December 22, 2009

The Physics of Space Battles

Ever since seeing Star Wars as a kid, I've been a sucker for a good space fight.  However, when I was in sophomore chemistry class, it was pointed out to me that fireballs in space were a total Hollywood creation.  Fire needs oxygen, something the chasm of intergalactic space lacks.  Not that physics ever stopped George Lucas....

This week, there is a thorough debunking of the myths of space combat perpetrated by the movies over at Gizmodo.  The writer, Joseph Shoer (who happens to be a PhD candidate in aerospace engineering) discusses how dull and slow space combat would actually be.  And that there wouldn't be colorful lasers shooting around like some disco in space.  The energy to generate laser beams would be enormous and, again, not exactly practical on board a spacecraft.  Also another big problem is getting troops to fight on a distant planet.  The energy to land a bunch of Intergalactic Marines on Mars isn't the problem...the real challenge is getting them off the planet and up through the thick, Martian atmosphere.  In fat, it's that exact problem which has been holding up a manned mission to the red planet all these years.

So for the time being, until there's some breakthrough in FTL drives or transporters, space combat is going to be strictly something for the big screen.  Which is probably for the best, given that here's enough real combat on this world already.