Physics and Star Wars
The space opera interstellar epic Star Wars uses science and technology in its settings and storylines, although its main focus is not necessarily on science. The series has showcased many technological concepts, both in the movies and in the Expanded Universe of novels and comics. The Star Wars movies primary aim is to deliver drama, philosophy, political science and less on scientific knowledge. Many of the on-screen technologies created or borrowed for the Star Wars universe were used mainly as plot devices or as aesthetic elements, and not as elements of the story in their own right.
The iconic status that Star Wars has gained in popular culture allows it to be used as an accessible introduction to real scientific concepts. Many of the features or technologies used in the Star Wars universe are not yet considered possible. However their concepts are still probable.
Tatooine's twin suns
In the past scientists thought that planets would be unlikely to form around binary stars. However, recent simulations indicate that planets are just as likely to form around binary star systems as single-star systems. Of the 778 Exoplanets currently known, about 20 or so actually orbit binary star systems. Specifically, they orbit what are known as "wide" binary star systems where the two stars are fairly far apart (several AU). Tatooine appears to be of the other type — a "close" binary, where the stars are very close, and the planets orbit their common center of mass. The first observationally confirmed binary — Kepler-16b — is a close binary. Exoplanet researchers' simulations indicate that planets form frequently around close binaries, though gravitational effects from the dual star system tend to make them very difficult to find with current Doppler and transit methods of planetary searches. In studies looking for dusty disks—where planet formation is likely—around binary stars, such disks were found in wide or narrow binaries, or those whose stars are more than 50 or less than 3 AU apart, respectively. Intermediate binaries, or those with between 3 and 50 AU between them, had no dusty disks. In 2011 it was reported by The Guardian that NASA space craft Kepler had discovered a planet, named Kepler-16b, with twin suns as seen in the Star Wars films.
Star Wars makes heavy use of blaster & ion weaponry. Characters can be seen escaping, or even dodging those bolts, and the blaster bolts themselves can be seen flying at a moderate-fast speed. Dodging a laser bolt would be nearly impossible, as it would travel at the speed of light. Due to that, the blaster fire would pass like a sparkle, and hit its target.
However, many official canonical Star Wars sources state that blaster technology is different from real lasers. It is possible that they are a form of particle beam. This is supported by how "magnetically sealed" walls deflect them.
Vibration in Vacuum
Star Wars is possibly best known for its epic space dogfights. Blaster, engine and explosion sounds can be heard in those space scenes. Space is a vacuum, however, and since sound requires matter to propagate, the audience should not hear any sound.
This has been explained in some Star Wars media as the result of a sensor system that creates three-dimensional sound inside the cockpit or bridge matching the external movement of other vessels, as a form of multimodal interface.
Asteroid field in Episode V
In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, after the Battle of Hoth, the Millennium Falcon is pursued by imperial ships through a dense asteroid field. The chunks of rock in the field are moving at rapid speeds, constantly colliding, and densely packed. Ordinarily, an asteroid field or belt is unlikely to be so densely packed with large objects, because collisions reduce large objects to rubble. About the only way for an asteroid belt to maintain itself would be to "balance destructive high-speed collisions with constructive soft collisions", but it is unclear whether this is happening in the film.
In contrast to Star Wars, the ship featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Discovery One's course took it directly through the asteroid belt in the novel, without real fear of collision on the part of the mission organizers. However, our asteroid belt is far less dense and several real spacecraft have passed through it without harm.
On the other hand, the so-called Trojan asteroid fields, named after the asteroids found in Jupiter-Sun Lagrange points, are known to be packed much more densely. Our own Solar system contains two such fields, the Greek Trojans and the Trojan Trojans, and two more (Neptune's trojans) are discovered recently but little is known about them currently.
Unlike the true flight dynamics of space, those seen in Star Wars closely mirror the familiar dynamics of flying in Earth's atmosphere. For example, fixed-wing aircraft must make banked turns because they use air pressure to operate. Yet, in the airless vacuum of space in Star Wars, the Millennium Falcon always (unnecessarily) banks when turning. Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss says this is for a simple reason: "it looks good." By banking, the centre of gravity would be maintained so up is still up but the g forces generated at such speeds would surely injure the occupants.
The hyperspace travel in the Star Wars franchise requires two elements, Light speed travel and Hyperspace. Ships in the Star Wars Universe have engines capable of propelling them to the speed of light. However, current physical theory states that it is impossible for any physical object to attain that speed. Doing so would require infinite energy, which is also impossible to generate in our universe. Even if one was traveling at the speed of light, it would still take thousands of years to travel the galaxy; therefore the Star Wars ships use a hyperdrive.
This is explained by having the ships warp to another "dimension", presumably a brane universe with different physical laws. Gravity supposedly reaches between branes. In Star Wars, gravity in real spaces forms gravitic "mass shadows" in hyperspace. Hyperspace in Star Wars is unrelated to the presumed space between universal "bubbles" in real life physics.
Planets, moons and planetoids
In the Star Wars franchise, almost everyone can breathe and move on many planets, and these, as well as the star systems, are treated as small places. Both defects have an accurate explanation, however.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe states that many of the planets of the galaxy were colonized and adapted to the atmosphere and gravity of the most populated species, and there are also many species—such as Kel Dor and Skakoans—that need to use devices like breathing masks or pressurized suits. In the other case, since the Star Wars franchise develops itself to the intergalactic level, it is assumed that almost all the planets on it are planetary civilizations, a theory well-based in reality and that could possibly happen in a distant future.
Usually lightsabers are said to be composed of lasers. However, using lasers raises several issues:
- The necessity of something to reflect the end of the beam
- Having a compact and powerful enough power source
- Lasers do not clash when their beams cross
- Lasers are silent
- There are some materials that can withstand a lightsaber, some can even deactivate one upon contact
This is probably why lightsabers are now said to be made of plasma kept in a force field, but plasma would require the energy that can only be produced by something along the lines of a nuclear reactor, making the power source, again, a problem. Also, the force field could not be magnetic, because the field contains heat, something a magnetic field is incapable of doing. Thus, the force field must be a shield not known by modern technology.
- Schirber, Michael (17 May 2005). "Planets with Two Suns Likely Common". Space.com. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
- "Sunset on Tattooine". Astrobiology Magazine, NASA. March 31, 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
- Freudenrich, Craig. "How Sci-fi Doesn't Work". How Stuff Works. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Cavelos, Jeanne (2000). The Science of Star Wars. New York: S.t. Martin's Griffin. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-312-26387-2. OCLC QB500.C38 1999.
- Krauss, Lawrence M. (1997). Beyond Star Trek: Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time. New York, Y: BasicBooks. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-06-097757-3. OCLC QB500.K64 1997.
- "Are lightsabers possible?". physics.org. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
- Star Wars Technical Commentaries
- First Planet Orbiting Twin Suns Discovered
- One Planet, Two Suns
- Students prove real-life Star Wars deflector shield is possible
- StarWars 'hyperdrive' explored by scientists
- Science of Star Wars: why the Force could be with us