I have to confess to a question that has been much on my mind of late… one that has been weighing heavily upon my soul.
Could a ‘Death Star’ really destroy a planet? Is it even physically and scientifically possible? Could a small moon-sized battle station generate enough energy to destroy an Earth-sized planet? I mean, really?
Luckily, or maybe not, the physics geeks over at PhysOrg.com have looked into this profound and troubling question and have come to a disturbing conclusion.
As I discovered in a recent article, a paper by David Boulderston (University of Leicester) sets out to answer that very question and it seems the answer is… YES!
Well, isn’t that just lovely.
First, for the uninitiated and/or those who have been hiding in a cave for the last 35 years, here’s Death Star-101…
According to Star Wars lore, the DS-1 Orbital Battle Station, or Death Star, is a moon-sized battle station designed to spread fear throughout the galaxy. The image above shows the Death Star as it appeared in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). The Death Star’s main weapon is depicted as a superlaser capable of destroying planets with a single blast.
Boulderston claims that it is possible to estimate how much energy the Death Star would need in order to destroy a planet with its superlaser. Taking into account a whole lot of assumptions in order to come up with the energy requirement (e.g. assuming Alderaan [the target planet in Star Wars IV] did not have any sort of planetary “deflector” shield and that the planet is a solid body of uniform density, using the idealized sphere model based on Earth’s mass and diameter, etc.), it was possible to determine the gravitational binding energy of Alderaan, using a simple equation of:U= 3GMp2 ————
Where G is the Gravitational Constant (6.673×10-11), Mp is planet mass, and Rp is the planet’s radius. Using Earth’s mass and radius, the required energy comes out to 2.25 x 1032 Joules. Using Jupiter’s data, the energy required goes up to 2 x 1036 Joules.
Piece of cake, no?
According to Star Wars lore, the Death Star is powered by a ‘hypermatter’ reactor, possessing the energy output of several main-sequence stars. Boulderston asserts that, given that the power output of our Sun is about 3 x 1026 Joules per second, it’s a reasonable assumption the Death Star’s reactor could power the superlaser.
Put another way, since the Death Star’s main power reactor has the energy output equal to several main-sequence stars, even if Earth’s exact composition were used in the equation above, the required energy to destroy a planet would only be affected by a few orders of magnitude – well within the Death Star’s power budget.
So… the bottom line, according to Boulderston, is that wiping out a planet like Earth is no sweat… but if the Death Star wanted to take on a planet like Jupiter, that would be a much taller order but ultimately do-able.
Can’t wait for the Evil Empire to come up with their next nifty gadget, the Sun-Buster 3000!
May the Force with you… always!