Hyperspace travel – the ability of spacecraft to travel as fast as the speed of light – is an integral part of Star Wars the universe.
The new series of The MandalorianFor example, it would be a completely different show if Mando and Grog waited 6,000 years to fly from one planet to another.
But this raises the question of how feasible such a technology is. Will we ever achieve the ability to travel great distances through space without having to burn out generations of astronauts? Or are we just locked in our own corner of the Galaxy?
To answer this, Prof Patrick Johnson, author of Star Wars Physicsit should be clear what, exactly, hyperspace travel is.
“If we’re talking about the idea that spaceships come in Star Wars accelerate forward as fast, or faster than the speed of light, then it’s not plausible,” he says.
“The speed of light is the speed limit of the Universe. As soon as you travel faster than light, cause and effect begin to break down. You can safely watch an event happening five light years away, travel faster than the speed of light to it, and get there before it happens. It’s basically time travel.”
A more realistic option, Johnson says, is for ships to come in instead Star Wars accelerating to the speed of light, hyperdrive technology enables them to create a wormhole in order to travel from one point in space to another.
“It would be like folding a piece of paper and punching a hole through it so an ant can get to the other side,” he says.
It would also explain why, in certain hyperspace sequences at Star Wars, the ships appear to be traveling through a blue tunnel. (Though, of course, there are other scenes, such as Vice Admiral Holdo flying a ship at light speed through another ship in The Last Jediwhich lend strength to the acceleration theory).
The problem with creating a wormhole, Johnson says, is that no one knows how to do it; it is more theoretical than practical. “Maybe it would be easier to find a pre-existing wormhole and just hope it leads somewhere you want to go,” he says.
“As for creating one, it would require decades of human energy. And that’s before we even figure out how to target a specific location.”
Johnson also insists that any wormhole created must be very far from Earth.
“Going back to the paper analogy, it won’t end well for the ant if it happens to be where the pencil explodes. You’ll need an empty, uninhabited patch of space, along with incredibly complex calculations and some kind of up-to-date star map to make sure the planet you’re going to is in the right place. .”
At this stage, both options seem equally unlikely, meaning we’re stuck in our own Solar System for the foreseeable future.
But Johnson lives in hope that, even if we can’t accelerate to the speed of light, we can develop ways to travel long distances across the Galaxy.
“Without hyperdrive, I’d say our best bet for going very far in a reasonable amount of time is solar sail technology,” he says. “These would work like wind sails, but instead use the light of a star to propel the ship forward and essentially give it an unlimited supply of fuel. The acceleration would be small at first, but after 10 years you can reach up to 20 percent of the speed of light, which is very good.
Promising – but we wouldn’t book that holiday on Tatooine just yet.
About our expert
Patrick Johnson is an associate professor in Georgetown University’s physics department and the author of Star Wars Physics. Earning his doctorate at Washington University in St Louis, Johnson’s work on quantum mechanics has been published in Physical examination diary.
Leave a Reply