The Superlaser Effect

SF :: The Superlaser Effect Theory

"If it isn't this, then it's something weirder."


Before we proceed to briefly reviewing the Observation and Analysis sections, let's append to the discussion some further data to consider, as noted below:

A.  Derivations of the energy involved in the Alderaan blast are on the order of 1E38J, based on the speed of some of the debris.

B.  The Death Star's reactor is canonically implied to be fusion-based, or  . . . even if one chooses to ignore that . . . is stated to have similar energy output levels when the reactor's energy is released all at once.

C.  The superlaser is anything but a laser.   At Alderaan, the velocity of the beam was .0162c.  The speed issue, plus the non-laser-like convergence behavior, plus the fact that the beam was visible in vacuum all serve to refute any notions that the superlaser is just a really big laser.  It's too slow, too weird, and too visible.

Now, to review.  We have three examples of superlaser shots, and two Death Star explosions, with intriguing similarities and differences.  

I.  On all three occasions of the superlaser striking a target, large parts of the target surface are made to glow in a peculiar manner apparently unrelated to the initial explosion caused by superlaser impact.  There is a correlation between this glow and superlaser impact.

II.  During the superlaser strike on Alderaan, we observe the formation of a band of brightness around the impact site.  The bright band that encircles the globe increases in energy as it travels, and concurrent to its passage there is a violent expansion of the uppermost remaining layers of the planet (and presumably at least some layers below), suggesting a correlation between the two events.  The superlaser strike ceases about two frames into the band's travels.   Thus, barring some sort of delayed reaction, the superlaser is not the source of the band's increasing energy.

III.  Each of the superlaser shots produced planar effects which emerged from the target, suggesting a strong correlation.  Differences existed between each, presumably related to scale, but the presence of planar effects is consistent across each observed superlaser shot.

IV.  Both Death Star explosion events feature planar effects, similar to what was experienced at Alderaan and the ship-killer shots from the DS2.  There is a correlation between the events, but there is no correlation with other reactor-related vessel destruction events.  Thus the only viable, reasonable connection between all five planar-effect events is the superlaser, which was charged in both Death Star cases.  The DS2 blast also shows an internal glow (with concurrent external flashes) of the type seen when the superlaser strikes targets.

V.  There is a correlation between material disappearances and events related to the Death Stars in all five cases.  This has nothing to do with mere proximity to the Death Stars or reactor events, since the ISD explosion in RoTJ shows no material disappearance.   There is also a correlation of material disappearance with planar effects.  These occur immediately for the smaller anti-ship shots, within one frame for DS1 and DS2, and within 5 frames for Alderaan, depending on when you start the clock.  This suggests a correlation between increasing size and increasing time between disappearance and the appearance of planar effects.  However, some planar effects appear without observable material disappearance, as is the case with Alderaan's first ring and the orange cloud of the Wingless.

VI.  All of the statements regarding the mechanism of the superlaser either directly state or are consistent with the statement that the superlaser destroys targets via some form of mass-energy conversion technique.

VII.  There are profound differences in the scales of the events we see, from the enormous Alderaan blast to the comparatively tiny anti-ship shots of the DS2.  

The DS2 events seem to show less debris than DS1 events.

Material disappearance cannot be mass-energy conversion, and is unlikely to be collapse-related.  It would thus seem to require that the vanishing material undergo some sort of odd transition, perhaps into the hyperspace domain or something similar.

The second Death Star explosion did not release a radiant energy of any more than 19,500 gigatons, which is itself a profound overestimate.

The raw energy content of the Alderaan superlaser shot (i.e. that energy which could heat the atmosphere) was significantly less than 23.5 gigatons, itself a profound overestimation.

Now, on with the show.

Quick Reference Links:
I.    Statements of a Lesser Canon
II.   The Film Evidence
   A.  Prologue
   B.  Film Data:  Further Evaluation
       1.  Secondary Blasts
       2.  The Glow
       3.  The Band
       4.  The Rings
       5.  Density
       6.  Particles
   C.  Putting it All Together:  
         The Superlaser Effect Theory
        Mark One - The DS1 Variant
        Mark Two - The DS2 Variant
III.  Explanatory Power:  Observed Events 
       per the Superlaser Effect
   1.  Alderaan
   2.  DS1
   3.  DS2
   4.  Liberty
   5.  Wingless
   6.  Other Details
       A.  Sky Castles
       B.  Power Generation
       C.  The Geonosian Connection
IV.   Compare and Contrast:  Assessing the Alternatives 

I.  Statements of a Lesser Canon

Let us begin with a little deduction regarding power generation, borrowed from my Death Star reactor page:

"Some have tried to estimate the Death Star's reactor power by assuming that the Death Star's reactor supplied all of the energy for the Alderaan blast.  However, given that our huge natural sun 'only' manages to put out about 3.85E26 watts, and given that the Alderaan event would've required something on the order of 1E38 joules, then we are faced with a contradiction.   A small artificial sun, even if it were capable (at only 17 kilometers in maximum width) of putting out the same energy as our huge natural one (which is well over a million kilometers in width), would still require approximately 259.7 billion seconds to generate that much energy, given the values above.   That's over 8,200 years.  Since we have no indication that ANH took place over the course of 80 centuries, then we are faced with two possibilities.

Either (1) the novelization is wrong and the Death Star reactor was far more powerful, allowing it to fire at least once per few days, or (2) the novelization is correct, and the assumption of the reactor supplying the energy directly is invalid."  

Some would simply dismiss the lesser-canon novel statement as being in contradiction with the canon-derived 1E38J value, and thus go with the first option.  However, throwing out canon is a dangerous game, made worse in this case by the fact that the reactor quote would not be the only quote to throw out.  As per Section VI, the novel defines the superlaser as making use of a mass-energy conversion technique to destroy what other weapons could not.  If target matter is being converted to energy as per the novel, then we have a clear route by which to understand how a fusion reactor at least 80,000 times smaller than our sun could possibly power a beam that can cause 1E38J explosion events in less than 8,200 years.  After all, e=mc˛ tells us that the actual amount of necessary material from Alderaan, assuming 100% mass-energy conversion for the sake of the calculation, would be on the order of 'only' 1.1E21 kilograms.  A planet like Earth weighs in at 5.97E24 kilograms, meaning that if Alderaan were similar then it would possess over 5,000 times the necessary matter to be converted.  Alternately, the conversion could be only 0.02% efficient and the deed could still be done.

Thus, there is no contradiction.  In other words, the canon is consistent . . . to throw out pieces of it in this situation would be arbitrary.

We could quite readily stop right here, of course.  The canon has spoken; no further details are required.

As I cannot overemphasize that point, I'll repeat it . . . "The canon has spoken; no further details are required."

In other words, I could theoretically have simply pointed out the above and gone home.  However, stopping now would be "all too easy", to borrow a phrase . . . and would make those observation pages a complete waste.   We shall therefore look to the canon film.  After all, as the highest canon it is the final arbiter; whether it confirms or denies the novel version of the Death Star, we'd better find out.

II.  The Film Evidence

A.  Prologue

The most basic observation that could be made is that the green beam of the superlaser struck Alderaan, and the planet was destroyed in an explosion.  Since planets do not commonly explode of their own accord, the logical  presumption would be that the effect . . . the planet-destroying explosion . . . had as a cause the superlaser beam hit.

This description of the cause-effect relationship of the superlaser and Alderaan is, of course, entirely correct.   If we wished to perform nothing more than a cursory examination of the event, that is as far as we would need to go . . . we could then perform whatever calculations and speculations we wished.   Obviously, though, that would constitute a terribly incomplete analysis of the evidence, and speculations based on that would be flawed.

For a more complete analysis, we must wipe the slate clean and start fresh, collecting observations and analyzing those to determine what the effects are, noting correlations, and then synthesizing general parameters and causes from those specific data points.  This approach is based on inductive reasoning, wherein we follow where the canon evidence leads us.

Of course, one must be cautious.  Though a cause-effect relationship, by necessity, requires that there be correlation, the reverse is not the case.  Correlation does not require a cause-effect relationship between the elements of the correlation . . . hence the fallacious nature of post hoc ergo propter hoc ("after a thing, therefore because of the thing" . . . a temporal correlation).  Further, a correlation can have some cause besides one of the elements under consideration, or some cause in between.  

As example, we could find a correlation between an increase in firewood purchase and an increase in electrical use, but the thing causing both is the fact that it got bloody cold all of the sudden, which caused people to seek warmth by building fires and turning on heaters.   

That having been said, though, if you can eliminate or account for other variables and causes you can indeed derive a cause-effect relationship from a correlation.  For example, we can take the correlation between weapon hits and a vessel which has been hit then blowing up, and correctly infer a cause-effect relationship between the two.  Of course, vessels hit by weapons don't always blow up, and vessels which blow up aren't always hit by weapons.  

We could carry these ruminations toward such things as necessary versus sufficient cause, Mill's Methods, and so on.   However, I hope what has been said is sufficient.   

Also, it makes sense to attempt to follow precedents in the Star Wars universe wherever possible.  Though the concept of precedent is a somewhat tricky one when it comes to laws (issues should be decided on ethical principles of right and wrong, not because Judge Spanky declared something regarding a mostly unrelated issue a hundred years prior), I figure it is the best way to proceed here.  

And so, with that little intro out of the way, let's take a look at the data, and apply reason to determine what it can tell us.

B.  Film Data:  Further Evaluation

1.  Obviously, the presence of secondary blasts (most notably observable in the case of Alderaan) supports the notion of something like a chain reaction of some sort, since the beam had ceased delivering any possible energy to the target and things don't commonly wait to explode.  

(Even Mike Wong agrees, at least conceptually, as per the quote regarding "Twilight".  Of course, a chain reaction need not be the only possibility.  It is, however, the one which is closest to our experience.)

2.  Of interest is the glow.  In each case, it is present as a prelude.  It is related in some way, but whether it is an active part or just a side effect isn't clear.  Ponder, for instance, the glows of the Liberty and Wingless.  There is no obvious correlation . . . glowing areas might either disappear or appear to explode.

I would posit that the glow itself is just a side effect of something else going on, something relating to the matter-energy conversion which is soon to be seen in each case.  It could be taken to suggest a "material preparation" stage based on a field effect that surrounds the target.  (We've seen target-surrounding fields in Star Wars before, as occurred when Leia got stunned (and started glowing) in ANH.)

3.  Then, of course, there is the band.   As noted, the formation of the band occurs moments before the formation of Alderaan's first ring.  Similarly, the disappearances correlate with the formation of planar effects, so it would seem there could be a relation between the two.

In the case of Alderaan, we have impact, a glow, and an explosion . . . it's not clear if the band appears before or after the latter, but given that the band seems to carry destruction with it I'd say they were roughly concurrent.  Then, there is the formation of the first ring.  (All of this occurs in the space of a quarter-second or so.)

The question is, is the band an event unique to Alderaan, and if so what is it?

Regarding the first part, the visibility of the band is indeed unique to Alderaan, though this doesn't necessarily imply that there is no band in other examples.  After all, the distance the band travelled in the space of a single frame is more than sufficient to have covered entire Death Stars in far less than a single frame.   On the other hand, whereas the surface of Alderaan was made to expand, there is nothing similar observed in the ship-killer shots.  Further, while the Death Stars would not be expected to show a band (given that they would suffer the effect internally if it were to occur at all), we would expect this expansion effect to be observable in some manner (besides the obvious explosion, that is).

It doesn't present any particular logical problems, though, if the band is fairly unique.  After all, as noted, Alderaan is an event hundreds of thousands of times larger than the Death Star explosions, and thousands of billions of times larger than the other observed instances of a superlaser striking an object.  It is most likely however that, as with the planar effects, the band effect (including expansion) is not as well-formed on the smaller scales, and is sufficiently rapid as to be effectively unobservable, assuming there is anything one might be able to identify as a band at all.

So what is the band?  There are several possibilities . . . after all, we can't even be certain whether it is confined to the surface or is only the outermost visible portion of something moving through the bulk of the planet.   I would argue that something between the two is more likely, since the observed expansion would presumably require that a great deal of the planet's mass was involved.  On the other hand, the large amount of bulk material which seems to fly away from the area of the planet core would suggest that the effect was not exactly thorough in the depths, unless the bulk material's bulk and lack of glow were taken to imply a deep expansion and related supercooling effect on the high-pressure core.

4.  So what are the rings?  There's no easy way to tell.  The DS2 ring almost certainly struck Endor without much effect, and also emerged from the DS2's firestorm without dragging any of it along observably.  The rings do have some sort of interaction with each other, however, given the second Alderaan ring merging with and carrying along the first, and presumably there is interaction occurring when the DS1 main ring's evaporated as the trailing ring expanded.  It's also worth noting that the first Alderaan ring slowed, almost stopping before the second ring met it.

It is tempting to look at the seismic charges (i.e. the "sonic charges" of the lesser canon) and consider that there might be some sort of relation, given that the seismic charges are the only other known example of an energetic planar effect in Star Wars.  We could, for instance, allow that the rings have some destructive energy associated with them.  Obviously this would not be too much, given Endor's lack of damage, but there could be some.  

This could lead us to several concepts.   First, the planar effects could relate to energy transactions between the hyperspace and realspace domains.  This would mean that the seismic charges, with their odd non-explosive planar explosions, were devices which drew energy from the hyperspace domain.  (Indeed, that odd blue cloudiness they exhibit could be construed as a peek into that domain.)   

Second, this would provide a clear route to understanding the relationship between rings and material disappearance.  If matter is shifted into the hyperspace domain, converted to energy in the process, and some of that energy then "leaks" back into realspace, then we have an explanation which fits the facts and makes some sense of what we observe.

5.  Material density would seem to be something which ought to come into play at some point in the process.  We could surmise that the Alderaan and DS1 events show that such issues exist . . . the DS1 debris could be material of different density, and density might help explain the secondary blast of Alderaan.   DS2-related events, meanwhile, could be taken to show a variation of the process in which density is less relevant, and hence why the destructions the DS2 was involved in were more total.   However, there is insufficient information to draw anything firm from these speculations.

6.  Presumably the superlaser energy/particles are all created within the Death Star, though it is also possible that the focusing of the tributary beams involves an intermix stage which creates the final, deadly beam.  That seems a far safer option, in any case.  In such a circumstance, one would think that the damage to the Death Stars due to reactor explosion caused intermix prematurely.   However, Occam would argue that it is simply a loss of energy/particle containment.  

For simplicity, and because of the distinctly sublight nature of the superlaser beam, I will refer to the superlaser beam as being composed of particles.

C.  Putting it All Together:  The Superlaser Effect Theory

I believe that what follows constitutes the best synthesis of the evidence.    The short version would simply be this:

The superlaser particles produce an energy field in the target matter, setting off a mass-energy conversion effect related to the hyperspace domain.

Below are the longer, more detailed versions, which I hope to have kept accessible to the engaged reader.

Mark One - the DS1 variant

The superlaser particles, having been created within the large superlaser weapon structure, are focused into a single beam fired at a target.  

The beam itself is fairly innocuous until it comes into contact with dense matter.  Upon impact, the opening stages of the mass-energy conversion take place.  This is not intended to be the primary destructive aspect of the beam . . . one might think of it as the incidental damage done by the impact of an Earth-penetrating nuclear warhead prior to detonation below the surface.  The impact itself is helpful, and may serve as a trigger, but the explosion that is about to come is the main show.   In this case, some of the target is incidentally destroyed due to the raw firepower of the particle beam, equivalent to a very large nuclear explosion, but what will become the main show is that the superlaser particle impact with matter produces an exotic energy field related to the hyperspace domain.  In denser matter (such as bulk solid material) the energy field can expand readily, rapidly permeating the target material and making it ready for what is to come.

The unusual field effect rapidly expands around and toward the center of the body, with some of the target material visibly glowing due to the field.  This field surrounds the target at approximately lightspeed, and the outer limit of the field becomes the outer limit of the effect.  It is worth noting that the preparation is not instantaneous . . . the energy field requires a bit of time to do its thing and more time is required for denser material, though the field eventually becomes strongest in areas of greatest density.   Thus, the least-dense material which has been subjected to the field the longest suffers the most quickly, but actually suffers the least.

And so, by this point, the situation is the following:

1.  The superlaser's impact has produced an explosion, and thus an area of very high energy density.
2.  The target material, being of sufficient density, has allowed the exotic energy field to permeate the target.
3.  The least-dense target material which has been subjected to the energy field for the longest amount of time is fully prepared.

What results from the above is the mass-energy conversion effect that is the hallmark of the superlaser.  The material, now prepared, is "set off" due to interaction with the area of high energy density.  The mass-energy conversion thus begins for the prepared material.  This conversion is rapid, following the path of the most rapid prior material preparation around the outer contour of the body, with the highest yields occurring from the densest fully-prepared material.  In large-scale examples this resolves into a fiery band wrapping around the target surface, following the course of the prepared material, and drawing energy from the matter as it travels in a self-sustaining manner.  Note that the conversion is not an especially efficient process . . . much matter remains, and though the heat-related expansion of this matter is constrained somewhat due to the energy field surrounding the planet, a large amount of material is blown off (especially of the non-solid variety).  

(Further, the preparation, and thus the conversion at this point, is limited in planetary-scale examples to the less dense upper parts of the planet.  Lower, denser layers require more prep time.)  

At the same time, the exotic high-energy interactions between the energy field and the matter-energy conversion also produce a rapid but partial transition of some of the denser field-permeated target matter into the hyperspace domain.  This effect occurs far more rapidly than the conversion above, affecting the entire target (though only a small portion of its material) nearly instantaneously.  This transition to hyperspace is non-propulsive, but not non-destructive . . . the material is no longer material upon arrival in the domain.   Some of the resulting energy from that domain "leaks" back into our own from the center of the offending energy field phenomenon.  Due to the nature of interactions between the two domains, plus the mass- and density-related aspects of the energy field, this results in a most intriguing planar effect centered on the center of mass of the field-permeated body.  In larger examples, this resolves into a ring.

By this point, the effects on the target are understandably catastrophic.  Smaller targets would be utterly destroyed.  However, if the target is of sufficient size, it may have survived the above mostly intact, since the full "preparation" stage of the entire target has not occurred.  The full process is not over, however . . . the mass-energy conversion will continue as long as there is bulk matter to work with, and so long as that material is subjected to the energy field for a sufficient amount of time.

Thus, concurrent to the mass-energy conversion band's reaching of the opposite side of the large body, the preparation of most of the remaining bulk of the target has concluded.  As the energetic band courses in on itself, the energy density shoots up once again, and the entire remaining target is promptly destroyed like a building imploding.   We once again see a great deal of material disappearance, the related planar effects, and as much mass-energy conversion as the remaining target material can possibly muster.   Variations in density and general inefficiencies in the energy field serve to produce a great deal of debris, but this is hardly relevant . . . the target has been quite thoroughly destroyed.

Mark Two - the DS2 variant

The primary difference in the second version of the superlaser is that the spreading of the target preparation effect is far more rapid and complete, with less difference involved due to density variations.   This results in a more rapid mass-energy conversion and a more total matter transition into the other domain.   For that reason, the effect is far more efficient insofar as target destruction is concerned.

III.  Explanatory Power:  
      The Observed Events as per the Superlaser Effect

1.  Alderaan

For the most part, this has been explained above in the "DS1 variant" section with the many references to large-scale examples.  The only part that might seem odd is that I posit some material disappearance at the time of the first ring.  However, since the relationship between planar effects and material disappearance holds for all other examples, it seems most likely that the relationship held in every case, and not that there was one case where it didn't.

Further, the energy field concept and related material preparation idea derived from the glowing seen in all examples serves to explain the formation of the band, and the density relationships serve to explain the cause behind the primary and secondary blast effects.  How?  Well, remember of course that a planet is not a body of uniform density.  The internal structure shows boundaries between layers of different density, and the density within layers is also increasing on the way down.   The primary blast of Alderaan, as seen in the band, was operating mainly in the upper layers of the planet.  There would also have been a gradient insofar as the yield was concerned, since the material prep was working its way down.

This gradation, along with the planetary layers, also serves to explain why there would've been only two rings instead of one long, drawn-out one.  The energy density just wouldn't have been sufficient to produce constant material disappearance all the way down into the lower layers of the planet, at least until the band met itself and all hell broke loose.

2.  The First Death Star

The reactor explosion destroys most of the station, especially visible with regards to the lower half.  This liberated energy of a small artificial sun causes the accidental release of superlaser particles as the superlaser weapon's innards get blown apart.  Mixed with the preparation of the station's matter during the novel-specified flashing glow phase (as caused by superlaser particle containment failure), the energy density of the reactor explosion sets off mass-energy conversion and the related material transition, with related ring.  

The superlaser, incidentally, was indeed charged for a planetary destruction shot, but the accidental internal release was not as powerful as a proper shot against the Death Star would've been.  The whole event, however, was very quick and quite sufficient to destroy the station . . . Tarkin was unaware of a problem until just a moment before the whole thing went kaboom.

3.  The Second Death Star

The reactor explosion destroys much of the interior volume of the station, either directly closest to the core or by causing further destruction further out in the chain of explosions the lesser canon mentions.  This has detrimental effects on the containment of the superlaser particles, with the expected results.

This superlaser was also being charged for a planetary destruction shot in this case, and may even have been in the process of firing.  In any case, much of the particle containment failure was directed through the superlaser dish in an unfocused, internally unpleasant manner.   Nevertheless, the station sufferred the fate intended for Endor as her structure, prepared appropriately, was set off by an internal explosion . . . either the reactor's energy or that related to the superlaser's discharge.  An enormous explosion centered around the station's center of mass occurred, with a similarly centered ring. 

4.  The Liberty

Struck on her starboard wing by a superlaser shot of mere ship-killing proportions, the Liberty began to explode due to the raw power of the beam.  Indeed, the rest of the event was mere overkill, since the huge blast almost certainly would've put the ship out of action.   

Nevertheless, her hull and superstructure began undergoing the process which would lead to her final destruction.  Finally, the ship's hull suffers partial conversion to energy with transition, with a planar explosion that annihilates what remains.

5.  The Wingless

A similar-strength superlaser shot was employed against the Wingless, apparently indicative of a certain setting used against ships.  In any case, the beam rapidly destroyed the smaller target in the expected manner.   However, the energy field was so powerful compared to the target that most of the ship was transitioned, resulting in a more focused and distinct planar effect, albeit one less well-ordered than the full rings of the Death Stars or Alderaan.

6.  Other Details (i.e. Plausibility in the Star Wars Universe)

A.  The Death Stars attacked worlds in an entirely new way.  Not only was capture of the planet no longer a goal, but in addition the ranges and energies involved were of a level never before seen.   

Instead of enemy attack ships, fighters, bombers, and landing craft (carrying soldiers and occupation personnel) trying to fight their way into orbit or onto the surface, the Death Star simply fired its superweapon from long range.   As a result, the common forms of planetary defense . . . fighters, defense fleets, surface-based weapons installations, orbital platforms, and small theater shields . . . were rendered wholly obsolete.  

As analogy, ponder the age of castles.   Long ago, a castle was thought to be an impenetrable fortress . . . you couldn't hope to destroy it, and that wasn't your goal anyway . . . you wanted its defenses and riches for yourself.   Now imagine that you have decided to get hardcore on the castle occupants, and no longer want their castle . . . just their deaths.  Further, you have acquired an F-15 with a full suite of bombs.    The castle will be destroyed in short order.   It defeats the castle defenses by attacking in a totally new way . . . i.e. from the air.   The defenders of the castle would be totally unprepared for this . . . they'd have men in the battlements with arrows, stones, and hot oil to rain down upon you.  They'd be prepared for seige engines and wall-breaking.   A fighter dropping death from above would blow their minds, not only for the technology but also for the change of tactics and goals.

A more sci-fi analogy would be to refer to planetary bombardment versus invasion with troops and tanks.   Or, one could ponder the Battle of Britain or V-2 rockets, which showed air power nullifying Britain's defensive advantages of a powerful navy and separation from the continent by water by utterly bypassing those surface-based advantages.

Similarly, the ion cannons, orbital platforms, fighters, starships, and so on that would logically comprise the majority of a major world's defenses in Star Wars are rendered useless by the long-range, one-shot-billions-killed superlaser.   It lacks the finesse of a well-coordinated fleet assault on an enemy world, but makes up for it by sheer utility.   If I were the F-15 pilot, I'd certainly conclude that my demonstration "was as impressive as it was thorough", especially to those residing in other castles.

The Death Star was a weapon of sheer terror . . . there was no defense against it, and that was the point.   

B.   Some have argued that there is an incongruity in the Superlaser Effect concept.  They say that if the Empire has the capacity to turn almost any matter into energy, especially at these scales, then they would be using that as a power source instead of simple fusion.

However, that argument makes little sense.  For starters, the use of a weapon that releases extraordinary energy does not imply that it can be turned into a power source.  This, of course, is why people are still trying to make fusion reactors . . . because it's so terribly easy to turn swords into plowshares in nuclear physics.  Further, some weapons just aren't practical as a power source . . . dynamite makes a wonderful explosive, but the nitroglycerine just isn't something you want to carry around, or fill up your tank with.  Last but not least, there's the simple fact that the canon novel tells us what the Death Star was using as a power source, and it wasn't an SF-based reactor.

And so, we can conclude that the Superlaser Effect is either too difficult to contain, or is simply impractical for use as a power source, or both.  This makes sense . . . how do you contain a chain reaction that will quite happily blow a whole planet to smithereens? You're basically talking about trying to contain a mass-energy conversion effect that, as seen at Alderaan, will quite happily expand to encompass every bit of nearby material.   Add to that the fact that to make this superweapon, they evidently had to build ridiculously huge starships with massive internal systems dedicated to the weapon. Assuming they could even control the reaction when it is in progress and/or make it controllably self-sustaining (two awfully huge assumptions), the smallest known example of the technology is still enormous, and requires similarly huge fusion reactors just to get it going.

Further, even if we assume that the seismic charges of AoTC involve a related technology insofar as the hyperspace connection is concerned, that device certainly wasn't a demonstration of a good reactor.  How does one contain a two-dimensional highly destructive shockwave of that sort?

Next, we must ask ourselves if the Superlaser Effect is actually more efficient than anything else the Empire has available.  For our purposes, efficiency would be the amount of energy released in joules divided by the mass times lightspeed squared.  In other words, the liberated energy versus good old E=mc˛.

So, let's say that the fusion reactor of the Death Star is as efficient as the fusion reactions at the center of the sun.  In a common main sequence star like the sun, fusion efficiency is actually around 0.8%.  Deuterium-deuterium and deuterium-tritium fusion reactions would fall within the same ballpark . . . a bit better, but not much.

Now, let's say that the Superlaser Effect only required about 1/5000th (0.02%) of Alderaan's mass to produce 1E38J.   That would be an efficiency of about 100%, equal to the theoretical efficiency of matter/antimatter reactions.  In such a case, I would agree that they would desperately want to use it for power.  However, it's quite unlikely that the Superlaser Effect is 100% efficient, for a variety of reasons . . . (a) most things aren't, (b) mass disappears, and (c) the resulting debris does not appear to constitute 4999/5000ths of the planet Alderaan.  

So, let's suppose that the Superlaser Effect required ten percent of Alderaan's mass to make 1e38J.  The total amount of energy of that mass is:

E = mc^2
E = (5.976 x 10^23)(299,792,458)^2
E = 5.37096094813122221664e40J

Getting a "mere" 1E38J out of that potential amount of energy would translate to an efficiency of 0.19%, or about four times less than fusion's efficiency.   That would mean the Superlaser Effect is great for killing planets in a timely manner, but terrible for sustained power generation.

For comparison, half the mass of the planet would work out to 0.037% efficiency.  One percent (1/100th) of the planet's mass would be 1.8% efficient.  

That last value, of course, shows an efficiency greater than that involved in fusion.  But, of course, there's still that wee problem . . . fusion is comparatively easy to contain and employ.  And, of course, with fusion one's fuel supply doesn't simply disappear on you without giving you all of the energy you were expecting.

Thus, fusion would be the superior choice for Imperial power generation.

C.  The Geonosian Connection

The Death Star was under development on Geonosis, haven of the Separatist forces who employed Jango Fett.   It is unsurprising, then, that he would be outfitted with a weapon employing hyperspace technology.  (More relating to the weapons of AoTC can be found in the objections.)

IV.  Compare and Contrast:  Assessing the Alternatives

We have touched on a variety of possibilities, and there are others that have been put forth.  Let's take a moment to consider each one.

1.  Direct Energy Transfer

Basic Idea:  The superlaser is a big honkin' turbolaser, using raw energy to smash targets.

Advantages:  Since it is based on a cursory glance at the evidence only, this concept has a pleasant "goddidit" level of instant accessibility.  

Problems:   It is based on a cursory glance at the evidence only, and thus does not serve to explain anything whatsoever . . . it's kind of like saying lightning starts fires because it is bright.  Also, since turbolasers have not yet been adequately explained, it seems a bit tricky to claim not only that they operate in a set way, but that something else does too.  

The primary problem, however, is that it requires that canon statements on the superlaser's mass-energy conversion and the output of the Death Star reactor be ignored, in favor of the super-high-energy beam and the necessary reactor to power it.  Further, it requires numerous separate ad hoc concepts to solve problems as they appear in each example, including but not limited to invisible shields, invisible continuation of the superlaser beam, and other invisible absurdities.   There is no unity in between the various similar examples . . . each is explained away individually, if explained at all.

Commentary:   For the most part, proponents try to ignore the evidence in order to maintain the cursory level of examination needed for the theory.   Their behavior, of course, does not invalidate the theory they support, but it certainly doesn't help.  It's like denying that Mercury has a funny orbit as far as Newtonian calculations are concerned (despite the oddities being explicable via Einstein), so that Newton's laws can be kept as the true way of the worlds.

2.  'Simple' Chain Reaction

Basic Idea:   Something in the planet . . . uranium, perhaps . . . is caused to undergo fission.  Alternately, one could suppose that hydrogen or some other light element is made to fuse.

Advantages:  Correctly acknowledges that something odd is afoot, insofar as the fact that some sort of post-superlaser energy is being released. 

Problems:  Too numerous to mention fully.  Alderaan would have to be composed almost entirely of uranium just waiting to blow as soon as a neutron hits, notwithstanding the fact that they don't penetrate an atmosphere that well.  Alternately, the planet would be composed entirely of mysteriously-high-density hydrogen just waiting for a good love tap to become a supernova.  Of course, neither of those is remotely plausible.

Commentary:  Suffice it to say that such ideas just won't work.

3.  'Exotic' Chain Reaction (i.e. SF 1.0)

Basic Idea:  An exotic energy or particle beam from the Death Star sets off a mass-energy conversion chain reaction on the target material, producing a profound energy release and odd planar effects.

Advantages:  Acknowledged all the available evidence of the time, and was a sufficiently good theory to predict the discovery of additional evidence, which was then appended appropriately.   However, some of the evidence found during that process seemed contrary to the original notion, requiring alterations.  

Problems:  Not all of the evidence was available at the time, insofar as it having been noticed.  The main issue was that material disappearance was unknown, and as a result the source of the planar effects was a little vague.

Commentary:    Not perfect, but damn good (if I do say so myself).  In effect, this idea is, by analogy, kind of like reading "Origin of Species", whereas the current SF theory would be akin to having an understanding of modern evolutionary theory, with the greater depth afforded by decades of continuing research into genetics, behavior, et cetera.  SF 2.0 is simply an enhancement of the original.

4.  Compressor Beam

Basic Idea:  The Death Star superlaser briefly crushes the core of a world into an unstable singularity or neutron star, which then explodes.

Advantages:  Helps explain the secondary blasts.  May possibly explain Alderaan's "collapse".

Problems:   No explanation of how this is accomplished by a single raybeam.  No explanation of why only the connected solid matter (i.e. not gas or nearby ships) would be affected.  Limited explanation of planar effects.

Commentary:   This idea, which I helped to develop along with a wonderful but short-lived poster to ASVS, is perhaps the best contender to the SF idea, though it has severe flaws.   I include it here primarily because I was seriously considering trying to incorporate parts of it into SF 2.0, though the evidence carried me elsewhere.  Another reason is that others have also tried to flirt with the concept since that time, including Mike Wong (during our old debate). 


The Superlaser Effect concept remains as the only self-consistent way to understand the visual and written statements from the Star Wars canon regarding the Death Star superlaser.  

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