Animation misrepresented as real portrayal of Earth’s tides
CLAIM: A 3D animation shows how the gravitational pull of the moon affects the Earth’s tides.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The animation was created by a Seattle-based artist who told The Associated Press that he intended for it to be an exaggerated visualization of the phenomenon, not a “fully accurate representation.” A more realistic depiction would also take into account details such as the Earth’s orbit around the moon and the relative distance between the two, as well as the effect of the sun on the planet’s tides.
THE FACTS: Social media users have misrepresented the 3D animation in recent days, claiming that it portrays the progression of the Earth’s tides in relation to the moon.
In the animation, waves dramatically roll around the Earth as it is circled by the moon before crashing into a large mountain sticking out of the top of the planet. No other land masses are depicted.
“The gravitational pull of the moon,” one tweet that shared the animation stated. “Here’s how does the Moon influence the tides.” It had received more than 24,000 likes and more than 6,000 shares as of Thursday.
But the animation’s creator told the AP the animation was not meant to be a scientifically precise rendering of how the moon impacts tides on Earth.
“It was intended to be an exaggerated view of the effect gravity has on the planet’s water for people to be able to visualize and understand, but not intended to be a fully accurate representation,” said Vinny Ravuri, an artist based in Seattle.
Ravuri, who also works as an optometrist, explained that he used the software program Blender to create the Earth and moon models and used a Blender add-on tool to make the waves. He said that he spent a total of approximately 40 to 50 hours working on the project over several weeks.
Andrew Stewart, an associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, also described the animation as an embellished version of how tides are actually impacted by the moon.
“I would say that this animation is grounded in a scientific fact, i.e. that the gravitational force from the Moon is an essential contributor to tides on Earth, but the depiction is hugely exaggerated and omits other essential aspects of the physics of tides,” he wrote in an email to the AP.
Tides are the result of gravitational and centrifugal forces between the Earth and the moon, and to a lesser degree, the Earth and the sun. Gravitational forces pull objects toward each other, while centrifugal forces cause objects following a circular path to fly outward. As the Earth and the moon orbit each other, water on the Earth is pushed toward the side of the planet closest to the moon, as well as the side furthest away.
The sun also affects the tides depending on its position in relation to the Earth and the moon. Tides are further impacted by factors such as the presence of continents, the shape of the Earth and the depth of the ocean at different points.
Stewart explained that a more realistic representation of how tides are formed would take into account all of these factors, among others.
“It’s kind of a scale model of the process that leads to greatly exaggerated (and thus visually appealing) fluid motion,” he wrote of the animation.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.