Heavenly Errors

Have you ever thought that…

  • The Sun is yellow?Starry Night
  • The Moon orbits the Earth?
  • Mercury, closest planet to the Sun, is the hottest terrestrial planet?
  • Mars is physically the most similar planet to Earth?
  • Saturn is the only planet with rings?
  • The Moon does not rotate (spin on its axis)?
  • Stars twinkle (rapidly change brightness)?
  • Black holes are black?
  • Comet tails point behind them as they travel through space?

If you think any of these statements are true you harbor a misconception!

This website presents over 1700 common misconceptions that people have about astronomy, along with links to the correct science for many of them. If you wish to learn more about the origins of misconceptions, how they can be corrected, and the details of some of them, check out the book Heavenly Errors: Misconceptions about the real nature of the universe.

Astrophysics Ice
Atomic, Nuclear & Particle Physics Interstellar Space
Black Holes Milky Way
Cosmology Physics
Electromagnetic Radiation Relativity
Gravity Telescopes
History and Philosophy of Astronomy Thermodynamics



    1. Thought revolution and rotation mean the same thing
    2. Thought glass is a solid
    3. Thought intuition is a reliable guide to astronomy
    4. Thought theory in science was any idea, not necessarily one that could be tested
    5. Thought distances are determined only by space probes
    6. Thought we could travel to other planets much faster than we can
    7. Thought science progresses in an orderly manner
    8. Thought contact lenses are rubber
    9. Thought matter can be given escape velocity and leave Earth
    10. Thought Angstrom was a measurement of electrical current
    11. Thought objects always spin the same way they revolve
    12. Thought weak force is the weakest force
    13. Thought mass and weight are the same thing
    14. Thought gasses have no mass
    15. Thought the millimeter is the smallest unit of measurement
    16. Thought scientific notation was only used in physics
    17. Thought there is only one force of nature
    18. Thought a lightyear is longer than a parsec
    19. Thought there is only one type of water (i.e. no D2O )
    20. Thought the electromagnetic force is the strongest
    21. Thought water drains differently in the southern hemisphere
    22. Thought forces are always attractive
    23. Thought parsec is a measurement of time
    24. Though magnetic poles of bodies do not move or flip
    25. Thought the Sun was the only source of cosmic rays

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Atomic, Nuclear and Particle  Physics

    1. Thought anti-particles are science fiction
    2. Thought electrons are hard spheres
    3. Thought an atom is different than an element
    4. Thought all electrons in an atom are identical
    5. Thought neutrons have negative charges
    6. Thought fusion and fission are the same thing
    7. Thought everything has mass
    8. Thought all elementary particles are hard spheres
    9. Thought electrons can exist in any atomic orbits
    10. Thought energy can not be created or destroyed
    11. Thought spontaneous pair production is physically impossible
    12. Thought elements are formed in places other than stars
    13. Thought all isotopes are radioactive
    14. Thought electrons exist in orbits like planetary orbits
    15. Thought protons and electrons are the same except for charge
    16. Thought anti-particles could not exist in the solar system
    17. Thought fusion readily occurs at any temperature
    18. Thought electron orbits are perfectly circular
    19. Thought mass/matter are conserved
    20. Thought nothing is smaller than an atom
    21. Thought mass cannot be converted to energy
    22. Thought the only evidence for neutrinos came from experiments in the polar regions
    23. Thought electrons can’t gain energy
    24. Thought there is no possibility of neutrino mass
    25. Thought electrons, protons, and neutrons always existed
    26. Thought all elements formed on Earth
    27. Thought ions have a different number of protons and neutrons
    28. Thought electrons are not particles
    29. Thought elements have other differences beyond proton number
    30. Thought isotopes have different number of protons

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 Black Holes


  1. Thought black holes create themselves from nothing (maybe)
  2. Thought black holes are empty space or are holes in space
  3. Thought black holes always existed; they are not formed from stars
  4. Thought that all black holes formed from stars
  5. Thought black holes were caused by anti-matter
  6. Thought all exploding stars became black holes
  7. Thought black holes are caused by chemicals used by humans
  8. Thought black holes form from gas


  1. Thought black holes are like a vacuum, sucking things in
  2. Thought black holes are bottomless pits
  3. Thought black holes are doors to other dimensions
  4. Thought we could live in a voyage through a black hole
  5. Thought we can travel through time in a black hole
  6. Thought a single black hole will eventually suck in all matter in the universe
  7. Thought black holes are doorways to other worlds
  8. Thought objects entering a black hole remain intact
  9. Thought objects entering a black hole evaporate
  10. Thought black holes lead to another galaxy
  11. Thought black holes expand
  12. Thought black holes increase in mass
  13. Thought black holes don’t affect time
  14. Thought Quasars, Pulsars, and Novae are the result of stars being sucked into a black hole
  15. Thought a black hole could make time go backwards
  16. Thought black holes “lead somewhere”


  1. Thought black holes last forever
  2. Thought black holes didn’t exist
  3. Thought black holes can be seen visually
  4. Thought we can’t detect a black hole
  5. Thought black holes didn’t have mass
  6. Thought black holes get bigger forever and nothing can stop them from doing so
  7. Thought black holes can only be entered from one “side” (similar to funnel concept)
  8. Thought black holes are two-dimensional tunnels, funnels, tornados, or whirlpools that you have to face to see
  9. Thought that time is same for people inside and outside black holes
  10. Thought black holes are physically larger than they actually are
  11. Thought there is only one “kind” or type of black hole
  12. Thought black holes don’t emit particles
  13. Thought black holes have solid surfaces
  14. Thought the more mass a black hole has, the faster it disappears
  15. Thought black holes have no measurable properties
  16. Thought black holes never disappear
  17. Thought black holes are black
  18. Thought black holes could not rotate
  19. Thought black holes are empty dark spaces
  20. Thought black holes were 2D
  21. Thought all black holes rotate
  22. Thought black holes are actually holes
  23. Thought black holes exist on planets
  24. Thought black holes are dense stars
  25. Thought all black holes have a point singularity
  26. Thought black holes can be seen in the night sky
  27. Thought a black hole contains infinite matter

Religious Uses

  1. Thought black holes are places that bad children are sent for punishment
  2. Thought black holes are places where the souls of fallen angles are sent
  3. Thought black holes are places where the spirits of children reside for whom souls are not available
  4. Thought the event horizon is the gate to hell (from the movie Event Horizon)


    1. Thought there is only one black hole: The Black Hole
    2. Thought black holes exist only in other galaxies
    3. Thought white holes exist
    4. Thought the gravity of a black hole would be stronger than when the object was a starv
    5. Thought the Milky Way Galaxy could contain no black holes

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  1. Thought universe is shrinking
  2. Thought everything in universe is accelerating outward
  3. Thought all galaxies are moving away from Earth
  4. Thought the universe has stopped expanding
  5. Thought the universe is moving, but not expanding
  6. Thought universe is expanding at constant speed


  1. Thought the universe is smaller than it actually is
  2. Thought time and space are infinite (or universe is infinite)
  3. Thought the universe has always been “huge”
  4. Thought the universe is too big to measure


  1.  Thought time scales are shorter in astronomy than they actually are
  2. Thought God formed everything at one time
  3. Thought the universe has existed forever
  4. Thought the universe was younger
    Choose one:http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/map_discovery_030211.htmlhttp://library.thinkquest.org/28327/html/universe/cosmology/big_bang.html
  5. Thought we knew precise age of the universe
  6. Thought science has disproved God
  7. Thought Big Bang formation from collision
  8. Thought the universe will explode
  9. Thought universe same age as solar system
  10. Thought the universe is older than it is
    Choose one:http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/map_discovery_030211.htmlhttp://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_uni/uni_101age.html


1.  Thought universe a random bunch of stars and solar systems

    1. Thought universe a random bunch of stars and solar systems
    2. . Thought we have located the center of the universe
    3.  Thought all the matter in the universe was accounted for
    4. Thought all chemical composition was set by the Big Bang
    5. Thought there was a tiny, massive blob that is the universe before the big bangChoose one:http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/big-bang.html http://library.thinkquest.org/28327/html/universe/cosmology/big_bang.html
    6. Thought all heat energy from Big Bang is all gone
    7. Thought universe is more “orderly” than is
    8. Thought the most common elements in universe are those on Earth
    9. Thought Big Bang had effects after explosion (keeps things expanding)
    10. Thought every object in space is spherical
    11. Thought all elements had formed at the same time
      Choose one:http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/stars/stellarsoup/index.shtmlhttp://www.tufts.edu/as/wright_center/cosmic_evolution/docs/text/text_stel_6.html
    12. Thought all objects created in the big bang
    13. Thought the universe is just dead space
    14. Thought the universe will end when all present stars die
    15. Thought the temperature of the universe was absolute zero
    16. Thought we can observe the entire universe
    17. Thought there is something outside the universe which the universe is expanding into
    18. Thought cosmology deals with makeup
    19. Thought the universe had no overall shape
      Choose one:http://www.nersc.gov/research/annrep00/02compsci_boomerang.htmlhttp://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_uni/uni_101shape.html
    20. Thought cosmology and cosmogony are the same
    21. Thought there could only be one universe
    22.  Thought there is no sign of the Big Bang left today
    23. Thought Big Bang had been disproved
    24. Thought there are a universal “up” and “down” in the universe

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Electromagnetic Radiation


  1. Thought eyes see all colors with equal sensitivity
  2. Thought our eyes see a large fraction of all electromagnetic radiation
  3. Thought our eyes are most sensitive to red
  4. Thought human eyes are sensitive to the entire spectrum


  1. Thought x-rays are most dangerous type of photons
  2. Thought UV are the most dangerous photons
  3. Thought gamma rays turn you into a monster
  4. Thought radiation only refers to dangerous UV, x-ray and gamma rays
  5. Thought infrared is lethal radiation
  6. Thought UVB photons are relatively harmless
  7. Thought all electromagnetic radiation is harmful
  8. Thought x-rays are not dangerous


  1. Thought that white is a color
  2. Thought that white is the absence of color
  3. Thought white is a primary color
  4. Thought the combination of all colors is black


  1. Thought longest wavelength photons carried the most energy
  2. Thought photons are not affected by gravity
  3. Thought photons we can’t see don’t pass through or hit us
  4. Thought photons have mass
  5. Thought photons behave only as particles
  6. Thought photons are particles that make up photographs
  7. Thought cameras are more efficient at gathering photons than they are
  8. Thought photons travel on waves


  1. Thought different kinds of electromagnetic radiation travel at different speeds
  2. Thought the speed of light is the same in all media
  3. Thought light traveled infinitely fast — thought we see things as they are now
  4. Thought radio waves travel at the speed of sound (e.g. radios)
  5. Thought matter could travel at or above the speed of light


    1. Thought cosmic rays are electromagnetic rays of some kind
    2. Thought x-rays are only from doctors and dentists, not made naturally and traveling in space
    3. Thought luminosity depended on distance
    4. Thought there is no way to see through clouds (such as radar does on Venus)
    5. Thought a light year is a measure of time
    6. Thought light year measures quantity of light
    7. Thought visible light is fundamentally different from other em radiations
    8. Thought different kinds of electromagnetic radiation are totally different “things”
    9. Thought laser beams don’t diverge
    10. Thought light is the flow of electrons
    11. Thought all electromagnetic radiation passes through the Earth’s atmosphere
    12. Thought infrared can only be detected at night
    13. Thought light reflects more off a rough surface than a smooth
    14. Thought that all radio waves were created by humans
    15. Thought spectra are all continuous
    16. Thought spectrum of light is the shape the light made
    17. Thought radio waves are shorter than visible light
    18. Thought light only has a wave nature
    19. Thought gamma rays are not real
    20. Thought spectrum could not be used to determine chemical composition
    21. Thought spectra only had to do with the Sun
    22. Thought all em radiation is visible
    23. Thought x-rays, radio waves, and gamma rays only exist on Earth
    24. Thought all light is scattered the same amount
    25. Thought only water and glass scatter light

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  1. Thought gravity is caused by magnetic fields
  2. Thought gravity is caused by the Earth’s rotation
  3. Thought gravity causes the Earth’s rotation
  4. Thought the Sun was the only source of gravity
  5. Thought the Earth is the only planet with gravity


  1. Thought that gravity existed only on Earth
  2. Thought only large bodies of matter have gravity
  3. Thought only the solid parts of the Earth, not the oceans, gravitationally pull on the moon
  4. Thought only Earth had gravity
  5. Thought gravity does not exist in empty space
  6. Thought the Sun does not have gravity


  1. Thought gravity should eventually pull all planets together
  2. Thought gravity only affects “nearby” objects
  3. Thought the Sun’s gravity keeps the moons in orbit around their respective planets
  4. Thought objects falling down towards Earth move in straight line as seen from Earth
  5. Thought the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth is less than the Earth’s on the moon
  6. Thought heavier objects fall at a greater rate
  7. Thought that gravity keeps stars from collapsing


    1. Thought that gravity is the strongest force in nature
    2. Thought gravity travels faster than the speed of light
    3. Thought orbital periods of any body depend on its mass
    4. Thought gravity can be turned on and off in special chambers
    5. Thought gravity and electromagnetism are the only forces in nature
    6. Thought satellites need continuous power to stay in orbit around the Earth
    7. Thought the laws of Gravity applied everywhere
    8. Thought gravity is the only force of nature
    9. Thought gravity depends on size not on mass
    10. Thought gravity is not the weakest for of nature
    11. Thought one planet’s gravity does not affect another planet

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History and Philosophy of Astronomy


  1. Thought most discoveries are intentional, rather than accidental
  2. Thought Russia and West did not exchange information about space
  3. Thought Newtonian physics is exactly correct
  4. Thought that the U.S. put the first spacecraft in space
  5. Thought John Glenn was the first astronaut on the moon
  6. Thought Lance Armstrong was the first astronaut on the moon
  7. Thought Americans were the first to photograph the moonh
  8. Thought only the first trip (Apollo 11) landed on the moon
  9. Thought Columbus proved the world was round
  10. Thought the moonlanding was a hoax
  11. Thought a.m. and p.m. are terms from the bible
  12. Thought Neil Armstrong was not the first astronaut on the moon
  13. Thought Neil Armstrong was not the first astronaut on the moon
  14. Thought helium was first discovered on Earth
  15. Thought Newton invented the idea of gravity
  16. Thought fewer people have walked on the moon than actually have
  17. Thought that more than 100 people have already landed on the Moon
  18. Thought that the Russians have landed people on the moon


    1. Thought astronomers knew more about the universe than they do
    2. Thought that astronomical information is always correct
    3. Thought all astronomers are observers or use telescopes
    4. Thought astronomers spend most of their time looking through telescopes
    5. Thought that astronomical figuring of mass, distance, and temperature of planets is all speculative
    6. Thought astronomy is just looking at stars and constellations
    7. Thought physics has no bearing on astronomy
    8. Thought scientific theories are always discarded, not revised, when shown to be inaccurate
    9. Thought astronomy and astrology are same thing
    10. Thought astronomy could not make predictions about the future
    11. Thought astronomy is only the study of stars
    12. Thought the stars can be used to predict the future
    13. Thought astronomy was mostly guesswork
    14. Thought astronomy was not a science
    15. Thought no “professional” is searching for extra-terrestrial life
    16. Thought we do not know what is beyond the solar system
    17. Thought astronomers know more about Pluto than they do

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    1. Thought ice is always water, not carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia
    2. Thought ice doesn’t exist in space
    3. Thought dry ice is just really cold water ice
    4. Thought there is only one kind of ice
    5. Thought ice is denser than water

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Interstellar Space

    1. Thought space between stars is completely empty
    2. Thought it is warm in space
    3. Thought we can hear sound in space
    4. Thought there is air in space
    5. Thought there is friction in interstellar space
    6. Thought there are not clouds in interstellar space 5 SE/SM (“I don’t see any”)
    7. Thought planes could fly in space
    8. Thought the Ring Nebula is really a ring
    9. Thought nebulae glow from their own energy
    10. Thought planetary nebulas are dust formed from an exploded planet
    11. Thought planetary nebulas are the “stuff” that planets are made from
    12. Thought planetary nebulas are more violent explosions than they really are
    13. Thought “empty space” has no dangers, such as radiation or weightlessness
    14. Thought Nebulae are rings
    15. Thought there are no gas clouds in space
    16. Thought nebulae are clusters of stars

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Milky Way


    1. Thought the Milky Way is the only galaxy
    2. Thought the Milky Way is the center of the universe
    3. Thought the Milky Way galaxy is just our solar system
    4. Thought the Milky Way is smaller than it actually is
    5. Thought the Milky Way is shrinking
    6. Thought the Milky Way is largest galaxy
    7. Thought the Milky Way is stationary
    8. Thought the Milky Way is just composed of stars — no gas and dust
    9. Thought the Milky Way is mostly gas and dust
    10. Thought the Milky Way is just an area of rocks, not stars
    11. Thought the Milky Way is just the band of light across the sky, not a galaxy
    12. Thought all the light we see of the Milky Way is from stars
    13. Thought the Milky Way has fewer stars than it actually has
    14. Thought we see all stars in the Milky Way
    15. Thought the Milky Way galaxy is spherical
    16. Thought the Milky Way has no overall shape
    17. Thought the Milky Way has only two spiral arms
    18. Thought the Milky Way band across the sky was caused by an explosion
    19. Thought the Big Bang only described the creation of the Milky Way
    20. Thought the Milky Way is a solid body
    21. Thought the outer limits of the Milky Way are the tips of its spiral arms
    22. Thought the dark regions in the Milky Way are devoid of stars
    23. Thought the Milky Way spans the Universe
    24. Thought we cannot see the Milky Way since we are in it
    25. Thought the Milky Way has only a small number of stars
    26. Thought the Milky Way is just a cluster of stars
    27. Thought the Milky Way is a galaxy different from our own
    28. Thought the Milky Way Galaxy was named for the candy bar
    29. Thought most of the stars in the Universe are in the Milky Way
    30. Thought the Milky Was is band shaped
    31. Thought the center of the Milky Way is just a really big star
    32. Thought the Milky Way is bigger than the universe
    33. Thought we knew nothing about the size of the Milky Way
    34. Thought the Milky Way has no nucleus
    35. Thought the light of the Milky Way is shining from heaven

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    1. Thought neither mass nor time changed with speed
    2. Thought that time is the same for everyone, everywhere
    3. Thought space does not change “shape” in the presence of matter
    4. Thought there are only 3 dimensions
    5. Thought mass does not vary with speed
    6. Thought that time could never slow down
    7. Thought light always travels in a straight line
    8. Thought space is flat

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  1. Thought that the only (or most important) function of telescopes is magnification
  2. Thought objects could be magnified indefinitely by any telescope with correct lenses
  3. Thought the only way to change magnification is to use another telescope
  4. Thought telescopes can have unlimited magnification
  5. Thought longer telescopes provide more magnification than shorter ones
  6. Thought telescopes make objects appear their “real” size
  7. Thought telescopes magnified stars
  8. Thought mirrors could not be used to magnify

Resolving Power

  1. Thought telescopes couldn’t resolve planets
  2. Thought smaller telescopes enable astronomers to see smaller details
  3. Thought telescopes can resolve stellar surfaces
  4. Thought optical telescopes could, in principle, see all objects in space
  5. Thought telescopes can only see stars
  6. Thought optical telescopes could, in principle, see more matter than other types
  7. Thought the Dawes’ limit was on magnification


  1. Thought radio telescopes transmit signals to stars, rather than receive signals
  2. Thought reflecting telescopes are inferior to refracting telescopes
  3. Thought all telescopes use mirrors
  4. Thought telescope mirrors were coated on their bottom sides
  5. Thought all lenses are made of glass
  6. Thought only optical telescopes exist
  7. Thought non-optical telescopes don’t reveal much, compared to optical telescopes
  8. Thought all telescopes are refractors
  9. Thought telescopes never have more than two mirrors
  10. Thought telescopes require only 1 lens
  11. Thought telescope lenses/mirrors are flat, circular disks
  12. Thought secondary mirrors block all the light from certain objects in the telescope’s field of view
  13. Thought only way to use a telescope is to look in it
  14. Thought spectroscopes are only used to measure radio waves
  15. Thought gamma ray telescopes have not been invented yet
  16. Thought all telescopes are still small
  17. Thought telescopes primary research guide for astronomers
  18. Thought lenses are spherical
  19. Thought Newtonian telescopes are useful for research
  20. Thought telescope images are right side up
  21. Thought telescopes were invented by Galileo
  22. Thought a spectrograph is a type of telescope
  23. Thought infrared telescopes could be used anywhere
  24. Thought all telescopes are the same except for size
  25. Thought telescopes do not change image except for magnification
  26. Thought refractors use mirrors
  27. Thought lenses could not sag (due to gravity)
  28. Thought there is only one type
  29. Thought all telescopes are reflecting
  30. Thought a camera instead of a CCD is still the preferred way of producing image in astronomy
  31. Thought telescopes cannot see beyond the solar system
  32. Thought light would not bend as it went through glass
  33. Thought defects such as bubbles do not occur in lenses
  34. Thought defects with inverted (upside down and backward) images are defective


    1. Thought Hubble space telescope is unusable
    2. Thought warping of Hubble space telescope is inches or feet
    3. Thought all telescopes are on Earth, that there are none in space
    4. Thought that observatories are built on mountains or in space is to get them closer to the stars
    5. Thought telescopes were only used to look at stars
    6. Thought the Hubble could take sharper images because it was closer
    7. Thought that Hubble made the Hubble Space Telescope

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    1. Thought color and temperature are unrelated
    2. Thought red hot objects are the hottest
    3. Thought blue objects are coolest
    4. Thought white objects are hottest
    5. Thought orange objects are the hottest
    6. Thought only hot objects emit light

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