website header.JPG





The Misconception Challenge!    


When I (Dr. C) came to Minnesota as a new faculty member, a former-teacher friend at my church told me "It's not the things we don't know that are the problem--it's the things we do know that are wrong!"


There are quite a few Earth Science misconceptions that we teachers encounter in secondary and college classrooms.  We find lots of them in science fiction as well!


Are you tricked by these very common misconceptions?  Take the Challenge and find out!


Exactly half of the statements below are true (or at least accepted as true by most scientists) and the other half are false.  If you get half of them right, that's just random guessing.  If you get less than half right, you are being tricked by the misconceptions.  If you get more than half right, then you have more knowledge than misconception!


Have fun! (and beware of the 'nots')

true false      The word "Science" comes from the Greek word for knowledge, and modern science is mainly a body of factual knowledge (some very cool!) that has been accumulated  over many centuries.


true false      Storms form where warm and cold air meet because energy is released when the different masses of air become mixed together.


true false      Molten rock that reaches the Earth's surface as lava typically originates in the Earth's crust or just below the crust, and never originates in the Earth's core.


true false      Earth's crust occurs only as a very thin skin over the much more substantial Mantle and Core.


true false      Earth's tectonic plates are not fixed in  position because they float on the underlying molten Mantle.


true false      The Theory of Plate Tectonics states that plates of the Earth are moving, in some places pulling apart and in other placing coming together and making mountains.  This is evidence that the theory is true.


true false      The great pressure inside the Earth caused by the weight of overlying rock is not sufficient to cause a volcanic eruption--after all there is pressure in the oceans too, but water isn't spewing into the sky.


true false      A fish (or submarine) is not able to swim underneath most islands because there is too much rock there blocking the way.


true false      Phases of the Moon are caused when the shadow of the Earth falls on the Moon due to its position in orbit


true false      Total eclipses of the Moon are caused when the shadow of the Earth completely covers the Moon


true false      Solar eclipses only occur during a New Moon


true false      A total solar eclipse will be seen everywhere on Earth at the same time.


true false      If scientists were foolish enough to drill a hole deep enough in the bottom of the sea, much of the water would drain away.


true false      Most tectonic plate boundaries are not at the edges of continents.


true false      Scientists have to take care when sending missions to the outer planets or Pluto to make sure that the spacecraft does not get too near one of the many stars and become trapped by its gravity.


true false      Earthquakes are less likely where rocks get very hot.


true false       If Geological time on Earth were a yard stick (36 inches long), humans would appear only in the last 2 inches, and so would the dinosaurs.


true false      We know that the Earth is billions of years old because of Carbon-14 dating techniques along with other corroborating methods.


true false      If you watched the night sky for an entire night, all of the stars would appear to move, except for the North Star.


true false     Stars all appear white or yellow, but for a different reason than what causes flames to appear yellow.


true false      Comets shoot across the sky much slower than meteors, often taking several minutes


true false      The word planet means "wanderer", because ancient people realized that the relative positions of most stars remain fixed, but the planets appear to wander through the sky relative to the positions of other stars.


true false      The equator is warmer than the poles mainly because it is closer to the sun.


true false       Summer and winter are not caused mainly by the Earth getting closer and farther from the sun.


true false      The Moon orbits the Earth once every (approximately) 24 hours.


true false      We always see the same side of the Moon facing the Earth, meaning that the Moon does not spin on its axis.


true false       Scientist may have different views on the details of a theory, but that does not disprove the underlying theory.


true false       When someone says "my theory is...", that use of the word theory in that context is quite different from its usage when we refer to a scientific theory.


true false       The words "guess", "opinion", and "hypothesis" have similar meanings in science.


true false      If a scientific study has a large statistical error, that does not necessarily mean that the results are wrong.


true false      Once a person (or spacecraft) is in space, it is not under the influence of gravity.


true false      If you pump all of the air out of a vacuum bell jar on Earth, the objects inside will still be held down by gravity.


true false       On Earth, clouds are made mainly of water vapor (gas).


true false       The coriolis force causes hurricane winds to spiral counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere, but has an insignificant influence on the spiraling of water in a  toilet or bathtub drain.


true false       Due to centrifugal and other forces as the Earth spins, most rivers in the Northern Hemisphere tend to flow from North to South.


true false       A plant growing in a pot can actually grow bigger, and have more mass, than the dirt that was originally present in the pot.


true false       The best research scientists always rigorously follow the "scientific method",  first forming a hypothesis, then testing that hypothesis with an experiment, and finally analyzing the results and drawing a conclusion.


true false       Caves are found in the very outermost skin of the Earth's crust, but none of them extend into the deeper crust, mantle, or core of the Earth.


true false       Although not happening today, in the past plate tectonic motions have been rapid, causing continents to crash together and form mountains.


true false       Although rivers erode mountains, the process of plate tectonics causes mountains to be rebuilt at about the same rate, so that the locations of mountains, valleys, rivers, and oceans has remained basically constant through geological time.


true false       Faulting that occurs during earthquakes causes rock on one side of the fault to slide past the rock on the other side, but does not typically cause the ground to crack open to form big canyons. 


true false      An immature rock is one with angular grains, meaning if you are given a rock in class that has jagged edges the grains were probably not transported very far.


true false       A rock is typically made up of much smaller individual mineral grains.


true false       Bedrock refers to rock that has not been eroded free from the underlying rock.  It does not refer to loose rocks lying on the ground.


true false       When you find a particular kind of rock at the surface, you can be fairly confident that that rock extends down into the subsurface at least a few miles, but not usually all the way to the mantle.


true false       Waves and Tides are completely different things caused by different processes and different source of energy and occur on different time scales.


true false        A Tidal wave is a special kind of tide that usually exceeds a locally-determined height.


true false        Deserts are defined as very hot regions that receive low rainfall.


true false        Most groundwater exists in tiny spaces between the grains of the rock, and not in large, underground chambers.


true false       Glaciers typically do not "bulldoze" landscapes, or push sediment in front of them to leave behind a flattened landscape.


true false       Glaciers sometimes retreat, a process in which the ice pulls back uphill from the direction it came.


true false       Greenhouse warming is a process in which certain gases capture energy that would otherwise escape the Earth and it has been going on since long before human intervention in nature.


true false       Greenhouse warming occurs naturally but is not likely influenced by people.


true false       The process of Greenhouse warming is quite different from the process that keeps a greenhouse warm.




Back To: Earth Science Issues--Challenges

Back To: Earth Science Issues: Home

Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.