I love science fiction. Big Star Trek nerd, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica was both well done and timely, Alien is a favorite movie of mine, and Halo (not a movie) is a top video game series in my book. I also love science. In another life I would have been a chemist, perhaps, but either way, I’m a scientist at heart. We live in a rational Universe and science helps us understand our Universe.
The great thing about science fiction is that it is science. But fiction. How does that work? Science fiction, good science fiction, is grounded in the principles of science. For example, In Star Trek: Deep Space Nice, the Bajoran Wormhole plays a very important role in the series. Wormholes have yet to be proven to exist but, according to General Relativity, they exist theoretically and would be known properly as an Einstein-Rosen Bridge. In short, a wormhole is a theoretical “bridge” connecting two point of space, allowing one to travel incredible distances in moment without violating the speed of light and other physic.
Bad science fiction really grinds my gears because it isn’t sci-fi anymore—it become just plain sloppy filmmaking. And Netflix’s reimagined “Lost in Space” is just that.
Spoiler Alert! Do not continue reading if you have not seen the ten episode season one.
I’ll not bog us down in the long story but the premise is, a ship, the Resolute (boring-ass name), bound for Alpha Centauri, carrying a crew of humans tasked with given the human race a second chance on a new planet, suffers a catastrophic event and smaller vessels, Jupiter spacecraft, are launched to save the humans from the Resolute’s near destruction. They get sent across the Universe and crash on a planet not unlike Earth. And now we have problems.
The Robinson family’s craft crashes in an arctic-like landscape—ice, snow, wind, rain, hail, etc. Suddenly the small vessel rumbles and it turns out that it is sinking. They must have crashed in the only part of a glacier with water. How quaint.
The ship ends up underwater and the family, without many supplies, is sorting out their next move above on the solid ice. Someone have to get to the Jupiter so one of the Judy dives in and swims down into the ship. Not too long before, the discussion comes up that once the sun goes down, the water will freeze and the ship will be stuck forever.
Sort of my first problem—not really a science problem but too coincidental. This planet is hypothetically billions of years old but just now this one spot is liquid water and going to freeze too? Strange but whatever.
Of course, as Judy, one of the Robinson kids/teens, swims down, get into the ship, and the water starts to suddenly freeze.
Let’s talks physics. Water does not freeze from the bottom up. Water is a very abundant and basic compound yet also is very strange. When it freezes, it becomes less dense. About .93 the density of water (at sea level). As such, the ice starts at the top of the “pond” and freezes top-down. This is also thanks to gravity. It would act differently in space. This does take place on a “Goldilocks Planet” which appears to have roughly the gravity of Earth, .98m/s2, and an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere (more on that in a moment) so it will freeze like that of water on Earth.
Two, in this same scene, the water also freezes in seconds.
Water has a heat capacity of 4.2 joules/gram °C. Of all the common substances, that is the highest. Water does not gain or lose heat very quickly—a lot of energy, or transfer of energy, must take place to change the temperature of water. In fact, question(s), why doesn’t the Earth freeze? Because of water. There is so much water on the planet that it helps Earth “regulate” its temperature. Why does a desert get so cold at night? Because there is little water to maintain temperatures. Why is a warm day feel hotter when it is humid? Because there is lots of water in the air.
For the what appears to be hundreds of thousands of liters of water, the ambient temperature would have to be extremely cold. The Robinsons are seen the whole time without their helmets on, no shivering, no frostbite, so the ambient temperature couldn’t be less than say, less than -10° C. Even if it was -20 or -30° C, the water would take a long time to freeze.
Somethings will change the freezing point of water. To be clear, 0° C (32° F) is water freezing at one atmosphere of pressure, sea level, here on Earth. More or less pressure will change the freezing point but let’s not forget the Robinsons seem to be quite comfortable walking around without their space helmets on. It appears that the atmospheric pressure is rather comfortable for humans—probably much like Earth.
Another variable can be salinity (salt water), but there is no evidence that this water is the salinity of the Dead Sea nor would even that salt content make water freeze faster. Salts makes it freeze at a lower temperate. For those who have *salted* their driveways or sidewalks on an icy winter morning, you know that salt actually assists in melting ice or the prevention of it forming in the first place.
Bad science. Bad story.
Moving on… Judy also doesn’t make it out of the water. It freezes so fast that she gets stuck like a fly in an ice cube.
To be fair, I have not contemplated what would happen to someone being frozen alive in a pond—whether it would harm said person but going back to ice density ice expands. Winters are extra hard on city streets because water gets into every crack and, upon freezing, makes these cracks worse due to the expansion of ice. The pressure of this change, I would estimate would have caused *some* impact on her but I’m not certain, so I’ll let it slide.
But this scene is important because the Robinsons must save their sister/daughter from the ice. Chipping away at it isn’t the answer but Wil Robsinson comes up with a brilliant idea. Let’s burn her out! Magnesium (Mg) + H2O + fire (sparks) = an exothermic reaction (lots of heat), yielding MgOH + H2 (magnesium hydroxide and hydrogen gas). Where do you find elemental Mg? (Answer: almost no where) but on this planet they are on, it apparently makes up some of the *mountains.* Mountains of Mg all over the surface.
Magnesium is not found in it elemental form naturally—Mg is not stable especially in the presence of oxygen. It is an Alkali Earth Metal and is reactive… especially in the presence of H2O and oxygen. Mg will bubble when coming into contact with water (note: we see rain in the same scene) and will simply oxidize in the presence of oxygen yielding MgO (magnesium oxide). Here is the Robinson family on a planet with magnesium mountains, oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere, with ice and rain, and lightning, and somehow there hasn’t been some extreme natural disaster.
Now a few people have had some counter arguments:
How do you know water acts the same as it does on Earth?
Maybe the atmosphere isn’t oxygen/nitrogen?
The whole planet isn’t Mg…...
Sure, some good critical thinking.
Good news! Science is the study of the Universe as a whole. The way water behaves here on Earth will be the same everywhere in the Universe under the same circumstances. In other words, location is not a variable in science. Environment might be a variable but actual place is not.
Valid question. How do we know that the atmosphere is oxygen/nitrogen? We don’t know but science is also based partly on observation. We do know that the atmosphere is capable of supporting human life because, one, they say so in a scene, and two, these humans are clearly breathing. Humans need oxygen to survive. Another observation is in scenes when the sky isn’t overcast, the sky is blue. Our sky, here on Earth, is blue because the Nitrogen—making up seventy-eight percent of the Earth’s atmosphere while oxygen is only about twenty-one percent. To be clear, nitrogen isn’t actually blue but how sunlight interacts through the atmosphere gives the sky its blue color. While there could be other gasses in the atmosphere to give similar effect, nitrogen gas is stable and not poisonous to humans.
True, the whole planet appears to not be a solid ball of Mg but Mg just simply isn’t not found in its elemental form nor mountain-sized caches. And to reiterate, it is just too unstable to be in forms we see in Lost in Space.
I’m sure there is going to be a lot more I can pick on—this was all from just the first couple of episodes but science fiction doesn’t mean devoid of science. It is the exploration of what science and technology could be and most importantly, a method for telling a story that otherwise may not be accepted in a “traditional” genre. Science fiction is a dream of the future, or sometimes a nightmare, and only some bending of the rules for artistic license.