Sunday, April 26, 2020


As I believe I've mentioned, Hannah and I are watching Star Wars: Rebels (an animated series on Disney+).
A few weeks back, Lynda was watching the show with us and she asked, while watching a space dogfight between Star Wars fighter ships, what happened to laser bolts that were always being fired from ships but then missed the TIE fighter or the lasers shot from Imperial Star Destroyers that didn't intersect with a trusty X-Wing or Cpt. Syndulla's ship, The Ghost.

At the time, my immediate thought was the laser bolt (blast?) eventually dissipated, even though there was no friction in space to cause a loss of velocity. Because the alternative result gave me concerns.

Think about it.

Without inertia to cause a reduction in speed, things in space will continue moving forward, or at least their direction will change due to an external action--maybe gravity, maybe solar wind, maybe the chance random strike from a micro-meteoroid. But once set in motion, an object in space will keep on moving. I assume this is even more true of laser weapons that are firing light-based weapons. Without any "object" to possibly be inertially altered . . . does that mean that laser bolts that miss its target in space just keep on going and going and going--until a target is actually found?

I dismissed this theoretical experiment.

But THEN . . . weeks later Hannah and I were watching the episodes at the end of season 3.

During the climactic events of those episodes, the Empire's Grand Admiral Thrawn's begins an "orbital bombardment" of Chopper Base. In doing so, he orders the Star Destroyers to begin firing its laser cannons from orbit down to pepper the planetside with impacts. And this made me fear that Lynda had been right all along. I had dismissed her suggestion largely based on some unknown "range" of distance that a fired laser blast could travel. And because of what I have seen from Star Wars battles in the past--and because I didn't want to confront the awful possibilities--I assumed this range was maybe thousands of meters but nothing more.

And then, seeing those self-same lasers pepper a planet's surface from orbit . . . I knew the truth at last.

Do you understand the danger here? 

If the limit of these laser blasts is much farther (perhaps limitless if Newton and Einstein are correct), then the truth is . . . these laser bolts just keep on traveling. If a gunner is not accurate enough to hit its target that blasted bolt just keeps on going, outside the orbit of the planet*, out into the void between planets, and out into wider space. And that means that space travel is truly dangerous--at least if you choose to do it during a time of galactic conflict. Because there are space battles happening in systems across the Star Wars galaxy at any given time. And judging by what I see in the movies, there are PLENTY of missed shots. And so those laser bolts are just mindlessly cruising out into space. One is not such a danger. But hundreds of them? Thousands of them? Crisscrossing every which way? Upon every axis? In all directions? It's an ever-expanding laser cage of creeping destruction!

You could be a peaceful family. Or a neutral trader? Or anyone at all, moving through the hyperlanes of the galaxy, completely unaware that at any moment a stray laser bolt will intersect your ship! You'll at the very least face damage. But you might very likely face your doom! All because the Imperial academy didn't train its Stormtrooper pilots better. Or because the Rebellion will take on any untrained bush pilot who owns his own ship and has a grudge--but precious little in the way of target practice.

*And you might say I"m wrong about this--or that a planet's own particular gravity well is strong enough to prevent misguided blasts from escaping into the outreaches of non-battle space. But then, Star Wars dog fights should, in fact, turn into a game of Angry Birds Star Wars, where you are purposefully bending bolts around orbital paths to catch a ship unawares on the flip side of your shot. (If you've got the time to pull off such a shot, I applaud your skill.)

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