomb that can start a simultaneous supernova chain reaction to destroy galaxies and the entire universe. The reaction occurs in hyperspace, disregarding the duration of energy travelling through time and space, the distances between stars, the distances between galaxies, and the size of the universe.
  • A similar chain reaction occurs towards the end of the Andromeda arc of Perry Rhodan in the center region of that galaxy after a star is destroyed with a largely untested prototype weapon there. This can potentially be handwaved — hyperspace to the rescue — in that the star in question was one of six blue giants making up one of the "main" matter transmitter stations in a network capable of Mass Teleportation, moving entire fleets on an intergalactic scale, and any side effects (including pretty effectively wrecking the network in question for good) thus probably weren't caused purely by its physical detonation.
  • Larry Niven's Ringworld and Known Space mention a supernova chain reaction at the core of the galaxy happening thousands of years agonote 
  • In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, one of the sequels to A Wrinkle in Time, there's given yet another reason not to throw a nuclear war on Earth: (The Sun isn't even massive enough to cause a supernova, anyway.)
    Gaudior: You know some of the possibilities if your planet is blown up.
    Charles Wallace: It just might throw off the balance of things, so that the sun would burst into a supernova.

Live-Action TV

  • Star Trek: Picard: In attempting to address the scale problem of Star Trek (2009) above, the pilot episode issues a retcon that the supernova that destroyed Romulus was of the Romulan sun itself, rather than a distant star as the film had implied (and confirmed in the tie-in comic Star Trek Countdown). This introduces the new problem that a star big enough to turn into a Type II supernova would be unlikely to ever have any Earthlike planets around it: larger stars have shorter lifespans and produce more radiation, and the star would expand and incinerate any planets formerly orbiting in its habitable zone millions of years before going nova. (This was addressed by implying that the supernova wasn't a natural occurrence.)

Video Games

  • Final Fantasy VII: Sephiroth casts Supernova, destroying the planets of the solar system, and the sun, all so the effect of the supernova can travel to the planet and deal damage to the party, who are supposed to be in a crater, or maybe another dimension, a dimension where Supernova can be cast multiple times, and the planet remains just fine after the battle, so it would only make sense if it's not literally happening as depicted.

Western Animation

  • In the episode A Planet Blown To Pieces of Il était une fois...... Space, the leaders of the Omega Confederation discuss about the primary star of a multiple star system, where the antagonists (Cassiopeia) are building a military base, going supernova (it fall into the next category too, since they often refer to it as a nova) soon. Not only supernovae do not work the way it's explained there but also in the show people are far more concerned about the debris of the explosion -that moves far slower than the light, thus not reaching the planet where's the base is located until days later and allowing Omega to assembly a fleet of ships to save the prisoners used as construction workers- than the energy emitted by it. In Real Life, the energy emitted by the supernova is far more dangerous than its debris, and it moves at the speed of light -so no days to rescue everyone on that planet, as happens there (at best, hours)-note .

    Mangled Astrophysics — Novae 
In more than one work of fiction, a star like the Sun is said to end its life by "going nova". The implication is that a nova is merely a supernova on a smaller scale. Even Larry Niven brushed up dangerously close to this mistake in his short story "Inconstant Moon".

In reality, a nova is an outburst caused by a white dwarf sucking material off of a companion star; when enough material is accreted on the white dwarf's surface, it gets hot enough and dense enough to undergo nuclear fusion. This produces an outburst that reaches peak brightness in a few hours, then cools back down again over a few days or weeks. Some white dwarfs are known to be "recurrent novae", undergoing a nova outburst at more-or-less regular intervals of a few years or decades. (If the white dwarf accretes so much material that its mass exceeds 1.44 solar masses, it will explode spectacularly in an event called a Type Ia Supernova. Unlike the supernova that ends a massive star, this type of supernova produces no neutron star.)

When a sunlike star ends its main sequence lifetime, it doesn't "go nova", it swells into a red giant over the course of a few million years. In the process, the center is expected to undergo a "helium flash", similar to a type Ia supernova. The core stays together and the effects don't reach the outside of the star because of the rest of the star sitting on top.

Even fictionally "blowing up the sun" should never, ever result in a "nova". Supernova, maybe, but not nova.
  • In Isaac Asimov's story The End of Eternity, Eternity's time travel and related capabilities are explicitly powered by the comparatively limitless energy of "Nova Sol", originally reached by laboriously extending a time-traversing pipeline futureward to the moment of the sun's explosion.

    Telescopes 101 
  • Several works of fiction show amateur astronomers viewing meteor showers through a telescope. In fact, a telescope is the absolute worst thing to view a meteor shower through, since you need as much sky coverage as possible. The best piece of equipment to view a meteor shower? Camera with a fisheye lens. Alternatively, a lawn chair.

  • The first Ad Bumper (indeed very first segment) of this collection of 1984 commercials and ad bumpers shows a ground-based observatory frantically turning to get a view of a UFO. Not only is the UFO in question too close to resolve clearly by the telescope, but observatories can't turn that fast.

Film — Live-Action

  • In Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Lara Croft observed the alignment of Pluto and Neptune through a telescope in a room full of what looked like 20 floodlights. If these two had tried to be too dim to see in that situation, Lara would have just kicked their butts. They must have been really trying to be bright little planetary bodies that night out of sheer terror.

Live-Action TV

  • In the season 6 finale to The Big Bang Theory, "The Bon Voyage Reaction", Raj shows his girlfriend the International Space Station, using a telescope to do so. The problem with this is the ISS orbits the earth every 90 minutes, so it is constantly moving. A non-computer-controlled telescope's field of vision is small so you would have to keep moving the telescope to see the ISS or it would whiz by very quickly, especially at a magnification high enough to see it as more than a bright star. The telescope was probably unnecessary anyway because the ISS is usually visible to the naked eye as it moves across the sky.
  • Subverted (intentionally or not) in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, in which a group of nerds attempt to view a meteor shower through a telescope, only to have their fun ruined by Malcolm and his brothers throwing food at them. They eventually get their own back, and knock Malcolm and his brothers onto their backs, where they then view the meteors.

Web Video

  • This Door Monster video plays it for laughs. Using a completely normal telescope, they view, among other things, a meteor, an alternate universe, France and an Independence Day rerun. The thing also apparently has five septillion optical zoom.

    Bad Nomenclature 
  • For decades, ever since science fiction began to depict interstellar empires, the convention, seemingly embraced across all media, has been to designate a planet by its star, followed by a Roman numeral indicating its position in its system. So the fourth planet from Altair would be called Altair IV, the third planet from Tau Ceti would be called Tau Ceti III and so on. This despite the fact that the convention among astronomers for naming objects in orbit around stars is to use a lower case letter in order of discovery. So the first object found around Alpha Centauri A is called Alpha Centauri Ab, the second Alpha Centauri Ac, the third Alpha Centauri Ad and so on. Despite this convention being in place for almost 30 years now, fiction has had little incentive to adapt. That said, in any plausible situation involving interstellar travel it is laughably geocentric to name planets in the order they were discovered by Terran astronomers, whereas naming planets in order by distance from their sun is logical, consistent, and easily comprehensible.
  • The word astronomy is itself often confused with astrology. Many real-life astronomers get asked about star signs.

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Superman storyline The Super-Revenge of Lex Luthor first refers to the outer space celestial body where Luthor has been imprisoned as an asteroid, even though asteroids drift around the inner Solar System, and are too small to have an atmosphere (let alone the complex plant lifeforms seen in the background). The following panels show the writer is using the words "asteroid" and "planet" interchangeably.

Film — Live-Action

  • In the 1959 film of Journey to the Center of the Earth, Professor Lindenbrook remarks that more is known about the stars and galaxies than about the depths of our own planet. The film is set in the mid-1800s, when the term "galaxy" only applied to our own Milky Way; the distant celestial objects now known to be other galaxies were then called "spiral nebulae".
  • In Highlander: The Source, the galaxy suffers a major case of When the Planets Align. One character offhandedly dismisses the phenomenon, suggesting "that could just be orbital wobble." The film at least immediately says "No it isn't 'orbital wobble', this is clearly magic related to the Immortals."
  • Like the movie that it was licensed from, Stern Electronics' Meteor Pinball is named after a five-mile wide asteroid that's headed for the Earth.

Tabletop Games

  • In The World of Darkness supplement Infinite Macabre, the term "galaxy" is explicitly stated to mean "systems of stars orbiting one another" or "systems of planets orbiting one or more stars." Also, they're separated by hundreds of thousands of parsecs at least, millions of parsecs at most. By way of reference, the nearest "galaxy," using the above definition, to our "galaxy," again using the above definition, is the Centauri system, roughly 1.5 parsecs away. Talk about scale problems...

Video Games

  • In Metroid Prime, the planet the majority of the plot takes place on is called Tallon IV. Curiously, there appears to be nothing else in the system named Tallon, and its neighboring planet is Zebes from the previous games.
  • In Wild ARMs 2, the Kuiper Belt is a cross between Another Dimension and an Eldritch Abomination; it is also referred to as the Encroaching Parallel Universe and is quite literally a sentient universe that attempts to consume Filgaia. In reality, the Kuiper Belt is simply a ring of cosmic debris that surrounds the Solar System.

Western Animation

  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Little Rock of Horrors", the "Brain Eating Meteor" is referred to as a meteor even though it is technically a meteorite, having already impacted the Earth; Irwin even points this out in the video game. (Of course, it makes perfect sense to anyone who points that out that this meteorite being confused for a meteor talks, eats brains, sings, etc...)

    Fake-Looking Celestial Bodies 
  • A very common Special Effect Failure in video games is the "bright sky, black moon" effect. Video game designers try to make a moon with variable phases and combine it with an unrealistically bright sky full of Hubble-style nebulae. The moon's dark side, quite realistically black, does not blend well into this sky and sticks like a sore thumb. This defect can be found in:
  • The Time Tunnel episode "End of the World". Halley's Comet is depicted as a brightly glowing ball in space, like a miniature sun.

    Nebulae Misrepresented 
  • The Crab Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula (because of their interesting appearance) were once depicted as being the home address of various aliens. If not, then they were in the neighborhood. These are not very hospitable areas to have a planet. The former is what remains of a star that went supernova in 1054 and the latter is actually an area where new stars are born. Also, as with constellations, these nebulae will not retain their appearance to a person travelling in space as opposed to on Earth. So an alien wouldn't think of himself as being from, say, the "Horsehead Nebula".note 
    • This fact plays a role in the Isaac Asimov novel The Stars Like Dust. From the current power center, the Horsehead Nebula looks nothing like a horse's head (more like a three-fingered hand), so they speculate it's named after the original (mythical) explorer, one Horace Hedd. The Earthmen do still remember the true meaning, as stated by a person who lived there for a while, and was even shown it through a telescope.
    • In Battle of the Planets, the Spectrans are based in the Crab Nebula.
  • In more than one work of science fiction — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan comes to mind — a nebula is treated like an opaque cloud where a space ship can easily hide from sight. In reality, nebulas are more rarefied than the best laboratory vacuum. The only reason a nebula is visible as a cloudlike structure is because it's light-years across, and astronomers have to peer through a ginormous expanse of this extremely tenuous material.
  • Space Fantasy Commemorative Stamp Booklet: The red background is highly unusual, and the presence of planets indicate that this is not a planetary sky. Possibly a nebula, but the presence of planets with atmosphere would indicate against that.

    Comet Impacts Don't Work That Way 
  • Tank Girl. The opening narration says that a comet hit the Earth and somehow got rid of most of the liquid water on Earth (as shown by the dry sea beds), presumably by evaporating it. It also resulted in no rain falling for 11 years. Unless the comet was made of some crazy compounds designed to utterly destroy water molecules, the result of all that water evaporating should have been 1) the entire planet being flash-broiled, and 2) the mother of all greenhouse effects and downpours when all of that water vapor condensed and returned to the ground. (Unless the comet hit the Earth so hard that it sent all the water out into deep space; but any comet impact of that magnitude would also shatter the Earth's crust and turn it into a lava world.) The dialog of the Water And Power personnel implies that vast amounts of water are hidden under the desert, but it's even less likely that the comet impact could have caused that.

    Destroying Killer Space Objects in Earth Orbit is Perfectly Safe 
  • In Bill Nye the Science Guy: Stop the Rock!, the Meteoroid And Asteroid eXploder, MAAX, is designed to deflect or otherwise destroy asteroids or meteoroids which are large enough to pose a threat to the survival of life on Earth as people know it. The latter part would actually do more damage in real life since destroying asteroids and meteoroids large enough to destroy or decimate Earth would only create even more asteroids or meteoroids to impact the Earth - albeit smaller ones.
  • Independence Day: A ship, said to be a quarter of the size of the Earth's moon, is destroyed not too far from the Earth's atmosphere, without sending debris crashing into the planet or disrupting the tides.
  • Infinite Crisis: Planets are created and destroyed, not that far from the Earth's orbit, without disrupting the orbit of the Earth, and the orbit of other bodies in the solar system, and without causing global flooding on the Earth or causing any debris to hit the Earth.
  • Subverted in One-Punch Man, as Saitama manages to destroy the meteor threatening to destroy the city... but doesn't destroy any of the meteorites coming from the broken pieces, completely decimating several cities.
  • In BoJack Horseman, the International Space Station is retired by being blown up. This would be considered a highly dangerous move, because there is a chance the shrapnel could become space debris and/or destroy nearby satellites or harm civilians. In the episode, the ISS is shown to be blown up right above Southern California, and in a low enough orbit that it can be seen with the naked eye, which would almost certainly be a major issue for the populace. When the ISS does get retired, it will be de-orbited into the Pacific Ocean instead.

    Light Pollution Doesn't Exist 
  • Batman & Robin: There's an observatory in the middle of Gotham City.
  • The Saving Hope episode "Vamanos" has a scene with Charlie and a patient watching a meteor shower from the hospital roof. The meteors are easy to see despite the fact that these people are in downtown Toronto surrounded by brightly-lit buildings. It would be either difficult or impossible to get this kind of view in a light-polluted area. Usually the only celestial objects visible would be particularly large and bright ones such as Jupiter.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", Wilf is seen stargazing while sitting next to a large bonfire.

    Orbital Mechanics Do Not Work That Way 
  • In Gravity, the Flechette Storm resulting from the destruction of the shuttle and the Hubble being hit by satellite remains is told to be moving so fast that it would orbit the Earth and come back to hit the main characters in 90 minutes. The problem? If the debris was indeed moving that much faster than the astronauts at the same elevation, it would break orbit and shoot off into space or, at least, move in a different orbit and, thus, be harmless to them. That's not even bringing up the fact that they have somehow caught up to the ISS which is moving in a completely different orbit from the Hubble (which is where they are) without much effort. The ISS does orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, which is probably where they got that from.
  • In The Three-Body Problem, the Alpha Centauri system is depicted as chaotic, subject to the titular mathematical principle, with the stars orbiting around each other in unpredictable ways. The planet Trisolaris is a victim of this, getting tossed around like a football between different stars, going from Stable Eras where it settles into orbit around one star to Chaotic Eras where the atmosphere freezes or the surface melts. The planet is also the last in its system and is doomed to fall into one of its stars, prompting the aliens living there to migrate to Earth. This is not how the Alpha Centauri system or any multi-star system works- Alpha Centauri A and B both orbit around each other and Proxima Centauri orbits the two at a distance of 13,000 AU, and the latter has two confirmed planets.

    Stars with Pointed Spikes 
  • The stars with pointed spikes — usually four, resembling a plus sign; however there are variants of this such as a x-shaped star — so prominent and known from so many space images are actually caused by the vanes that support the secondary mirror of reflecting telescopes, often known along with the holder of that mirror as spidernote  and do not exist in reality, nor when one sees a bright star without optical aid and/or in the space would see it with those spikes note . The effect is known as diffraction spikes, and there are photographic/camera filters to simulate it.
    • Same for the haloes visible around them, that are optical effects, except in some cases where they are actual nebulosities surrounding the photographed star(s).
    • A related effect are vertical images that often appear images of bright stars taken with telescopes that mount CCDs -the electronic devices found at the heart of digital cameras- instead of traditional photographic plates, that are produced when the individual bins of a CCD overflown and spill in vertical as is easier to happen due to the CCD's structure, an effect known as Blooming

Anime and Manga
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, it's revealed that a Mars colonization project failed because Mars' magnetic field produced dangerous rays that caused an epidemic of terminal disease among the population. It comes off as a way to get around saying that recklessly colonizing Mars would give you cancer, because the fact that Mars has no magnetic field means that any life there has no protection from solar and cosmic radiation.

Film — Animated

Film — Live-Action

  • In Iron Sky: The Coming Race, it's said that a ship moving from the Moon to Mars will take 80 to 100 years to arrive. The thing is, if a ship has already achieved Lunar escape velocity (2.38 km/s), then it should take between 9 months and 5.3 years to get to Mars, depending on the planet's position relative to Earth. And the ship's engines are shown to be constantly running, so the time should be even less.
  • Mars Attacks!: Mars appears to be no further from Earth than the moon is. Also, Mars is shown to be bright red when, in reality, the Martian surface is more a desaturated orange-brown.
  • In Pixels, the space probe with message to aliens is said to have reached alien life and given aliens enough time to prepare and reach us in slightly more than thirty years. Unless it has Orion Drive (forbidden by US conventions), it should be somewhere around Pluto by the year the movie takes place in. Then again, the aliens may have been passing by the Solar System and just happened to rendezvous with it. Who knows?
  • The miniature sun in Spider-Man 2 shows no effects of radiant heat, radiation, or gravity on those nearby, having no effect on physical matter when handled by a set of metal arms or when idly floating in an unshielded "containment field". There's no way to estimate mass or density. Is the sun's own gravity holding it together, and is that gravity coming from its mass despite its size, as its miniatured molecules simulate macro-scale gravity while still allowing thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium at its core to take place, in a safe and cozy environment, without killing everyone nearby?
  • In Switched, the explanation of the red moon. The news achors and the expert all say that it's because of the "unique terrain" in the area. However, real red moons that aren't caused by a lunar eclipse are caused by significant pollution, where there's so much smoke in the atmosphere that the light bends abnormally.


  • Isaac Asimov's "Not Final": According to this story, Jupiter has a surface. While that may have been a plausible theory in the 1940s, most scientists knew that such a surface couldn't be solid. At best there would be layers of gas compressed to liquid form.
  • The Magician's Nephew: Describes red giant stars as cold, even if their worlds are similarly distant as Earth from the Sun. It is true that red giants are cooler than younger stars, but "cooler" is relative, and they are also much, much closer to their planets, and any such planets would be roasted rather than chilled.
  • The Time Machine: Describes red giant stars as cold, even if their worlds are similarly distant as Earth from the Sun. It is true that red giants are cooler than younger stars, but "cooler" is relative, and they are also much, much closer to their planets, and any such planets would be roasted rather than chilled.
  • In the Hans Von Hozel story Werewolves, executives on earth successfully harpoon the Sun.

Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
    • "Rose", "The Christmas Invasion" and "The Runaway Bride" all begin with the same Astronomic Zoom, starting with a shot of the Moon that pans to Earth before zooming in on London. However, in all three cases there are problems with the zoom:
      • First, judging by the exceptional sunniness of the North Pole, the Earth appears to be as it would be at around 4:30 PM Greenwich Time on the Summer Solstice. However, "Rose" is established by later episodes to be set in March, and the two Christmas specials are of course set at Christmastime: times when the North Pole should be either only partially illuminated or straight-up facing away from the Sun.
      • Second, the time of day, a problem that primarily affects "Rose": the zoom-in in that episode ends on a shot of Rose's alarm clock, showing the time to be 7:30 AM in the UK. That explains so well why North America was so very, very sunny in the opening zoom, almost as if it was the middle of the day there, doesn't it?
    • In another case of bad sunlight, at the point in "The Runaway Bride" where Donna checks her watch and remarks that it's 3:30 PM, the Sun is far, far too high, given that on Christmas Eve in London, at 51°N, that's roughly 45 minutes before sunset.
    • "The Next Doctor", set on December 24, 1851, has a full Moon visible in the background at night. That wasn't actually the phase of the Moon on that date.
    • "The End of Time":
      • Too much sunlight strikes again: Late in Part 1, there's a shot of the Immortality Gate's effect travelling around the Earth, which yet again shows the Arctic regions as being impossibly sunny for Northern Hemisphere winter.
      • The Vinvocci ship is repeatedly said to be orbiting the Earth at a height of 100,000 miles, or 160,000 kilometres, which is about a third of the way to the Moon. Unfortunately, the size of the Earth in the ship's windows is far too large for the ship to be that far away, and going by that size the ship's distance is less then a tenth of what the characters say it is.
  • In Space: 1999, exterior shots of Moonbase Alpha always show a sunlit landscape, illuminated at about the same angle every time. This is in blatant violation of the basic premise of the show: the moon has left the solar system and is hurtling through interstellar space, usually light years from the nearest star.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Galaxy's Child", Geordi LaForge mentions everything in the Universe vibrates in a 21 cm radiation band. The change in quantum spin of the electron in single hydrogen atoms is the main source of these radio emissions, and not everything in the Universe does thatnote .
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "I Shot an Arrow into the Air". After launching from Earth, a space ship goes off course and ends up on the surface of an unknown celestial object. Even though the object has Earth standard gravity and a breathable atmosphere and the Sun appears to be the same size in the sky as it is on Earth, the astronauts somehow conclude that they've landed on an asteroid. This is impossible, and the astronauts should have known it: in order for the object to be an asteroid, it would have to be the size of the Earth, and it certainly would have been already seen by astronomers. Not surprisingly, the Karmic Twist Ending of the episode is that the astronauts have in fact landed back on Earth.


  • The booklet of Ayreon's album Flight of the Migrator mentions as flavor text for the song Into the Black Hole that the quasar 3C 273 is located in the center of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. The only thing shared by both is to be in the same constellation (Virgo), as not only the former is 2.4 billion light-years away and the latter at "just" around 54 million light-years (ie: around 44 times closer and totally unrelated one to each other), but also 3C 273's position in the sky is in the outermost regions of said cluster.
  • Scandroid's first album takes place in Tokyo in the year 2517. The narrator/protagonist makes repeated reference to his savior, Aphelion, being the point in Earth's orbit when it's farthest from the Sun. So far, so good. Except that he also believes this is winter. That would only be true in the southern hemisphere; Japan is in the northern, when it's summer. At aphelion, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, and this effect far outweighs the increased distance.
  • "Alone (it's me)" by Abfahrt contains the line "Don't like the Moon without you, it's just another planet that I'd be watching with you." The Moon isn't a planet, it's a moon.

Tabletop Games

  • In the Forgotten Realms Player's Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 is stated that Selûne, the Abeir-Toril's moon, orbits at just 20,000 miles of the planet (for comparison purposes, this is less than 1/12th of the mean distance between the Moon and the Earth)note . The effects of having a large satellite (it's stated to be similar in size to the Moon) so close such as very powerful tides and tidal-caused earthquakes are not addressed at allnote .

Video Games

  • In Dark Fall The Journal, the amateur astronomer's room contains documents that describe a "new" constellation which he discovered by pure chance with an ordinary telescope. Not a new star, mind, but a whole group of them that no one had evidently spotted before. Could be justified as the Dark Fall giving him visions of constellations from eons past.
  • In the arcade game Xain'd Sleena/Solar Warrior, Jupiter appears as a desert world complete with Dune-like worms, likely as a Shout-Out to Space Ghost.

Visual Novels

Western Animation

  • In the episode Happy Starday of Billy the Cat TV series, astronomers seem to look for an individual star, visible with the naked eye, and than name it, so it has not been seen. (How do they know, for what they look?) Besides, Mr. Hubert has to move to be in the light of his star, that he already sees. (If he sees it, its light falls on his eyes.)
  • The Space Ghost episode "The Heat Thing" shows Jupiter as having a solid surface with a normal atmosphere instead being a gas giant.
  • An episode of The Impossibles featured Jupiter as having a solid surface with a normal atmosphere instead being a gas giant with a toxic-to-humans atmosphere. Hanna-Barbera didn't seem too worried about accuracy in the 60s.
  • In the BoJack Horseman episode, "Planned Obsolescence", the Alternate History mentions the Russian dog Laika was the first woman in space. This is incorrect, as Laika was the first living creature in space, regardless of gender. The purpose of her flight and was meant to test the safety of spaceflight for living beings. Meanwhile, Laika is still alive and well enough to give a podcast with Diane. Unfortunately, the real Laika died hours after the flight, due to overheating. Laika's survival was not expected, as the technology to de-orbit spacecrafts did not exist at the time.
  • The Dragon Prince: At the end of season 2, a setting crescent moon is shown opposite a rising sun. In reality, opposite a rising sun would be a full moon.


  • Uranus is only visible from Earth with the naked eye in dark skies (little to no light pollution), so anyone who invokes Uranus Is Showing is far more likely to be talking about someone's bunghole rather than the planet.
  • Some works feature aliens that claim to come from star clusters as the Pleiades or planets orbiting luminous stars as Deneb or Rigel. Actually, unless they're just vaguely giving the position of the place they come from, either said places tend to be either too young (the former) or last too little (the latter ones) for advanced life to evolve -assuming life had even managed to develop, to begin with-.
  • Others will present constellations as being composed either of stars with similar brightness and/or colors, and/or looking like the thing they're supposed to represent. In Real Life, not only are they composed of stars with very different brightness and colors, but except in a couple of cases as Leo, Orion, Cygnus, or Scorpius, you're going to need a lot of imagination to spot what they're supposed to represent, especially if you're using the modern constellation boundaries.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Astronomy, Artistic License Astronomy, Space Does Not Work That Way, Artistic Licence Space