May 4, 2014
May The Fourth Be With You
Star Wars is in the news. Aficionados are watching every development of the build-up to Episode VII, including the recent announcement of the cast, which will be a fascinating mix of actors from the original films and new blood. Shooting is due to start in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, over in the UK, students have been putting the theory and technology of Star Wars-style laser deflector shields under scrutiny. On top of that, we have Star Wars Day, a good excuse for all fans to indulge their fantasies. And why not?
Talking of Star Wars Day, it conjures up a strange link but then all things Star Wars have an element of the strange or wonderful. The most quoted line from the whole Star Wars franchise – Luke Skywalker’s famous “May the force be with you” – and Britain’s first ever woman Prime Minister, the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, became entwined forever on, you guessed it, May 4th. On that day in 1977 Thatcher came to power in the UK and set about the kind of full-out assault on Britain (not to mention alien hair-do’s) that any Darth Vader would have been proud of. In celebration of her victory, the London Evening News posted a full page congratulatory message to Maggie – “May the fourth be with you.” So, even though May 4th as no real connection with Star Wars that I know of, it has, thanks to the glory of the play on words, become known as Star Wars Day.
Physics and astronomy students at Britain’s Leicester University have tested the feasibility of those Star Wars laser shields. That sounds like a pretty fun project. Now I hated physics at school. It may have something to do with the fact that my first lesson involved the sadistic teacher, a Mr. I.C. Smith, hitting each pupil in turn on the head with a yard-long brass rod to demonstrate, I think, something about motion and force. I learned more about pain than physics. It was the only subject I flunked at exams and I didn’t care. Smithy, I’m still looking for you. No such violence for those Leicester students. They reckon that the shields would actually work. Not only that, they say that some of the technology is already in use here on planet Earth.
They thought that the laser deflectors as used in Star Wars would involve setting up a field of super-hot plasma around you, held in place by a powerful magnetic field. By changing the density of the plasma, the deflector can defend against varying frequencies of laser attack. The same principle, they say, has been in use for many years in “over the horizon” radio comms, as well as early warning RADAR systems and non-satellite long distance communication. I’ll have to take your word for it, guys – I never got past fulcrums. Anyway, it seems as though we can take Star Wars defense systems a bit more seriously now, though the study did come up with some big downsides to the laser deflectors. The magnets necessary to drive them would eat up pretty much all the space in your ship and, even worse, leave you effectively blind, as the shield blocks out light frequencies. Still, this is Star Wars after all, and of course they would have thought of that.
Please note – any technical physics inaccuracies in this article are not the fault of the writer or redOrbit. Blame Smithy – go out and find him on Facebook or wherever and give him Hell for me. Please.
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