What hyperspace would really look like


The science fiction vision of stars flashing by as streaks when spaceships travel faster than light isn’t what the scene would actually look like, a team of physics students says.

Instead, the view out the windows of a vehicle traveling through hyperspace would be more like a centralized bright glow, calculations show.

The finding contradicts the familiar images of stretched out starlight streaking past the windows of the Millennium Falcon in “Star Wars” and the Starship Enterprise in “Star Trek.” In those films and television series, as spaceships engage warp drive or hyperdrive and approach the speed of light, stars morph from points of light to long streaks that stretch out past the ship.

But passengers on the Millennium Falcon or the Enterprise actually wouldn’t be able to see stars at all when traveling that fast, found a group of physics Masters students at England’s University of Leicester. Rather, a phenomenon called the Doppler Effect, which affects the wavelength of radiation from moving sources, would cause stars’ light to shift out of the visible spectrum and into the X-ray range, where human eyes wouldn’t be able to see it, the students found.

“The resultant effects we worked out were based on Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, so while we may not be used to them in our daily lives, Han Solo and his crew should certainly understand its implications,” Leicester student Joshua Argyle said in a statement.

The Doppler Effect is the reason why an ambulance’s siren sounds higher pitched when it’s coming at you compared to when it’s moving away — the sound’s frequency becomes higher, making its wavelength longer, and changing its pitch.

The same thing would happen to the light of stars when a spaceship began to move toward them at significant speed. And other light, such as the pervasive glow of the universe called the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is left over from the Big Bang, would be shifted out of the microwave range and into the visible spectrum, the students found.

“If the Millennium Falcon existed and really could travel that fast, sunglasses would certainly be advisable,” said research team member Riley Connors. “On top of this, the ship would need something to protect the crew from harmful X-ray radiation.”

The increased X-ray radiation from shifted starlight would even push back on a spaceship traveling in hyperdrive, the team found, slowing down the vehicle with a pressure similar to the force felt at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, such a spacecraft would need to carry extra energy reserves to counter this pressure and press ahead.

Whether the scientific reality of these effects will be taken into consideration on future Star Wars films is still an open question.

“Perhaps Disney should take the physical implications of such high speed travel into account in their forthcoming films,” said team member Katie Dexter.

Connors, Dexter, Argyle, and fourth team member Cameron Scoular published their findings in this year’s issue of the University of Leicester’s Journal of Physics Special Topics.


Star Wars Fans Building a Full Scale Replica of the Millennium Falcon


Star Wars geek extraordinaire, Chris Lee, is building a full scale replica of the Millennium Falcon an hour outside Nashville. And who doesn’t love the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy?”

In Star Wars, Han Solo won the Falcon—a freighter with a “few special modifications”—in a game of Sabacc with Lando Calrissian. He used it to smuggle goods, transport a young Luke Skywalker, and fight the ultimate battle between good and evil. The ship is, of course, legendary on the silver screen. And now it’ll emerge from the depths of space and time in Tennessee.

Lee’s replica will be 114 feet long (50% the length of a Boeing 747) and 81.5 feet across. The frame will consist of steel, plywood, and fiberglass and will be as close to spec as possible—quad laser cannons to dejarik table.

To accomplish this feat, the team painstakingly rendered and reconciled detailed blueprints. No trivial matter—Hollywood doesn’t generally concern itself with reality. A prime challenge, for example, was that the exterior and interior dimensions didn’t match in the original blueprints.

The project may strike you as slightly Quixotic. And it may be. To finish it, Lee’s team needs all the help they can get—funding, building, assembling. They’re crowd sourcing expertise and labor and selling t-shirts to support the effort. Folks from England, to Norway, to New Zealand have contributed.

In all likelihood the ship won’t be complete for at least 5-7 years. But when (and if) that golden day comes, the Millennium Falcon will land in a clearing on an 88 acre parcel of land in the Tennessee countryside. The Falcon will be visible from several vantage points around the property. And from space too. In fact, Lee is counting on a Google Maps screen capture upon completion.

Is this geekdom gone wild? Yes, yes it is. But there’s more than simply the desire to build the biggest, baddest sci-fi model of all time. Lee hopes to found a maker camp for kids. Campers will come from across the empire and learn to weld and wire just like Anakin. And maybe even contribute a component or two to the Falcon herself. If you can’t wait five years to see the final product, see here for the Full Scale Millennium Falcon Project’s 3D animated tours of the Falcon’s interior and exterior:

Star Wars Fans Building a Full Scale Replica of the Millennium Falcon