The science behind Star Wars

By James Neil

Image courtesy of Rober Gonzalez | Unsplash

With the final culmination of the Skywalker saga in Rise of Skywalker, we say goodbye to a fantastical world first envisioned by George Lucas in 1977. As such, I feel that now is the time to discuss some of the science behind this universe, from Jedi to Jawa, and ask whether it is possible or not. Firstly, let us discuss the planet it all started on Tatooine. This desert planet is iconic for its starring role in both the original trilogy and the prequals. Rightly so with its double suns; it makes a truly fantastical planet. In fact, there is indeed an astronomical precedent for this known as a circumbinary planet. These planets orbit two stars instead of one. If you were to stand on the surface of one of these planets, you would have two shadows and see twin suns. One such planet was found by Nasa’s Kepler Program in 2011, known as Keplar-16b. Another example comes from The Empire Strikes Back in the form of the gas planet Bespin where the empire lay a trap for our Heroes in cloud city. For this example, we need to look a little closer to home, the fifth planet of the solar system Jupiter is like Bespin. These worlds are comprised of lighter gaseous elements like hydrogen and helium. However, Star Wars is not just famous for its planets but also for the infamous weapon of a Jedi, the lightsabre. Or as Ben Kenobi puts it: “An elegant weapon for a more civilised age.” It is often assumed that to create a lightsabre, we would need to use a high-powered laser as they are in essence a beam of light. However, if we were to take this approach, we would run into a few problems. It would be invisible outside of a darkened room, and unless some sort of mirror was placed on the end it would be endless, cutting a hole through any substance in its path. One other approach mentioned by Dr Michio Kaku is to use plasma. He suggests that by having a ceramic rod able to withstand high temperatures at the core of the blade emitting the gas needed to create the plasma on its outside through holes in the rod. The plasma would need to be contained in a strong magnetic field emanating from the rod resulting in the glowing blade of the Lightsabre. The colour of the lightsabre would be a result of the gas used to create the plasma. For example, for Darth Vader’s crimson blade he would need to use the Nobel gas Neon to give its classic red glow. One major problem with this model is that the hilt would need to be constructed of a very heat resistant material or else you would burn your hands with the extreme heat. You would also need a very large power source, a real nuisance when trying swing a blade around with the acrobatic prowess of a Jedi. With all that being said who knows what the future holds. Maybe one day we will be having adventures with these iconic blades in a galaxy far far away.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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