Earth Science Misconceptions
Excerpts reprinted from "Earth Science Misconceptions"
by William C. Philips, February 1991
Space

K-3

  • The Earth is sitting on something
  • The Earth is larger than the sun
  • The Sun disappears at night
4-6
  • The Earth is round like a pancake
  • We see because light brightens things
  • We do not live on Earth; it is in the sky.
4-9
  • We live on the flat middle of a sphere.
  • There is a definite up and down in space.
  • Seasons are caused by the Earth's distance from the Sun.
  • Phases of the Moon are caused by a shadow from the Earth
  • Different countries see different phases of the Moon on the same day.
  • The Moon goes around the earth in a single day.
  • The Moon makes light the same way the Sun does.
  • The Sun is directly overhead at noon.
  • The amount of daylight increases each day of summer.
  • The Earth’s revolution around the sun causes night and day
  • Day and night are caused by the Sun going around the Earth
  • Planets cannot be seen with the naked eye
  • Planets appear in the sky in the same place every night.
7-College
  • Astrology is able to predict the future.
  • Gravity is selective; it acts differently or not at all on some matter.
  • Gravity increases with height.
  • Gravity cannot exist without air.
  • Gravity requires a medium to act through.
  • Rockets in space require a constant force
Adult
  • The Sun goes around the Earth.
  • The Sun goes around the Earth in less than a year
  • The Sun will never burn out
  • The Universe is a static, not expanding
  • The Universe contains only the planets in our solar system
Lithosphere

5-College

  • Any crystal that scratches glass is a diamond.
  • Chicago could not be severely damaged by an earthquake in the near future.
7-9 
  • Rocks must be heavy
7-12
  • Soil must have always been in its present form
  • Mountains are rapidly created
College
  • Earth is molten, except for its crust
  • Earth’s gravitational attraction is drastically reduced on mountain tops
Adult
  • Continents do not move
  • Radiation can be reduced by boiling radioactive material.
  • All radioactivity is manmade.
  • The Earth is 6-20 thousand years old
Biosphere

4-12

  • Coral reefs exist throughout the Gulf and North Atlantic waters.
  • Dinosaurs and cavemen lived at the same time.
  • Acquired characteristics can be inherited.
5-College
  • Winter weather can be predicted by studying the thickness of the fur on some animals
10-Adult
  • Humans are responsible for the extinction of the dinosaur.
  • Dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time.
College
  • Some human races have not evolved as much as others.
  • The Garden of Eden is where human life began
  • Evolution is goal-directed
  • Evolutionary changes are driven by need
Adult
  • Human beings did not evolve from earlier species of animals
 
Atmosphere

K-9

  • Rain comes from holes in clouds.
  • Rain comes from clouds sweating
  • Rain occurs because we need it.
  • Rain falls from funnels in the clouds
  • Rain occurs when clouds get scrambled and melt.
  • Rain occurs when clouds are shaken
  • God an angels cause thunder and lightening
  • Clouds move because we move.
  • Clouds come from somewhere above the sky.
  • Empty clouds are refilled by the sea.
  • Clouds are formed by vapor from kettles.
  • The Sun boils the sea to create water vapor.
  • Clouds are made of cotton, wool, or smoke.
  • Clouds are bags of water.
College
  • Frontal rain is caused by "cooling by contact" between fronts.
Adults
  • The oxygen we breath does not come from plants
  • Gas makes things lighter.
  • One degree of temperature is smaller on the Celsius and Kelvin scales than on the Fahrenheit.
 
Hydrosphere

5-College

  • Floods along rivers happen only after snow melts in the spring
College
  • All rivers flow "down" from north to south
  • Ground water typically occurs as basin, lakes, and fast-flowing streams.
Adult
  • Salt added to water does not change the weight of the water.