Posted by: movieotaku | June 30, 2008

Wall-E: Plants in Space

Fun movie, but here’s an open question:

Would the little seedling have survived open exposure to the vacuum of space. My friend thought it would have freezed solid (as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, freezing in space takes longer). I figured the water would have flash-boiled from the plant leaving it dessicated and dead first.

Any other opinions?

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Responses

  1. I’m a rocket scientist but not a botanist, so I’m only half-qualified to talk about this. The seedling was a sort of squat fleshy sort of thing, meaning that its surface area to volume ratio was much lower than something like the archetypical rose used in high school liquid nitrogen experiments. Additionally, it wouldn’t have flash-frozen (as you noted) because it would be difficult to radiate heat.

    On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t have flash-boiled either because it’s a plant with cellulose carbohydrate cell walls, which are generally much stronger than the lipid bilayer membranes of mammal cells. This is why carrots are crunchy and plants are generally less supple than animals. With that sort of construction, I’d bet that plants are much more resistant to hard vacuum than animals and so flash-boiling due to low pressure is less likely.

    Plants are remarkably hardy.

    In any rate, it wasn’t in hard vacuum any longer than a few minutes, and it’d stand to reason that EVE’s cargo space was pressurized (intended, as it was, for organic transport).

  2. Then again, the plant was contained in WALL-E’s compactor for quite a while in vacuum, and I’m sure that wasn’t pressurized, or even safe for floral habitation, with it being used to compact garbage and all.

  3. Space does not have a temperature. Temperature is a quality of matter, and a vacuum is the absence of matter. It cannot either heat or cool you.

    If you are in direct sunlight, the sun will heat you, just as it does on Earth. The sunlight is not diffused or filtered by passing through an atmosphere, so it may heat you more rapidly than sunshine on the Earth’s surface, but this is affected by so many other variables that no simple answer exists.

    If you are in shadow, you will lose some heat into space. But only by radiation, which is the least efficient method of heat transfer (after conduction and convection). Vacuum is actually a good insulator; that’s why we use it in Thermos bottles. So there’s no chance that you’ll instantly freeze solid when exposed to space.

  4. No, I’m pretty sure you guys that are poo-pooing this movie blunder are wrong. Water WOULD begin to “boil” in a vacuum. Not from heat but from the low pressure. A liquid can be made to “boil” going from a liquid to a gaseous state simply by lowering the pressure. The converse is also true. You can freeze a gas simply by putting it under pressure. This why methane hydrates remain frozen solid at the bottom of the ocean due to the extreme pressure they’re under even thought the ocean itself is not that cold to itself freeze solid (due to its salinity).

    Also, did you know that water boils at a lower temperature on a high mountain top? Climbers of Everest can boil their water up there at something like 69°C or 156°F (rather than the usual 100°C or 212°F at sea level). This is again due to the low atmospheric pressure that keeps the water molecules down. Less pressure, the easier it is for the water molecules to turn into gas.

    Also, as for space not being hot or cold due to being a vacuum, WRONG! I just watched an episode of “The Universe” on The History Channel and they mentioned at one point that the temperature on the sun-side of the Moon is something like 240°F whereas on the dark side of the Moon, away from the Sun, the temperature dips down to a frigid -290°F.

  5. “Also, as for space not being hot or cold due to being a vacuum, WRONG! I just watched an episode of “The Universe” on The History Channel and they mentioned at one point that the temperature on the sun-side of the Moon is something like 240°F whereas on the dark side of the Moon, away from the Sun, the temperature dips down to a frigid -290°F.”

    I wouldn’t rely on a History Channel documentary for evidence. :-)

    Temperature is a property of matter — it is the average kinetic energy of the molecules of a substance. When they mention the temperature on the moon, they mean the temperature of the rocks and soil (which is matter). If you had a thermometer, it would heat up and cool down even in the shadow of an astronaut.

    Although there is a slightly different definition of temperature used by cosmologists which is the amount of energy per cubic-meter of space. In this case, it’s mostly microwaves left over from the big bang, and last I heard, that was a shade under 3 kelvin.

    http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-temperature-in-space.htm


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