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Faking it
Manhattanhenge
Image Credit: Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Astute astronomers catch cinema shortcuts.

We all know that Hollywood plays tricks in film-making – but some of them fail to comvince the informed scientists because they are just plain wrong. 

Neil de Grasse Tyson highlights one problem with sunrises shown in films: they are often sunsets run backwards, he says. And how do we tell? Over to Neil: “From all latitudes north of the Tropic of Cancer (23.5°N), the Sun always rises at an angle up and to the right, and sets at an angle down and to the right. That's how you can spot a faked sunrise in a movie: it moves up and to the left. Filmmakers are not typically awake in the morning hours to film an actual sunrise, so they film a sunset instead, and then time-reverse it, thinking nobody will notice.”

De Grasse Tyson was writing a blog (http://www.amnh.org/our-research/hayden-planetarium/resources/manhattanhenge) about Manhattanhenge (the days a year when the Sun rises directly along the grid of streets, offering a striking vista. He has made good use of this for public astronomy, highlighting the apparent movement of the Sun in the sky and encouraging New Yorkers to stop awhile and look.

But he’s also encouraging that same critical approach to films – and I can only applaud. Astronomers the world over gasped at the use of “parsec” as a unit of time in the first Star Wars film; geophysicists giggled at the depiction of the deep Earth in The Core. There are many more and I’d love to know about them!

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Dr Sue Bowler

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Dr Sue Bowler

Dr Sue Bowler is Editor of A&G and A&G Forum.

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