Think about the solar system.
What is the image that comes to mind?
If you are anything like me it probably looks something like this…
Well, you’d be wrong.
That picture we saw hundreds of times in our textbooks and science classrooms is not descriptive enough. We are not stuck in place on a neat row of planets circling a sun, we are in a helix around a nuclear inferno that is itself orbiting a black hole in the center of a galaxy one hundred thousand light years across.
What we are shown often sticks and becomes our representation of the world. Classrooms and textbooks in particular need to reflect reality as best we can. Even Google should do a better job of this, if you search for ‘solar system’ in Google images you have to scroll pretty far down to get to anything resembling what it really looks like. I still find it hard not to think of the solar system as the static image of our planets aligned neatly beside the sun.
The goal of science should not only be to get to the truth, but to ground society in reality. To give us as honest a portrayal as possible of the world we live in. I’m sure that second image above is itself not descriptive enough, but it is closer to the truth and I wish it was the first thing that flashed into my head whenever I think of the solar system.
A huge gap exists between what science knows and what the general public believes. As science continues to push forward the limits of knowledge it needs more people working to bridge that gap, to ground us and keep us humble, to remind us as often and as loudly as possible of the truth, that we are just apes held down to a clump of rock and metal spiraling around a ball of hot plasma flying through the universe trying to make sense of it all.
(Note: The gif above itself has some problems with it, for one, we are moving in a helix not a vortex, for more click here)
Some other common misconceptions…
What Atoms look like
What molecules look like
I wonder what else we believe to be true really isn’t?