Science Fact Friday champions today’s advancements that could turn yesterday’s Science Fiction into tomorrow’s science reality. Information presented here is for entertainment purposes only. We are not liable if your space elevator collapses.
As we look forward to the most bustling Star Wars Day (May the 4th) yet, we’ll be swiveling our Science Fact Friday lens this week to a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars is a space opera, and its roots lie in fantasy as much as science fiction, so it’s not reasonable to expect a 1:1 relationship between Star Wars and fact. Besides, all that stuff happened a long time ago, back when physics worked different–at least that’s the assumption I’ve always worked under.
Even so, fantasy has a way of sparking the imagination, which is another way of saying scientists want to build lightsabers really, really bad. Sometimes, there is just no way to turn fiction into fact.
Well, hold on, Vade baby. Let’s talk it over.
In honor of May 4th, Star Wars Day, let’s take a look far, far into the future, in our galaxy right here at home.
Maybe, one day, we can traverse Einstein-Rosen bridges to distant star systems. I think it’s fair to say that no one has closed the door on using wormholes entirely.
But it won’t look the way it does in Star Wars. Literally.
Students at England’s University of Leicester, published a paper discussing the effects of the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive in the school’s Journal of Physics Special Topics, where the topics can be a little looser and Lucas-based than your typical academic journal.
The students said that death from x-ray radiation, obviously, would be a major concern. But, to make matter worse, the group reported that it would not even look the same as it does in Star Wars–the cool streaky part–because of Doppler blue shift.
From the Millennium Falcon crew’s point of view, the wavelength of the light from stars will decrease and ‘shift’ out of the visible spectrum into the X-ray range.
They would simply see a central disc of bright light as Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is shifted into the visible spectrum.
Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is radiation left behind from the Big Bang, and is spread across the universe fairly uniformly.
Even more un-Star Wars-like is the fact that those X-rays would push on the Millenium Falcon, slowing it down and adding pressure akin to being at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Oh, no she didn’t.
Some fans petitioned the White House last year to build a Death Star, because sometimes us Star Wars fans don’t understand what we’re asking for.
The WH responded like a gaggle of uber-nerds and cited Centives.net (the coolest web site you’ve never heard of) in saying the following:
Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man star ship?
You can read the report from Centives.net for yourself, but it’s both brilliant and hilarious. The geniuses over there managed to figure out that it’d take hundreds of years to even make the steel needed for the Death Star, and that the cost, as said by the WH, would be ridiculous even to an Emperor.
To build a fleet would end up hollowing out the Earth’s core in order to get enough iron.
Of course, the Dark Side of the Force can be… tempting. And speaking of seats of power…
We’ll just assume everything about the Death Star’s construction cost applies to Coruscant. Heck, call it half. But even then, maybe one could argue that it had time to grow into its state circa Phantom Menace (talking strictly movies here).
We’re talking about plausibility today, and that has to account for practicality. If we were immortal, would we ever see a planet like Coruscant?
Where would the food come from? Maybe there’s vast biomes under the surface that act as a garden. One for each neighborhood. A billion of them spread out. And ranches. And water reservoirs. Generator after generator. A way to dissipate all the heat from powering everything. Oxygen recyclers. Where do we store everything for the one-trillion people on the planet?
If this were a world with Faster Than Light (FTL) capabilities, one might think we could just spread out a bit. Instead of devising elaborate systems of bringing in food and goods from a network of farm planets, why not just commute to work for five minutes?
Of course, this kind of kills the fun. I certainly want a Coruscant. It’s a cool idea, and I’ll damn well imagine it any time I please.
It’s just probably never going to be a reality.
Okay, folks. Clear the room. This is about to get nerd-offensive.
Midi-chlorians, which at first glance looks like it’s the name of a new keyboard, are the little microscopic organisms that George Lucas made up to try and explain The Force. It’s actually a really cool idea, had we not already gotten a “good enough” explanation from Obi-Wan in the original trilogy: “an energy field created by all living beings.”
You can squint and see what he means. Electro-magnetism? Maybe some kind of New Age aura stuff. I can dig. Where’s the bar in this cantina?
But the existence of midi-chlorians says that micro-organisms create–and imbue their hosts with the ability to control–a field called The Force. It’s total, unnecessary over explanation.
Of course, this is fiction and there is room for things like metaphor. And George Lucas has said he intended midi-chlorians to work as a metaphor in the story.
I love the use of metaphor in science fiction. It’s just certainly not real. (Not that any of this is…)
But until now, the characters in the original prequel could have at least been genetically similar to us, even if they were in another galaxy. Maybe we overlooked it because our microscopes aren’t attuned, one could argue. But there’s this line from Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace:
“Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.”
Life could not exist?
Maybe there are people out there who can use The Force, and we don’t just know it. But I’m awfully mad at them. Because I’ve been trying to use The Force since I was six, and I thought that was the agreement we all had.
Light bounces off a solid object or else pretty much keeps going.
Except in Star Wars.
Whether they can admit it to themselves or not, almost every scientist and engineer alive is working on inventing a lightsaber. I suspect even cancer researchers are, somewhere in the back of their minds, wondering if they could procure a grant to research the curative properties of lightsabers.
(PLEASE NOTE: Horrible idea. But just crazy enough to work.)
And who can blame them? So, it is with this in mind that I took to the following news via phys.org from Harvard and MIT scientists.
Although “not an in-apt” is major hedging, this is actually really exciting news.
Just not for lightsabers. The article goes on to explain how it could help computer science rather than Jedi… science.
This is a step. Admittedly, it’s like if someone said, the day after binary is discovered, “this could lead to Angry Birds.” You would have to say, “Sure, down the line, if several advances take place first in several fields.”
Even so, steps count.
Far more exciting, however, was that this was actually a discovery of a new form of matter. Getting light, individual photons, to clump together is extraordinary.
But to get to a lightsaber, those clumps have to really figure out their stuff and stick to a handle. Then, they have to have the destructive properties of a lightsaber, not just the appearance, which is a whole other ball of wax.
But is that not the beauty of science fiction? You start at the end and work your way back. It’s early to start the “lightsaber” fund for this Christmas, but one can dream.
Ahhh!!! Quick, gut that tauntaun! We have to hide!
Oh, never mind, they’re not that big… Still…
The All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) from Empire Strikes Back, as well as All Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST), are typically called Walkers by their friends. Their main bag, if you will, is that distinctive shambling walk, like that of a zombie robot.
Just look at that thing, the BigDog, shamble.
It gets kicked a little past 30 seconds in, and all it does it stumble away like it’s 2 a.m. Does not even get mad.
Tie something that moves like to military applications, and I immediately think Star Wars. And that’s just what these mechanical, walking monsters straight out of my nightmares are–weapons.
I remember joking with my friends, some 15 years ago, about how walking sure seems like a disadvantage to a machine. Why not just wheels or treads? I had effectively given up hope/fear of ever seeing a real life Walker, AT-AT or AT-ST.
Well, DARPA and the Army Research Laboratory, in backing Boston Dynamics’s project to create walking death machines, certainly took this peaceful thought as a challenge. After all, the Empire was certainly always creative.
Then, there’s Boston Dynamics’ newest creation, the WildCat. Say hello to prequel-level technology.
Dear God, no. Get working on that lightsaber technology immediately.
Luke’s Hand and Vader’s… Everything
Folks involved in these so called wars that took place in the stars tend to lose hands. In fact, in the old “Legends” SWEU (a moment of silence), it was taught as a saber technique.
Maybe that’s why their level of cyborg science was so on point.
But it wasn’t just hands working in concert with living tissue, referred to in-world as cybernetics, it was chunks of one’s body being replaced with machines. “He’s more machine now than man.”
Well, no longer must we drop down a Cloud City chute/duct and into the howling winds of Bespin in order to receive a mechanical, hand-like hand as a prosthetic. Unless, the iLimb folk have stringent screenings.
Amazing stuff. But the motion is a bit delayed, isn’t it? It certainly looks real, and the movement is better than anything we’ve seen thus far, but is there feeling? And is the response time really to the level we saw in Empire Strikes Back?
DARPA’s Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program to the rescue. And RE-NET’s arm is controlled by brainwaves.
Clearly, Luke’s hand is not that big a stretch 30-40 years from now. Nor, really, are any of Anakin’s limbs. We already have ways of keeping humans breathing, and speaking as a nerdy layperson, miniaturization seems like a foregone conclusion for nearly every technology at this point.
In fact, with things like graphene, my personal favorite super material, we could be paving the way to a singularity where we all shed our skin, hop fully into robot bodies, and skip the biomechanical stuff.
This is pretty much a homerun. It’s only that the batter hasn’t hit the ball, yet.
Though it’s not quite the freestanding hologram that R2-D2 is capable of producing, Rose and Thistle Media has a product called “Showboxes.” They seemed a little creepy at first. Too much like The Indian in the Cupboard. But hey, if they could manage to remove the walls (might be a dealbreaker, since it’s projection-based) it would look just like Leia’s hologram in A New Hope. And the applications for theaters could be impressive to say the least.
There’s also the Voxiebox, which seems to naturally mimic the quivering, static-like look of the holograms in Star Wars, but it too relies on projection. Basically, light shoots up from the bottom and bounces off something above.
Purdue University researchers announced in November that they they had found a way, using tiny nanoantennas, to project such holograms. The disappointing part of this technological miracle is that the hologram they created, the word Purdue, hovered only 10 microns off the surface.
Wait… it hovered?
Oh, glorious day! *cracks open champagne* Holograms for everyone!
Seriously. That is a giant step toward “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope.” And the reality is, holograms are just a matter of time.
Maybe Amazon’s our best hope to get holograms… possibly delivered by an unmanned drone.
Last month, word broke via the Wall Street Journal that Amazon would announce a phone in June with passive 3D capabilities, which they are expected to claim appears, at times, like a hologram.
Hell, I’ll take it. Now, back to the lightsabers, scientists.
As Arthur C. Clarke believed, all significantly advanced technology can seem like magic to the ignorant. Anything in Star Wars could become reality one day, including midi-chlorians if we can engineer nanomachines to do wacky enough things.
There must be room left to dream, to let go and believe in the impossible, then later try and figure out if it might actually be possible. That’s the magical relationship between art and science.
Happy Star Wars Day everyone! May the 4th be with you all.
Got a way to build it that makes the Death Star totally doable? Think Ewoks are actually the thing most like to be brought to life? Let us know in the comments below!