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Future weapons: Microwave weapons (like the ones from Star Wars) already exist in reality

Ever since sci-fi became a thing, sci-fi weapons also became a thing. Lasers, rayguns, microwave weapons, you name it, and someone wrote about it. Many of these are still fiction, but some are inching towards reality. Laser weapons, for instance, are already being tested by the US military and many speculate that they’re already close to being used. Something else that militarists are looking closely at are microwave weapons.

Image credits: Pixabay/pexels.

If there’s any big sci-fi franchise that’s been teasing weapons, it’s Star Wars. For half a century, the Star Wars universe has featured all sorts of crazy weapons (including your favorite lightsabers), but many of these don’t have any equivalent in the real world.

But that may soon change. Some recent weapon systems and defense experiments (conducted both in and outside the US) have successfully managed to demonstrate the use of high-powered microwave weapons technology.

The physics of microwave weapons stands up to scrutiny and according to defense experts, they can do a lot of damage. In theory, at least, a long-range microwave beam could cause severe damage to human brain cells and tissues, and make soldiers and other nearby people permanently blind.

What are microwave-based weapons and how do they work?  

Image credits: Francesco Ungaro/pexels

High-power microwave (HPM) weapons use focused electromagnetic energy beams (frequencies ranging between 500 MHz to 3 GHz) that can disable electronic systems, disarm air defense networks, and destroy enemy facilities. Such weapons are also called directed energy weapons (DEW), and they are able to release energy in the form of microwaves, laser beams, plasma, or sonic rays.

Microwaves are essentially a form of electromagnetic radiation. The wavelengths of microwaves range from one meter to one millimeter, and they work at a frequency between 300 MHz and 300 GHz. You can kind of tell that microwaves can do a lot of damage just by thinking about your microwave and how quickly it heats up your food or drinks. It does this by sending energy dispersed as molecular rotations and raising the temperature.

Your microwave weapon only works in a small enclosure, but microwaves can be used to transmit power over long distances — and this is the principle on which proposed microwave weapons would also work.

A powerful microwave weapon system has three main units: a pulse power source that produces high voltage electrical pulses; an HPM source that generates microwaves either from a linear electron beam (by converting the kinetic energy of electrons into electromagnetic radiation); or directly through impulsive sources such as electronic circuits; and finally, an antenna that allows the focus of high power microwaves on a target. 

Unlike conventional artillery units, microwave-based weapon systems do not require any physical ammunition but they do demand high amounts of electrical power, and they can also work with explosive chemicals as well.  

Promising developments in the field of microwave weapon technology

A prototype PHASR laser rifle. Image credits: US Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

In January 2019, a notice was released by the Department of Defence revealing that the US army is planning to create an Ultrashort Pulse Laser (USPL) system in order to advance its tactical capabilities and meet future warfare demands. USPL is a part of the department’s plans to modernize the army and on completion, it could become the most powerful laser-based weapon system ever made. 

However, USPL is not the only initiative that is concerned with the development of microwave weapons. Here are some similar programs and microwave weapons that exist in reality:

  • Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) under the US Army has developed a Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DEM SHORAD) system to shoot down enemy’s drone swarms and other hostile UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). This laser-shooting system comes installed on Stryker vehicles and by 2022, RCCTO is planning to deliver at least four of these to the military. 
  • A 2018 report from South China Morning Post reveals that China has developed a lithium-ion powered laser rifle that can shoot invisible microwaves at the target and even make it catch fire. Being hailed as the laser equivalent of AK-47, this non-lethal assault gun is called ZKZM-500 and it is said to be used by the Chinese police and by the army in future covert military operations. However, many defence experts have raised doubts about the claims made by the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics related to the range and laser-shooting abilities of ZKZM-500.  
  • European arms manufacturer MBDA is developing a laser weapon system named ‘Dragonfire’ that could be deployed on the warships owned by UK’s Royal Navy. This new LDEW (laser-directed energy weapon) system would be able to shoot several thousand-kilowatt powered lasers and provide defense against drones and other airborne enemy units. Recently, the British government also awarded military contracts worth $100 million to companies like Raytheon and Thales for the development of directed energy weapon systems.
  • A video uploaded by the US Navy in May 2020 shows a successful laser weapon test conducted at a San Antonio-class transport ship USS Portland. During the test, a 150 kW powered laser weapon system shoots an energy beam at a AV flying in the sky, the target catches fire as soon as it comes in contact with the beam and gets destroyed.
  • India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is working on a classified project named Durga II, which is actually a 100-kilowatt, lightweight directed-energy system. The organization plans to design Durga II in such a manner that it could be deployed anywhere from land-based military vehicles to aircraft and naval warships. 

Apart from these recent developments, countries like Russia, Australia, and Israel have also been developing their own microwave-based laser weapon systems. Some of those systems have been already deployed and others are in the testing or development phase.

Microwave weapons other than laser-based systems

An LRAD deployed at USS Blue Ridge. Image credits: Tucker M. Yates/Wikimedia Commons

When compared to traditional artillery, microwave weapons have many tactical advantages. For instance, microwaves when fired from a weapon hit the target without being affected by any external factors such as wind, weather, inertia, gravity, etc. Plus, the enemy soldiers can neither see nor hear any approaching microwave shots unless they have specialized microwave detecting sensors. Moreover, microwave weapons only require a power supply unit and no other heavy logistics or ammunition supply units during a mission.

These are the main reasons why countries and defense companies are spending millions of dollars on creating efficient microwave weapons. However, these aren’t the only types of futuristic weapons actively researched in the military field.

Other types of futuristic weapons

Sonic and ultrasonic weapons

These weapons release unbearable sound waves that can cause pain, intense headache, ear bleeding, eyeball vibration, and even permanent hearing loss. Sound cannons used by the police to control the crowd during a protest are also an example of sonic weapons, they operate on a frequency similar to microwaves. A sonic system falls in the non-lethal weapon category and is sometimes also referred to as a long-range acoustic device (LRAD).

Plasma weapons

Similar to Han Solo’s Blaster gun, plasma weapons are capable of firing bolts of plasma at the enemy. In physics, plasma is called the fourth state of matter which is formed by free ionized electrons and may contain some other subatomic particles as well. They are used to daze, burn, or warn the target but similar to sonic weapons they are also said to be non-lethal.

The Plasma Acoustic Shield System (PASS) being developed by Stellar Photonics for the US Army is one such plasma-based weapon system that would be capable of firing plasma shockwaves (both lethal and non-lethal) at the target.

Heat ray weapons

A DEW system, capable of increasing the surface temperature of a target and destroying the enemy’s electronic devices. It is designed for area security, port protection, and crowd control purposes and if a human is hit by a heat ray weapon, he or she may feel a burning sensation and intense pain in the skin. 

The US Military’s Active Denial System is a riot-control weapon based on heat-ray technology, it can fire microwaves up to a distance of 1000 meters and is used in both defensive and offensive field operations.

From laser-shooting planes to bullet-less plasma rifles and vibration-causing sonic guns, defense researchers are working on many insane microwave weapon ideas but only time will tell how many of those become a reality. 

Bad Physics in Movies: When Hollywood gets science wrong

Bad physics is baked into the fabric of movies and TV shows, it’s inescapable. Almost every action film you could care to name features a gun firing and sending the victim recoiling with enough force to lift them off their feet. The truth is, due to Newton’s third law — simply stated as ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ — if the bullet leaves the gun with enough force to lift someone off their feet, it should exert the same force on the firer. Either throwing them back or causing enough force to snap their wrist. 

Oh… but it goes so much further than this. A well-placed bullet to a petrol tank won’t blow up a car. An explosion powerful enough to lift our hero off their feet should also turn their insides to jam. And a lit cigarette won’t ignite a puddle of gas.

Bad physics isn’t just restricted to the action or sci-fi genres, either. Whilst watching James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) — physics overlord Neil DeGrasse Tyson noticed that the stars in the sky above the sinking ship were all wrong given its geographical location.

That really leads us to pose the question; how pedantic should we be regarding science whilst indulging in media that requires the suspension of disbelief? 

I’m going to assume you answered that question “very pedantic indeed” and detail noticeable physics-faux pas in some of Hollywood’s most treasured movie franchises. 

You should be warned, spoilers and extreme pedantry lie ahead. 

It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane…

It would be hard to argue against the assertion that Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman is not only the grand-daddy of all superhero movies but has become a genuine slice of Americana. Yet, as much of a verified classic as it is, Superman has some major physics problems.

The film, publicised with the tag-line ‘You’ll believe a man can fly’ comes loaded with the usual superhuman feats that comic book readers had witnessed the Man of Steel perform in DC Comics publications since the late 1930s, but one of the Kryptonian’s accomplishments during the film’s unusually grim finale caused even the most invested fan to raise an eyebrow. 

We’ll get to that, but first, let’s talk about Superman’s iconic first appearance in costume above the skies of Metropolis. Margot Kidder’s acerbic reporter and Supes’ love interest in the film–and pretty much everywhere else–Lois Lane dangles from a helicopter, which itself is perched precariously atop the roof of the Daily Planet.

Just as she loses her grip and plummets, Clark Kent, portrayed by Christopher Reeves, tears his shirt revealing the iconic S-shield of Superman, before making a full change in a revolving door and taking to the sky to catch Lane.

The rescue leads to the classic exchange between the two: “Easy miss. I’ve got you.”

“You’ve got me, but who’s got you?”

How much of a heroic rescue this would have actually been is in serious doubt, however. To determine just how deadly this ‘rescue’ would have been let’s figure out just how fast Lois was travelling when she hit the arms of the Man of Steel. 

I watched the clip from the film and it looks like Lois is falling for about 11 seconds. Let’s calculate the velocity she is travelling at when she reaches Superman. 

Our calculation means that Lois hits Superman’s arms at about 240 miles per hour! It should be noted that the above calculation doesn’t take into account wind resistance. Fortunately, a team of undergraduates at the University of Leicester calculated just that, estimating that factoring in wind resistance Superman catches Lois travelling at 78.6 m/s — or about — 174 mph!

The team believe that as long as Superman was stationary when he catches the reporter, she would escape with severe bruising. They estimate the pressure she experiences is around 9 x 10⁴ Pa —  less than the approximate 1.7 x 10⁵ Pa required to break a small bone.

The truth is, Lois would come to as sudden a stop and experience just as much force if Superman caught her and immediately halted her motion as she would from hitting the pavement. 

But, if this daring rescue sets our ‘physics-sense’ tingling, the feat the Man of Steel performs at the conclusion of the same film will be like a fog-horn going off between our ears. 

If I Could Turn Back Time

At the climax of Superman (1978) Lex Luthor nukes the San Andreas fault causing massive earthquakes, as part of his plan to raise real estate prices in the area (eh?). Whilst Superman races around saving school buses and acting as a train track in lieu of a downed section of the railroad–let’s not even get into the physics of that stunt– Lois is buried by a landslide, trapped in her car.

The Mand of Steel arrives too late. As he pulls her from her car, he realises the reporter is dead. The movie has already given Clark and the audience a stark reminder that even though he’s Superman — Clark is still a ‘man’. He watches his adoptive father Jonathan die of a heart attack, knowing that even with his considerable powers he is still (mostly) bound by the laws of nature. 

Until he isn’t…

Driven by grief, Supes flies into space, whipping around the globe turning it backwards. This would be pretty pointless, but in this case, it happens to also turn back time allowing Superman to rescue Lois, not just from certain death but from literal death.

Even if reversing the rotation of Earth would reverse time — and why would it — surely stopping Earth’s rotation and reversing it should require the exertion of a pretty tremendous force on the planet. Wouldn’t this do way more damage than Lex’s nuke?

Earth is spinning at 1100 mph if it suddenly ‘stops’ its atmosphere would keep going, likely resulting in everything that isn’t very firmly secured to bedrock being flung into space. That’s according to NASA anyway. So Superman had between hope that spinning Earth in the opposite direction reverses time or he’s going to return to a pretty barren planet. Possibly even one with a large crack — or several in it due to the massive force required to halt its rotation.

Maybe, just try and revive Lois with CPR next time Clark. 

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… Physics Doesn’t Work… 

Look, no one should really expect Star Wars to get physics right. George Lucas’ tale is underpinned by the struggle to control a mysterious universe-spanning magical force — imaginatively titled ‘the Force’ — by what are ostensibly space wizards, thus making it more fantasy than sci-fi. That doesn’t mean we should overlook some real glaring errors though.

In Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), when Luke and Obi-Wan first meet intergalactic rogue Han Solo in the Cantina on Mos Eisely if his roguish nature didn’t put them off a trip in the Millenium Falcon, Solo’s description of the craft as “…the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs…” should definitely have them questioning the smuggler’s technical ability.

Solo is clearly referring to the vessel’s speed as he continues by remarking that the Falcon has also outrun several imperial ships. Problem is, a parsec is, of course, a measure of astronomical distance, not time — equivalent to about 3.0857×10¹⁶ metres or 19 trillion miles!

During the film’s sequel, Empire Strikes Back (1980) Chewie will definitely need a toothbrush for his trip aboard the Falcon. The crew travel from the ice world of Hoth to Bespin with a broken hyperdrive, meaning it should be restricted to just below lightspeed. As the canonical distance between the planets is about 5.0 x 10⁴ light-years, the journey should take about 5,000 years!

Distance also plays a problem in the sequel when Han and crew enter an asteroid field. The truth is that entering a real asteroid cluster wouldn’t pose much of a navigational problem to the rebels as the average distance between objects in an asteroid belt is 600,000 miles–or more than 75 times the diameter of Earth!

The Millenium Falcon isn’t the only physics-defying vessel in the Star Wars series. Far from it.

In Space, No-one Can Hear a Physics Nerd Groan

Iconic is probably the only word to describe the ships in Star Wars. The designs of the ships used by both the rebels and the empire are so striking that they changed the idea of crafts in science fiction irreversibly. 

What George Lucas envisioned for the franchise was a series of daring dog-fights in space, and arguably this idea is never better realised than at the end of Star Wars as Luke and the rebels race to exploit a tiny chink in the armour of the Death Star (seriously, you couldn’t have put a grate over that?).

The sounds made by the ships are perfect as they dodge and weave during the battle, and who can forget the agonising scream of a strafed R2D2? There’s just one problem…

We shouldn’t hear anything. 

In the near-perfect vacuum of space, there is no medium for sound — a mechanical vibration — to propagate through. 

One film that gets this right is Stanley Kubrick’ unforgettable 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In fact, Kubrick’s masterpiece, based on a story by Arthur C. Clarke gets a lot of its science right. Much of this is due to the fact that Kubrick was aware of NASA’s quest to put a man on the moon — something they would achieve the following year — so didn’t want mankind’s forthcoming giant leap to date his film.

Of course, the sounds of the crafts zipping through space isn’t the only thing that would need to be stripped from Star Wars if that lack of atmosphere in space was factored in. Ships in space couldn’t turn and bank the way craft did during aerial dogfights in the Second World War as they don’t experience air pressure like that banking aircraft on Earth encounter. It’s likely that any attempt to turn would result in endless banking.

The space dogfight described above ends with the titanic explosion of the Death Star.

The problem is, fire needs a fuel to burn and no atmosphere in space means no air and no oxygen to act as fuel for this massive fireball. Of course, we can speculate that there has to be oxygen in the Death Star itself, but nowhere near enough to give us the conflagration we see as the Death Star erupts.

The explosion would be more like a camera flash accompanied by flying debris. Also missing, that amazing ring of flame that perfectly caps off the scene.

At Least Star Trek Gets it Right… Right? 

Star Trek, at least the earlier iterations of the show such as the Original Series (1966–1969) and the Next Generation (1987 -1994), is often regarded as the science fiction show that ‘gets it right’ more so than say Star Wars. But, whilst the writers of Star Trek often endeavoured to ground stories with some ‘real science’ and the show has certainly made a mark on the scientists and science communicators of today, the franchise still suffers from some glaring inaccuracies.

The main problem faced by Star Trek is one that is common to any space-faring drama serial or continuing story — the vast scale of space. In order for Kirk, Picard and Janeway to encounter a new alien species almost every week for 24 episodes a year, the showrunners of Star Trek really have to ignore the vastness of space and its relative emptiness. 

In the year the first episode of the Original Series, or ToS as the fans call it was aired, the Apollo craft took three days to travel the approximate 375,000 km to the Moon. This is an object that is relatively close to the earth. Meanwhile, on another channel Kirk and Spock are hopping between star systems in a matter of moments. Considering the distance between the solar system and the nearest star system — home of the star Proxima Centauri — is a whopping 4.22 light-years (yes Han, light-years are a measure of distance too) or forty trillion kilometres — you can see the problem the showrunners immediately faced.

Working around these immense distances requires the Enterprise–and most other starships in almost all forms of science fiction– to travel at speeds exceeding that of light. Thus, for such shows to exist and provide a narrative that is more thrilling than forty years of regular duties aboard a starship, they must break this very fundamental limit of physics.

The ‘speed limit of the Universe’ may sound something that is arbitrary, but the idea that nothing with mass can travel faster than light, and the accompanying tenet that accelerating an object of mass to the speed of light would take an infinite amount of force, are crucial to our understanding of modern physics, thus making ‘warp speed’ an impossibility.

Of course, Star Trek fans being an exceptionally clever bunch consisting of mathematicians and physicists of near-genius, have a workaround for this problem. In 1994, the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity published an article by Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican physicist, entitled ‘The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity.’

The researcher, also an avid star trek fan, lays out a potential workaround for faster than light travel, explaining that a device that could contract space in front of it, whilst simultaneously contracting space behind it could allow a ship to move at speeds greater than that of light.

Even allowing for this, it still doesn’t quite absolve the problem of the vast distances involved in space travel. Some early episodes of ToS featured the Enterprise crew making trips between galaxies. The average distance between galaxies is 9,900,000 light-years, meaning that even travelling at speeds beyond that of light, such intergalactic jaunts still wouldn’t be feasible in the time scales depicted in the show.

The Beauty of the Suspension of Disbelief

So, should we let these clear violations of the laws of physics bother of us when we are watching a Hollywood movie or TV show? 

For me, science fiction and action movies and TV are about escapism. In fact, what bothers me more is when these forms of fiction try to pander too much to science , attempting to pay it very hollow lip service  and still get it wrong . I’m looking at you Star Trek: Discovery .

Of course, if you can’t disconnect and accept the technobabble found in shows like Stra Trek there are several alternatives that more closely reflect ‘actual science.’ 

I’ve already mentioned the pains that Kubrick went to, so that 2001: A Space Odyssey would appear as a somewhat real a depiction of space travel. More recently, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) employed theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Kip Thorne as a consultant to ensure that the physics surrounding the movie’s black hole — Gargantua — reflected current scientific thinking and theories. 

The result was a film that was lauded as depicting science fiction’s most accurate portrayal of a black hole. In an interview prior to the film’s release Thorne remarked: “Neither wormholes nor black holes have been depicted in any Hollywood movie in the way that they actually would appear. This is the first time the depiction began with Einstein’s general relativity equations.”

With that said, the above movies aren’t perfect, and why should they be? The occasional violation of the laws of physics in service of a thrilling plot, a breath-taking action scene, or an inspiring feat of heroism is just fine by me.

The truth is, as much as I love science when the opening bars of John Williams’ Superman theme I couldn’t care less about the laws of physics being flaunted on screen.

15 Unique Star Wars Gifts for Adults That are Actually Cool

With Solo: A Star Wars Story currently playing in movie theaters around the world, we decided a list of cool, quirky, but useful Star Wars themed products would be much appreciated by you, kind reader. So, let’s dive right in.

Chewbacca car seatbelt shoulder cover pad

Buy on Amazon

Ride like a Wookie with this fluffy, yet fashionable seatbelt pad. Not only does it look amazing and will have fellow Star Wars buffs turning their heads, the soft fur also makes it comfortable. Not natural fur!

Chewie furry hoodie sweatshirt

Buy on Amazon

While we’re at it, check out this fluffy hoodie that’s sure to keep you warm during those chilly days. Everyone loves Chewie — might as well be one! No Wookies were hurt while making this shirt — nor other critters.

NASA Death Star T-shirt

Buy on Amazon

Real science + fictional science fiction = love. I mean, just look at this amazing combo!

3D Illusion night lamp

 Buy on Amazon

Emperor, your masterpiece is complete! 

Yes, I know your darkest secret: you’d like to know how it feels to be Palpatine for a day. I can’t show you the dark side overnight but this amazing lamp will light up a smile or two.

This lightsaber blender… 

Buy on Amazon

Mix your soups and smoothies with this amazing light saber-inspired immersion blender. It’s the perfect gift for the culinary-minded Star Wars fan.

Darth Vader cufflinks

Buy on Amazon

Pair these cool-looking cufflinks with a black tie and you’ll sense a disturbance in the force in the no time. Be careful with that choke grip…

Darth Vader Toaster

Buy on Amazon

It toasts bread, waffles, pastry, and rebel scum! Yum!

Darth Vader silicone rubber oven mitt

Buy on Amazon

Ok, this is the last one in the Darth Vader series, I promise. Just be careful not to lose a hand next time you’re baking.

Star Wars Monopoly

Buy on Amazon

Because you can’t go wrong with a classic.

Millenium Falcon cutting board

Buy on Amazon

This is one of a kind, rustic cutting board with an engraved as the Millennium Falcon! It is a gem of a gift for someone who loves cooking — and Star Wars.

Star Wars R2-D2 car charger

Buy on Amazon

Is your battery low? Don’t worry, R2-D2 is here to power you up everywhere you go!

A pair of Kylo Ren boots

Buy on Amazon

If you’re looking to cosplay as Kylo Ren or simply walk in style like a badass, these leather boots will get the job done.

Chop sabers

Buy on Amazon

Break the ice next dinner party with this pair of lightsaber chopsticks.

X-wing patent shirt

Buy on Amazon

The perfect gift for any nerd. Not only does it looks awesome, it also fits well and is a great conversation starter.

Jedi belt Obi-Wan Kenobi style

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This faux-leather belt includes the bare minimum required by any Jedi who’s worth his salt, padawan or master. Practical, yet also quite fashionable.

 

Disclaimer: Purchasing any of these products may earn ZME Science a commission. This helps support our team at no additional cost to you. We will never advertise products if we don’t think they’re good. If something is here, it’s because we like it — period.

Check out more ZME Deals. 

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Pedipulator

The army’s amazing 1962 four-legged Pedipulator beat Star Wars to it by 15 years

Pedipulator

The Star Wars franchise is one of the most amazing productions ever — the early movies at least. It was so forward thinking, so innovative, and so ahead of its time that it’s no surprise to see concepts from the movie come to life today. But sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction. Take General Electric’s 1962 four-legged human-operated Pedipulator which appears 15 years before Star Wars’ AT-ST Walker.

Pedipulator

Now on display at the US Army Transportation Musem at Fort Eustis, the GE quadruped called the Pedipulator, or “Walking Truck,” rests soundly. Developed in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the vehicle was officially called a Cybernetic Anthropmorophous Machine (CAM), which GE developed on contract with the army to supply a vehicle able to push through dense vegetation, step over felled trees, and sidle around standing ones — all while nimbly carrying up to half-ton in men and material.



But the same super-sensitive, hand-and-foot-controlled hydraulics that enabled the CAM to casually push aside a jeep, or gently paw a GE light bulb without breaking it, also made it impractical for prolonged battlefield use. Operators found the constant manipulation of the controls very fatiguing, leading the project to be mothballed.

Taken from GE “Walking Truck” brochure from 1968.

Taken from GE “Walking Truck” brochure from 1968.

Eventually, the CAM’s sophisticated “force feedback” capability found reapplication undersea, where GE developed hydraulic arms for the world’s first aluminum submarine, the Aluminaut. Today, robotic arms on everything from Hazmat vehicles to space shuttles.

 

star wars death star bamboo

Fine wood artist makes a Death Star out of bamboo

star wars death star bamboo

What better way to celebrate Star Wars day than watching how a Death Star is made. Sure, Frank Howarth‘s bamboo model isn’t life seized, nor does it have a working superlaser. It does, however, offer a great deal of joy simply by watching a master craftsman at work. Check out the ten minute video below and let me know what you think. May the fourth be with you!

via Sploid

Hubble light saber

Newborn star fires lightsaber: as seen by Hubble

Hubble light saber

Credits: NASA/ESA

In a galaxy far, far away  the Orion B molecular cloud complex, located  some 1,350 light-years away, the Hubble telescope imaged a rare act in the making: a newborn star. In such conditions where there are large pockets of cold molecular hydrogen, some of the material collapses under gravity to form a rotating, flattened disk encircling the newborn star. The star feeds on this accretion disk, and shoots some of it as superheated matter outward from the star down its rotational axis. In the plane Hubble was facing when it captured this moment, the event looked a double lightsaber. Just in time for the release of the new  “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”

“Science fiction has been an inspiration to generations of scientists and engineers, and the film series Star Wars is no exception,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission directorate.  “There is no stronger case for the motivational power of real science than the discoveries that come from the Hubble Space Telescope as it unravels the mysteries of the universe.”

This is an artist's concept of the fireworks that accompany the birth of a star. The young stellar object is encircled by a pancake-shaped disk of dust and gas left over from the collapse of the nebula that formed the star. Gas falls onto the newly forming star and is heated to the point that some of it escapes along the star's spin axis. Intertwined by magnetic fields, the bipolar jets blast into space at over 100,000 miles per hour. As seen from far away, they resemble a double-bladed lightsaber from the Star Wars film series. Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

This is an artist’s concept of the fireworks that accompany the birth of a star. The young stellar object is encircled by a pancake-shaped disk of dust and gas left over from the collapse of the nebula that formed the star. Gas falls onto the newly forming star and is heated to the point that some of it escapes along the star’s spin axis. Intertwined by magnetic fields, the bipolar jets blast into space at over 100,000 miles per hour. As seen from far away, they resemble a double-bladed lightsaber from the Star Wars film series.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

Yoda purpurata

Meet the Yoda worm – a creature living deep, deep in the ocean

Yoda purpurata

A curious specimen which bares a resemblance to the iconic Jedi master Yoda, due to its large lips on either side of the creature’s head reminiscent of the Jedi’s ears, has been recently collected from far, far away in the ocean depths. Upon closer inspection it along with two other creatures have been recognized as distinct species.

yoda

Mhmhmmm sea creature say you?

Dubbed Yoda purpurata, the tiny deep-sea acorn worm was discovered 1.5 miles beneath the Atlantic, after a remotely operated submersible collected the specimen during a research mission along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores. The official translation of the worm’s name is “purple Yoda,” with the second part of the moniker representing the creature’s color.

“Shallow water acorn worms live in burrows and are rarely seen, whereas deep sea species live on the seafloor, leaving spiral traces of poo that resemble crop circles. These traces have been seen in fossil form, but until recently, nobody knew what produced them,” , Douglas Main of OurAmazingPlanet explained.

“Scientists are interested in these deep sea species because they are close to the evolutionary link between vertebrates and invertebrates,” he added. “In other words, the force is strong with them.”

Now, this isn’t the oddest name an animal species has received. Other notable mentions include a fish parasite named after Bob Marley; a horse fly named after Beyoncé and a trio of slime-mold beetles named after George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Findings were published in the journal Invertebrate Biology.

via Guardian

ufo-2-580x317

So called Baltic Sea “UFO” mystery solved, other questions arise

UFO

In the summer of 2011, Swedish marine explorers looking for various goods from shipwrecks, which sank in the Baltic Sea a long time ago, came across a peculiar discovery. The Swedish treasure hunters’ sonar revealed an extraordinary image: a formation of objects at the bottom of the sea that bears an uncanny resemblance to Star Wars’ fabled Millennium Falcon.

One year later, Swedish divers set on an expedition and took a closer look at the vestige site. In the depths, the explorers found that the site shaped like an almost perfect 60 meters in diameter circle, which mainstream press outlets were quick to stamp it as a UFO landing site, is actually a circular rock formation.

It was “like small fireplaces” with stones covered in “something resembling soot”, according to the team of underwater researchers who dubbed themselves Ocean X Team.

Scientists are still examining the footage from the expedition, but the whole site appears to be a giant stone, “the kind divers see in keys and harbors” — a peculiar formation, granted, but… just a stone. Well, I guess Han Solo didn’t park his ship there after all.

“It’s not obviously an alien spacecraft. It’s not made of metal,” said  Peter Lindberg, the leader of the Ocean Explorer team. The scientist didn’t miss the opportunity to make a little fun of the situation, though . “Who says they had to use metal?” he joked. “This trip has raised a lot of questions.”

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While the whole deal, which was deviously portrayed from the get go by the media, has been freed of its extraterrestrial aura, this expedition raises some intruiguing questions.

For one, the rock isn’t covered at all in silt, which should have typically occurred on the bottom of the sea, Lindberg said. Even more odd for a seemingly natural formation, the main object is disc-shaped and “appears to have construction lines and boxes drawn on it,” Lindberg said. “There are also straight edges.”

Also, “the surface has cracks on it,” said Lindberg. “There is some black material in the cracks, but we don’t know what it is.”

Many samples have been passed on to scientists, and more detailed footage of the site has been promised by the diving expedition. If anything, though, this discovery perfectly illustrates man’s power of fitting patterns together, something that has allowed for one of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries to be made, but which also plunged man in making demented claims.

There’s a thin line between reason and imagination.

via RT.com

Planet orbiting around two suns found by Kepler

A remarkable discovery which turns once again turns fiction into reality, the Kepler spacecraft has found the first confirmed planet to orbit around two suns, much like the iconic Tatooine in the Star Wars Universe.

It’s by no means habitable, however. Located 200 light years from Earth and the size of Jupiter, the planet dubbed Kepler-16b, is half rock, half gas and has surface temperature ranging from -70C to -100C. It’s not a haven for never ending sunshine either, like some of you might have imagined, since two suns are in too close of proximity. Thus, a double sunset phenomenon is experienced and once ever 20.5 days the two sun come together into an eclipse.

“This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life. Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars,” said Kepler principal investigator William Borucki in a NASA statement. “I am going to guess there are 2 million more such dual-sun planets,” said Laurance Doyle, the lead researcher on the Kepler-16b report.

While Kepler’s main goal is that of finding Earth-like planets, Doyle, who I’m willing to bet is a big Star Wars fan, has taken the liberty to search for binary systems capable of housing planets and he’s been doing it for the past 20 years – finally he’s struck gold. Alan Boss, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC , said “this discovery is stunning. Once again, what used to be science fiction has turned into reality,” he said.

While planetary binary systems have well been dubbed a valid hypothesis up until now, they’ve more or less stayed in the realm of Hollywood.

The binary system was observed after unusual signals in the data collected by the Kepler spacecraft. The data showed that the system had two stars orbiting one another, which regular intervals of brightness shift due to the eclipses. Further investigation showed a third eclipse described by additional dimming in brightness events, called the tertiary and quaternary eclipses, indicating that the stars were in different positions in their orbit each time the third body passed. The subtle drop of light from the star was attributed to a third planet, Kepler-16b.

Josh Carter, a co-author on the study, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, said: “Kepler-16b is the first confirmed, unambiguous example of a circumbinary planet – a planet orbiting not one, but two stars. Once again, we’re finding that our solar system is only one example of the variety of planetary systems nature can create.”

source

 

The mysterious USO (unidentified sunken object) sonar scan. If you look closer, you'll see some trails leading to it. (c) Ocean Explorer/Peter Lindberg

Swedish explorers stumble across the Millennium Falcon beneath the sea?

The mysterious USO (unidentified sunken object) sonar scan. If you look closer, you'll see some trails leading to it. (c) Ocean Explorer/Peter Lindberg

The mysterious USO (unidentified sunken object) sonar scan. If you look closer, you'll see some trails leading to it. (c) Ocean Explorer/Peter Lindberg

Well, I guess Han Solo should be more careful where he parks his spaceship from now, since Swedish treasure hunters just recently found an unidentified object beneath the Baltic seas which portrays an uncanny resemblance to Star Wars’ most iconic of spaceships.

The whole find occured while the Ocean Explorer team, led by researcher Peter Lindberg, were looking for cases of rare champagne through ship wrecks with their sonar. They eventually found something more that they could bargain for – 60-foot disc sunk in the bottom of the ocean, with what appears to be 985-foot-long impact tracks leading to it.

“You see a lot of weird stuff in this job but during my 18 years as a professional I have never seen anything like this. The shape is completely round… a circle”, Peter Lindberg said.

Of course, the whole discovery left a lot of room for speculation, and before you know it there’s been a myriad of blogs and newspapers hailing the USO (unidentified sunken object) as an alien craft. Other, more reasonable, explanations have it that the sonar scan actually depicts a natural formation,  such as the rim of a small underground volcano. The shape is too perfectly round to be anything but man-made, some believe, however – their explination: a sunken WWII battleship turret.

Lindberg has refrained from hypothesizing on what the object could be, perhaps allowing the tale to grow.

“It’s up to the rest of the world to decide what it is,” he said of the item he theorizes “might be a new Stonehenge.”

A tight budget has been keeping the team of explorers from taking a closer look, but undoubtedly considering the hype that’s been built around it, another better equipped team will be sent to further investigate.

I guess people are still waiting for George Lucas’ take on this. James Cameron could do just fine too.

One in five Brits believe lightsabers are real. Science or Fiction?


While a number of today’s science innovations which most of us take for granted, like airplanes, automobiles, computers or space flight, have been outlined by imaginative science fiction writers before they were possible, it seems there’s a concerning blurred line between what has actually been made possible by science and what is of the realm of science fiction in the minds of some Britons.

One in five Brits, for example, believe that the light sabers like the one any sane child of the last century has witnessed in the epic Star Wars flicks are real – a statistic furnished by Birmingham Science City, revealed in a survey, launched at the start of National Science and Engineering Week (11-20 March). According to the survey:

• More than a fifth of adults believe light sabers exist.
• Almost 25 percent of people believe humans can be teleported.
• Nearly 50 percent of adults believe that memory-erasing technology exists.
• More than 40 percent believe that hover boards exist.
• Almost one-fifth of adults believe they can see gravity.

“We commissioned the survey to see how blurred the lines between science fact and fiction have become,” said Pam Waddell, director of Birmingham Science City.

“While films and TV can be acknowledged as creating confusion, it is also worth highlighting how advanced science has now become, and many things deemed only possible in fiction have now become reality or are nearing creation due to the advancements of science,” she added.

If you’d like to test your knowledge of science fiction and fact, take this very short Birmingham Science City quiz, and then compare your answers to how 3,000 others did.

National Science and Engineering Week runs through March 20 in the U.K.