Star Wars fails physics test, say Leicester University students
Iconic sequences in Star Wars where the Millennium Falcon jumps to hyperspace have been put to the test by physics students.
On several occasions during the George Lucas sci-fi saga, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker watch as stars stretch around their ship as they enter hyperspace and accelerate towards the speed of light.
However, using Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, four University of Leicester masters students have calculated that the crew would not have seen starlight stretched to streaks.
Rather, they would have been faced with a central disc of constant bright light as the stars moved out of the visible spectrum and were replaced with cosmic background radiation, the remnant of the Big Bang.
Cheap Van Insurance(Commercial & Private Use) - Contact Insure365...View details
Cheap Van Insurance(Commercial & Private Use) - Contact Insure365 01782 898188, Free Legal Expenses Cover Included at £25.00!
Terms: 1 Voucher Per Customer
Contact: 01782 898188
Valid until: Monday, June 24 2013
The study was carried out by Riley Connors, Joshua Argyle, Katie Dexter and Cameron Scoular.
Riley, 21, said: "The idea was to do something interesting and original.
"We'd been told in our relativity module that the stars wouldn't streak past you like that as you travelled at the speed of light, but we weren't sure what would happen.
"We did some calculations and found that X-rays would become visible at that speed and create a disc in front of you, no matter which direction you were heading."
They assumed the speed of the spaceship was 186,281.907 miles per second – a fraction off the speed of light.
Riley said: "I think the film assumes they go faster than light speed when they jump to hyperspace.
"However, the theory of relativity tells you that you can't go past the speed of light, so we based our calculations on reaching 99.99995 per cent of that velocity."
Their paper was submitted to the university's Journal of Physics Special Topics. Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer in the department of physics and astronomy, said: "A lot of the papers published in the journal are on subjects that are amusing, topical or a bit off-the-wall.
"Our fourth years are nothing if not creative.
"To be a research physicist – in industry or academia – you need to show some imagination, to think outside the box, and this is certainly something the module allows our students to practice."
Over the years, the Star Wars films have been ridiculed by scientists and fans who love pointing out inconsistencies and errors.
Faults include the sound of the Tie fighters through space (originally made by mixing the bellow of an elephant and a car driving on a wet road), which would not be heard as sound does not travel through the vacuum of space.
Lasers are also a bone of contention as they, too, would not glow in space because there are no air particles for them to reflect off.
Riley said: "It's got to be accurate to some degree, but at the end of the day it's a film and it's meant to be fun."
Explanation: Einstein’s theory and the Doppler effect
Albert Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity have been used by scientists to work out nearly every facet of the universe.
The special theory, of 1905, explains time and space.
It says the speed of light is constant, at 186,282 miles per second, and that nothing can travel faster.
Einstein’s theory shows the speed of light would remain constant no matter how fast or in which direction the Millennium Falcon was travelling.
This is important because the streaking of the light would only occur if the ship was travelling faster than the light from the stars.
The students also used the Doppler Shift, the same phenomenon that means the pitch of sirens changes as vehicles approach and move away from us.
The sound waves appear to have a higher frequency when moving towards us because they “bunch up” as they get closer.
As they get further away they spread out and the pitch drops, giving the impression the sound has changed.
A similar principal was applied to the light coming from the stars and cosmic background radiation (CBR) – microwaves produced at the time of the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, which are still flying about the entire universe.
As the spaceship travels faster, the light waves and microwaves from the CBR bunch up like the sound waves and light waves move out of the visible spectrum.
At the same time, the microwaves increase in energy, just as the sound from the siren increases in pitch and become visible light.