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A photo shows the moon as seen from Beijing, China. Dec. 15, 2023 (AP) A photo shows the moon as seen from Beijing, China. Dec. 15, 2023 (AP)

A photo shows the moon as seen from Beijing, China. Dec. 15, 2023 (AP)

Gabrielle Settles
By Gabrielle Settles June 16, 2023

Space is real, and that fact still holds water

If Your Time is short

  • This video shows Chinese taikonauts giving a lecture aboard the 2021-22 spaceflight Shenzhou-13. 

  • Water has high surface tension, so it makes sense that a glass seen in the video would retain water. Liquid molecules bind together rather than moving to other surfaces. 

  • The glass itself was affixed to the table with Velcro, Chinese fact-checkers wrote.

Ah, space — the final frontier. It’s been the center of repeated conspiracy theories that aim to prove its existence is fake. An Instagram video recently joined in on the claim, with purported evidence to back it up. 

The June 12 post showed clips from a video lecture given to students by the crew members of Shenzhou-13, a Chinese spaceflight that lasted from October 2021 to April 2022. The Instagram post showed the three crew members, called taikonauts, moving around their bunker and speaking to the camera. 

But added to the Instagram video was a circle around a glass of liquid on a table, and text on the screen.

"Made in China," the text in the Instagram post. "How did they get the water into the glass? And how is it not floating out of the glass? At least they had her tie her hair up," in reference to the female taikonaut Wang Yaping.

Some social media users who commented on the post further speculated that the glass was proof space didn’t exist.

"Busted! I thought there was no gravity in space," one wrote, adding crying-laughing emoji. 

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The video was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

A YouTube video showed the taikonauts did identify the liquid in the glass as water. But science explains evidence why the water behaved just as it should have. As some social media users in the comments noted, the explanation comes down to one concept: surface tension. 

Surface tension is "the property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force, due to the cohesive nature of its molecules," according to the United States Geological Survey. In other words, surface tension is what keeps the molecules of a liquid, like water, attracted to and bound to each other.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center explained that water has a high surface tension. The molecules on the water’s surface are  attracted only to the molecules to the sides and below — which keeps it contained and confined. That’s why it didn’t float away from the glass in the video of Shenzhou-13.

The glass, meanwhile, was affixed to the table. In its own fact-check of the same claim, the China-based Global Times wrote that Velcro strips held the glass in place as the taikonauts used it to give students a demonstration on the lack of water buoyancy in space. A YouTube clip showed that when Yaping removed the glass from the table and passed it to her crewmate, Ye Guangfu, the water remained confined within the glass, even though the glass itself floated in the air.

Space is real, and it’s pretty cool. The claim that a water glass proved otherwise is False. 

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Space is real, and that fact still holds water

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