Video Throughput: The Science of Star Wars

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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12 Responses

  1. Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    I wonder how the inclusion of habitable moons impacts the Drake Equation?

    A big beam weapon wouldn’t blow up a planet, but I bet it could boil off the atmosphere, or enough of it to make it uninhabitable & cook all the unprotected life. Might take a couple of minutes of sustained fire…

    As for the Death Star destruction, it went too fast. Even if you lost anti-matter containment, or fusion containment, it wouldn’t be a single big kaboom. There’d be venting, and you’d have the external hull expand and come apart in really big chunks. Return of the Jedi did it a bit better, but it still ended the station into particles instead of really big pieces that would fall on Endor (or Yavin) and their gas giant. Also, way too much fire in a place with very little O2 for combustion.Report

    • Michael Siegel in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      Good points. Although fans came up with the idea of the Endor Holocaust — the devastation that ensued when all the DS debris rained down on the moon.Report

      • Dark Matter in reply to Michael Siegel
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        says:

        The fans were drastically under estimating the resources available even to the rebels. Lucas pointed out the rebels could (and did) just tractor the debris away.

        The scale of this is just amazing. The rebels are badly outgunned and out resourced, and they can just do that.

        The Empire tried to hide the creation of the second death star in the fine print of the budget. That failed, but the creation of the 2nd DS required stripping dozens of systems of minerals, and the empire’s budget is so big it’s reasonable to think they could hide that.

        C3PO speaks 6 million languages. You can walk into a nothing bar on a nothing planet and find someone with a hyperdrive. Star Wars has been this big right out of the box.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Dark Matter
          Ignored
          says:

          No they didn’t, that debris was given a hell of a delta V by the explosion, they would have had minutes to identify, approach, and tractor the debris to stable orbits.

          At best, they could have gotten to some of the biggest ones in time and used them for target practice, but a ton of “big enough” pieces were going to fall on Endor to cause major problems.

          Maybe if they had more than one barely trained Jedi on hand to pull some space magic out of his nethers…Report

          • Dark Matter in reply to Oscar Gordon
            Ignored
            says:

            IDK. Space explosions and delta-Vs aren’t my thing.
            We’re deep into orbital mechanics (3 body orbital mechanics at that).

            Now they just captured a planetary force field generator that that might be useful in this situation so there’s that.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Dark Matter
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              says:

              If they’d only captured it, sure.

              But they went & blew it up.

              Fun bit, ideally the Death Star should have been in geostationary orbit around Endor to stay above the shield generator, but it wasn’t, it was A LOT closer than that, at least it sure appeared to be in the hologram and the scenes from the space battle. It certainly wouldn’t be further.

              Assuming Endor to be about Earth sized, GEOS should be around 35K – 36k km.

              Assuming the Death Star was destroyed because of an un-contained anti-matter or fusion explosion, then debris would be travelling with a velocity representing a significant value of c. Remember, this is in a vacuum (Lucas space flight dynamics aside), there is no atmosphere to limit the speed of the blast front. A nuclear blast front is going to be moving pretty close to the speed of light.

              Obviously not all of the energy of the blast wave will be imparted to the debris, but it’s going to get a lot. If the debris was moving at just 0.1c, it would be ticking along at 30K km / s, which means it would hit the upper atmosphere of Endor in about a second. Now obviously larger sections would be moving a wee bit slower, but even at 3 km/s (1% of c), you got 10 seconds before it’s starting re-entry. Some of it might actually enter a stable orbit, but a ton is going straight in.

              Your Calamari cruisers are not going to have time to do anything except dodge the debris heading at them.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                Assuming the Death Star was destroyed because of an un-contained anti-matter or fusion explosion

                I would think an uncontrolled anti-matter explosion big enough to destroy a moon (and/or fire up the super laser, and/or teleport the deathstar) would fry the planet by itself if it was that close.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                Oh, yeah, the radiation from the blast would certainly hit the atmosphere and do all sorts of nasty crap. Atmosphere is pretty good at attenuating a lot of it, so the amount of radiation hitting the surface directly would probably not be terrible, but still not a good day for poor Endor.Report

  2. Michael Cain
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    says:

    All travelogue adventure stories — a structure that was old when Homer wrote his — have to fit a particular human time scale. Getting from one place where something interesting happens to the next place where something interesting happens needs to be on a days/weeks/months at most scale. It fails when you have the equivalent of “the young man left the farm and spent 40 years walking to the coast to sign up with the Imperial Navy.”

    All science fiction writers who write travelogues — and Star Wars uses that trope among all the others — have to invent technology to create the necessary pace. If it’s just interplanetary in the solar system, where continuous high-g acceleration is sufficient, they have to invent some sort of drive that doesn’t require reaction mass. (Or in the case of The Expanse, doesn’t require realistic reaction mass.) In an interstellar travelogue, faster-than-light is mandatory. Well, or suspended animation if there’s some plot point that requires characters to experience time at different speeds.Report

    • Ben Sears in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      If you haven’t, you should read Sean WIlliams. He does a lot of Star Wars novels, but those aren’t what I’m talking about. His Astropolis series has a galaxy spanning civilization and there is no faster than light travel or communications. He’s come up with all manner of altered humans and there is medical technology to let them live as long as they want and slow or speed up their perception of time so he’ll split the main group and have one go 20,000 light years in one direction to investigate and another 20,000 light years in another with the agreement that they’ll reconvene at system x in 100,000 years. It’s fabulously fun.
      Saturn Returns is the first book if you’re interested.Report

  3. Mike Schilling
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    says:

    Fantasy with SF trappings: 1000% this.Report

  4. rexknobus
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    says:

    Time dilation techniques in fiction…sort of sounds like a dissertation topic. Books use “Later…” Plays use the curtain or a dip in the lighting. Movies use cuts and dissolves. A while ago I wrote a thing examining a favorite film and realized that Sergio Leone (a personal favorite) didn’t really use dissolves. Sometimes that could be confusing. But in so many westerns the fact that the ranch that was 20 miles out of town could be reached on horseback in a few minutes was a given. (As was the tight little blanket roll that somehow carried a coffee pot for the campfire.) Basically, John Wayne and his horse had warp speed.

    Thanks for a nice essay, And a side note: I just read “The Water Lily Pond.” Very lovely piece of work. Thanks for that as well.Report

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