Are lightsabers possible in the real world? The answer might surprise you. Millions of people love George Lucas’s iconic Star Wars movies and their Force-wielding Jedi. Everyone wants to try out a real laser sword, including some creative engineers who are making lightsabers a reality. What’s the real-world science behind these iconic fantasy weapons?
How Fictional Lightsabers Work
In the Star Wars universe, lightsabers are made of a hilt with a kyber crystal inside that focuses a beam of tangible, ultra-hot light. The kyber crystal also determines the color of the lightsaber blade.
In the films and books, lightsabers are described as light swords, suggesting they are literally made of light. They can crash into each other, cut through most objects, and switch on and off with the press of a button. Lightsabers also have a built-in power source, although in the ancient times of the Star Wars universe, early Jedi used “protosabers” with external power packs.
Are Lightsabers Possible in the Real World?
Lightsabers are one of the most iconic objects in pop culture. Are lightsabers possible in the real world, though? Star Wars bends the realities of modern science, so building a real lightsaber is a complicated business.
The first scientific issue with lightsabers is the nature of light itself. For a sword made of light to work, it has to be able to collide with other objects and have a contained blade. In real life, lasers are the closest visual equivalent to lightsabers. The beam of a lightsaber will continue until it runs into something, though, such as a wall. When the beam runs into an obstacle, it simply ends, just like a flashlight.
So, basic handheld light sources like lasers and flashlights aren’t good candidates for creating a real lightsaber. Are lightsabers possible with other types of light and matter, though?
The problem with using actual light to make a lightsaber is that light is waves of energy, not physical matter. There are forms of matter that emit light that could potentially take on traits of a lightsaber, namely plasma. The four main states of matter are liquid, solid, gas and plasma. When gas is heated to high temperatures, it turns into plasma, ionized gas that’s extremely common in our universe. In fact, stars are made of plasma, including our Sun!
Plasma can burn through most materials like a lightsaber and it’s possible to control the “blade” length by adjusting fuel consumption. So, plasma definitely has some characteristics of a lightsaber. However, it still does not have a solid blade that could collide with other lightsaber blades.
To accomplish that, you would need to start with a solid material. Gas and plasma aren’t solid and will pass right through each other or blend together. A solid lightsaber blade could be some type of superheated metal rod that gives off a lightsaber-like glow when ignited. However, it wouldn’t be easy to make such a blade collapsible like in the films and it would be very heavy, much like a medieval broadsword.
Real World Lightsabers: Plasma Torch Swords
Numerous innovative DIY engineers have made attempts to build real lightsabers over the years. These experimental projects do a great job of answering the question “are lightsabers possible” with a clear “yes”. Real lightsabers don’t work exactly like they do in George Lucas’s iconic films, but a few come impressively close.
For example, DIYer James Hobson has gone viral several times with his homemade plasma lightsabers. Hobson’s workshop, Hacksmith Industries, built the world’s first retractable lightsaber, a blade of plasma that burns at 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The blade is powered by propane and oxygen fuel, which is stored in tanks worn on a portable backpack. Hobson even figured out how to use different salts to change the blade color, such as boric acid for making a green blade or strontium chloride for red.
In tests, the DIY lightsaber could cut through a fake stormtrooper, shatter glass, slash through walls and melt through metal blast doors. The plasma saber looks like a shot straight out of The Phantom Menace when Hobson recreates cutting through a “blast door” like Qui-Gon Jinn.
Hobson’s design looks and functions eerily similar to the protosabers seen in Star Wars extended universe content. Protosabers don’t have kyber crystals and need to be hooked up to portable power supply units the Jedi wears like a bag.
The main difference between Hobson’s real-life protosabers and fictional lightsabers is how they function. Hobson’s saber can’t collide with another plasma blade. When it makes contact with other objects, the action is more like melting than cutting the way fictional lightsabers do. If something is flammable, it will combust when it makes contact with Hobson’s protosaber.
Some scientists theorize that magnetic fields could possibly be used to make self-contained lightsaber blades you could duel with. However, it would be difficult to create a magnetic field in the long, narrow shape of a lightsaber blade since magnetic fields are naturally ring-shaped.
Is the Star Wars Galaxy Possible?
So, are lightsabers possible in the real world? Sort of. What about the Star Wars galaxy itself? Will it ever be possible to have a multi-planetary civilization like we see in the movies? Accomplishing this is far more difficult than building real lightsabers.
Traveling at lightspeed like Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon is technically possible within the laws of physics. However, it’s actually a form of time travel due to a property called time dilation. Due to the way light interacts with gravity, objects traveling at the speed of light also travel forward in time.
Less time would pass for Han and Chewy on board the Falcon than it would for the rest of the galaxy in a single lightspeed jump. Depending on how far they traveled, the galaxy could be completely different by the time the Falcon dropped out of lightspeed. So, it’s not logistically possible to travel between planets in seconds without also time traveling to the future. As a result, it would likely be impossible for a civilization like the one in Star Wars to function in the real world.
We can witness the phenomenon of time dilation here on Earth. Astronauts on the International Space Station need to periodically adjust their clocks since time moves slower in orbit than it does here on Earth. It is a small case of time dilation, but the effect would be significantly more noticeable when traveling between planets at high speed.
Exploring the Science of Star Wars
Star Wars is an incredible series that inspires millions of people, including some innovative engineers who are making it a reality. Lightsabers are possible in the real world, but they have some clear differences from fictional lightsabers. However, it is possible that in the future advances in technology might make true lightsabers possible just like in the movies.
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