Weapons of Star Trek and Star Wars: Some are Just Around the Corner

So the new episode of Conversations in Science has aired but I'm still waiting for the domain transfer to happen. Dilemma: What is a girl to do? Well, stuff it. For the sake of the radio show, I'm posting the related post anyway and I'll worry about possible broken links later.

So here it is:

With the upcoming release of Rogue One, the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, I couldn't resist doing a show about the weapons in Star Wars. I had written a post about this before for Dan Koboldt's Science in Science Fiction series, but it's just not the same as hearing about it.


Weapons of Star Wars & Star Trek: Fact or Fiction
(First Aired on KLRNRadio, Monday, December 5, 2016)

Let's start with the one weapon that has become so iconic that the moment anyone sees it, they know instantly it's a reference to Star Wars. I'm talking about the lightsabor.

The debates about whether you can have a lightsabor or not are beyond insane.  There are people out there that have tried on many occasions to convince me that they have actually created a lightsabor themselves, then I see what it is they have really done.

If you look on YouTube, you will see countless videos of people demonstrating their homemade lightsabors. Take a close look. What they have constructed is actually a glorified blow torch. Yes, they look awesome, but dudes... they are not lightsabors. Lightsabors are made from a beam of light, hence the name.

As I had pointed out in the article on Dan's site, there are so many things wrong with the concept as portrayed in the movies. (I'll put a quick bulleted list of them here, but you really should go and read that original article.)

  • For a laser beam to be visible, it must interact with something, e.g. dust in the air.
  • Light continues to travel along its path until stopped by light absorbing material. You can not generate a laser beam of finite length, stopped only by clean air. (Let's just cut holes through the deck of a spaceship.)
  • Two beams of light will just pass through one another. They won't be stopped by that sword movement.

And that's just to start with. However, I'll gladly admit that the fight scene in Phantom Menace between Darth Maul, Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn was a serious bow-down-to-the-Seth moment. It was spectacular on so many levels. Just forget that the science behind their weapons was seriously flawed.

Then we come to the laser canons and riffles. In Star Trek, these particular weapons are the phasors weapons, both the hand-held and the ship-based systems.

These particular systems, believe it or not, already exist. In 2014, LAWS (Laser Weapons System — we'll just blame the US military for this incredibly exciting acronym and system name) was installed on the USS Ponce and successfully tested. Check out the video below uploaded by the US Navy about the tests.

Personally, I feel sorry for that dummy on the dingy. I mean to have your hand singed by a beam of light. At least he wasn't burnt to a crisp, though he could have been. What a way to go. Seriously though, if you think about all the commercial uses of lasers (metal cutting, laser eye surgery, etc.), it's not surprising that someone eventually weaponized light.

But I can hear a few of you now telling me that's a laser cannon. What about hand-held weapons? Yep, they already exist too. Check out this video Rob Pincus, gun enthusiast, from 2013. He's holding a real laser rifle, folks, and successfully killed a balloon. However, on the battlefield... Well, just watch the video and see for yourself.

The real issue with the current laser weapons is actually power generation. The requirements for a laser beam powerful enough to cut through metal is enormous. Practical, battle-worthy units are a ways off yet, but not completely implausible. Just think about how power units for smart phones and tablets have come in just a few short years. Give them a few more years and they'll have it down.

And to think... It was the imagination of science fiction writers that gave birth to the ideas leading to current technological advances.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

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