Physics students devise concept for Star Wars-style deflector shields

May 01, 2014
Physics students devise concept for Star Wars-style deflector shields
The Death Star, which protagonist Luke Skywalker successfully destroys in the Star Wars franchise while piloting an X-Wing fighter. Credit: Wikipedia;

If you have often imagined yourself piloting your X-Wing fighter on an attack run on the Death Star, you'll be reassured that University of Leicester students have demonstrated that your shields could take whatever the Imperial fleet can throw at you.

The only drawback is that you won't be able to see a thing outside of your starfighter.

In anticipation of Star Wars Day on 4 May, three fourth-year Physics students at the University have proven that shields, such as those seen protecting spaceships in the Star Wars film series, would not only be scientifically feasible, they have also shown that the science behind the principle is already used here on Earth.

They have published their findings in the Journal of Special Physics Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy.

In the Star Wars movies, the latest of which began filming in April, spaceships are protected by a shield defence system that deflects enemy laser fire. In order to recreate this type of shield, the students assumed that a surrounding field of super-hot plasma would be used, held in place by a around the ship.

The denser the plasma, the higher the frequency of electromagnetic wave (or laser radiation) will be deflected.

The principle can already be seen, not in a galaxy far, far away, but in the atmosphere around our own planet. It is seen in 'over-the-horizon' , used for decades in early warning RADAR systems and for long distance communications where satellite communications are not feasible.

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Student Alexander Toohie said: "The Earth's atmosphere is made up of several distinct layers, one of which is the ionosphere. The ionosphere is a plasma, and extends from roughly 50km above the surface of the Earth to the edge of space.

"Just like the plasma described in our paper, it reflects certain frequencies of , in this case radio frequencies. Radio communications and RADAR can be beamed upwards toward the sky where it will be reflected back down toward the Earth. This method can be used to send communications over the horizon where radio transmissions would not normally be capable of reaching, much like using a mirror to look around a corner."

A strong magnetic field would be needed to create the required pressure to contain the plasma. The students calculated that the magnet strength required was definitely feasible, but would need a large power source that would restrict space in your ship.

Another major restriction would be that a shield designed to deflect light radiation would prevent any light reaching the pilot, leaving them effectively blind – unless, like Jedi pilot Luke Skywalker, they relied on the Force to guide them!

The students suggest that an Ultra-Violet camera would be a more readily available alternative, as UV radiation is beyond the frequency of light radiation.

While the technology might not be ready to protect your starfighter, there are more down-to-earth applications that we could see in the future.

Alexander explains: "Another possible application of this principle may be for trapping radiation inside a shell of plasma rather than excluding it. This may be useful for applications that require incredibly high temperature environments, such as experimental fusion reactors."

The students presented their findings in a paper for the Journal of Physics Special Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy. The student-run journal is designed to give students practical experience of writing, editing, publishing and reviewing scientific papers.

Alexander said: "This module is very valuable to students who will be staying in academia after graduating as it gives a good insight into the publishing process for academic papers.

"But it is also valuable to students who do not intend to continue in research, as it allows us to investigate problems that we are interested in, and also gives us feedback from our peers on our writing style and the way in which we tackle problems."

Course tutor Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer in the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: "The aim of the module is for the students to learn about peer review and scientific publishing.

"The are encouraged to be imaginative with their topics, and find ways to apply basic physics to the weird, the wonderful and the everyday."

Explore further: Usain Bolt's superhuman speed would give him the power of flight on Titan

More information: Journal of Physics Special Topics, J. McGuire, A. Toohie and A. Pohl, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester. Leicester, LE1 7RH. Nov 20, 2013.

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hr_dunham
4.5 / 5 (8) May 01, 2014
Oh dear. I had to create an account just to add this comment...

The caption of the top image is completely wrong.
The Death Star pictured is the 2nd Death Star from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
That Death Star is destroyed by Wedge and Lando. Luke is on the Death Star battling the Emperor and saving his father.
Luke destroys the 1st Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope. That is a completed and 'fully functional battle station'.
How someone could get that so wrong saddens me. :(
chardo137
4.2 / 5 (5) May 01, 2014
Deflector shields were from Star Trek.
hr_dunham
3.7 / 5 (3) May 01, 2014
http://starwars.w...r_shield

They're in Star Wars too.

In Ep IV just after leaving Mos Eisley when the Falcon is being attacked by star destroyers Han says "We're losing our deflector shield. Go strap yourself in, I'm going to make the jump to light speed." There's a dozen other references in the original trilogy.
Returners
1 / 5 (4) May 01, 2014
Another major restriction would be that a shield designed to deflect light radiation would prevent any light reaching the pilot, leaving them effectively blind – unless, like Jedi pilot Luke Skywalker, they relied on the Force to guide them!

The students suggest that an Ultra-Violet camera would be a more readily available alternative, as UV radiation is beyond the frequency of light radiation.


Real military laser weapons typically use the infrared frequencies, so visible light is not necessarily in conflict, though I can only guess at the exact frequency involved since that would be top secret to prevent countermeasures. They may use rotating frequencies to help circumvent countermeasures, but I am not sure whether they are that advanced yet. I've seen rotating frequency methods mentioned in real life, but have not seen it demonstrated on any publicly available media.
Returners
1 / 5 (3) May 01, 2014
In Ep IV just after leaving Mos Eisley when the Falcon is being attacked by star destroyers Han says "We're losing our deflector shield. Go strap yourself in, I'm going to make the jump to light speed." There's a dozen other references in the original trilogy.


Battle of Endor:

"We've lost the bridge deflector shield."

"Intensify forward fire power to compensate. I don't want anything getting through....Intensify forward fire power NOW..."

"Too late..."

Rrrraaaaawwwww. Boom.

I don't remember the officers' names, but I remember the conversation pretty closely...
chardo137
4.5 / 5 (2) May 01, 2014
I always got the idea that, in Star Wars, they were talking about those big metal plates that hinged into place. There are several scenes that show big mechanical shields swinging up to protect important areas from incoming attack.
Ens
5 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
Now if they can develop this to work to deflect asteroids and prevent potential future extinction events we'll have something.
HTK
1 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
Would a mass like the death start able to create gravity by itself?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.8 / 5 (4) May 01, 2014
Of course it wouldnt stop kinetic projectiles, particle beams, exocets, photon torpedos, arrows, rocks, etc. Oh and also xray or uv lasers. Oh well. At least you wouldnt see all that stuff coming at you and so your drawers would remain clean until the end.
nkalanaga
not rated yet May 01, 2014
TheGhostofOtto1923: Back to the 1930s sci-fi, where the ships had cannons, and the boarding crews used swords?

If it can block visible light it should be possible to design a version that would block at least some UV, as it's still electromagnetic radiation. Far-UV and X-rays would probably contain enough energy to disrupt the magnetic fields.

I wonder if the cameras could be put on non-magnetic booms, so they could be extended periodically for navigation, then retracted for protection?
Returners
2.3 / 5 (3) May 01, 2014
TheGhostofOtto1923: Back to the 1930s sci-fi, where the ships had cannons, and the boarding crews used swords?

If it can block visible light it should be possible to design a version that would block at least some UV, as it's still electromagnetic radiation. Far-UV and X-rays would probably contain enough energy to disrupt the magnetic fields.

I wonder if the cameras could be put on non-magnetic booms, so they could be extended periodically for navigation, then retracted for protection?


Not practical. You probably couldn't use a wired connection from the camera to the cockpit because it will get interfered with, and then you can't use a magnetic storage media because that will get erased, and even if you used a non-magnetic storage media, it's not very practical in a dog fight to watch a video recording of what was happening 30 seconds or 2 minutes ago.
Mimath224
not rated yet May 01, 2014
Wow I learned something here. Didn't realise you chaps were so 'up' on star wars/star trek. I always wondered if they needed a 'protector field' to protect from possible harm from the 'deflector shield'. I can't wait for the day when DS's automatically form over damage/open areas (First Contact, Nemesis). Dream on eh?
nkalanaga
4.5 / 5 (2) May 02, 2014
Returners: An optical link in a shielded cable or conduit would work. The shielding would keep the plasma out, and light in a fiber isn't bothered by magnetic fields or radio frequency radiation. As for storage, we can shield that. I doubt that the fields inside the ship would be as high as near a large particle accelerator.

Your second objection is very true. It wouldn't work for a dogfight at all. A fight between space battleships could be done, where maneuvering is relatively slow, compared with weapon speed, but in a Star Wars style dogfight you need real-time data.

Anyone here remember Niven/Pournelle's "The Mote In God's Eye"? Their ships used a shield with the same limit - those inside couldn't see out. It had the added disadvantage of absorbing rather than reflecting the energy, and would explode if overloaded.
alfie_null
not rated yet May 02, 2014
Returners: An optical link in a shielded cable or conduit would work. The shielding would keep the plasma out, and light in a fiber isn't bothered by magnetic fields or radio frequency radiation.

For any sensing scheme that pokes things through the shield, consider what happens when plasma contacts relatively cold solid matter.
Anyone here remember Niven/Pournelle's "The Mote In God's Eye"? Their ships used a shield with the same limit - those inside couldn't see out. It had the added disadvantage of absorbing rather than reflecting the energy, and would explode if overloaded.

Reminding me of Niven's Known Space - not the same milieu, but full of fun-to-ponder science concepts.

Of course, if something like a ring world came sailing through our solar system today, we would be able to do little more than watch it pass by.
cmdr-buzz-corey
not rated yet May 02, 2014
"Radio communications and RADAR can be beamed upwards toward the sky where it will be reflected back down toward the Earth. This method can be used to send communications over the horizon where radio transmissions would not normally be capable of reaching, much like using a mirror to look around a corner."

Not sure this author even knows what he is talking about. The ionosphere only bounces radio signals back to earth, with any consistency, those radio signals below around 30 Mhz except on some occasions higher frequencies can get this skip effect Signals above that, the wavelength is too short and they penetrate the ionosphere and do not return to earth. Over the horizon radar at these low frequencies has very low resolution. Ham radio operators use this skip phenomenon every day to talk to other hams all over the world.
cmdr-buzz-corey
5 / 5 (2) May 02, 2014
Would a mass like the death start able to create gravity by itself?


Anything with mass creates it's own gravity.
shavera
5 / 5 (3) May 02, 2014
Well also in star wars, I'd wager that all the "lasers" fired are, in fact, plasmas of some form or another. Why they're colored and move significantly slower than the speed of light (or a bullet for that matter, in some cases).
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) May 02, 2014
If you want to protect against laser light you'd be better off with a an adaptable (to frequency) and ablative coating of "smart" nano particles. Wouldn't last indefinitely, but would give you much better protection for no expenditure of energy and no visibility problems.
cmdr-buzz-corey
not rated yet May 02, 2014
Oh dear. I had to create an account just to add this comment...

The caption of the top image is completely wrong.
The Death Star pictured is the 2nd Death Star from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
That Death Star is destroyed by Wedge and Lando. Luke is on the Death Star battling the Emperor and saving his father.
Luke destroys the 1st Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope. That is a completed and 'fully functional battle station'.
How someone could get that so wrong saddens me. :(


You do realize that not everyone in the world is a Star-Trek geek/nut.
srikkanth_kn
not rated yet May 03, 2014
Slightly off the topic - Can 'space time' instead, be wrapped around the ship and be used as shield to deflect incoming laser rays / projectiles ?. Any academic paper around this idea would be interesting to read..
Shootist
not rated yet May 03, 2014
Deflector shields were from Star Trek.


Which predated the light-headed fantasy that is Star Wars by nearly 15 years.
rfallin
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2014
These students may know a lot about physics; but they know nothing about radar. Radar is designed to receive between transmission pulses. Likewise, lasers pulse coherent light frequencies. Plasma shields could pulse as well, as the pulse repetition rate of the laser, enabling communications or electromagnetic weapons to transmit between pulses. They should watch a few more "Star Trek" episodes, as this is pointed out on at least one episode.

Also, the power source would NOT have to be on the ship. All that is needed is a magnetic resonance receiver. Everything from cell phones to buses to a ferry in Sweden are already charged in this manner.
TXguy
not rated yet May 03, 2014
That's cool. You could deflect laser weapons. Wouldn't it be fun to defeat this high tech shield with a low tech projectile weapon? I swear, one day advanced nations will find themselves defeated by sticks and stones.
PinkElephant
4.2 / 5 (5) May 03, 2014
Just a slight problem: the space weapons depicted in Star Wars are clearly NOT lasers. A laser would travel at the speed of light, and it would not be visible from the side while propagating in space, unless it passes through some sort of scattering medium.

What the movies show are blobs of something really bright that emits light in all directions, flying at a velocity on the order of a typical bullet. If we were to interpret this fantasy in terms of physics, I think we'd have to posit some sort of a compact high-mass high-temperature but relatively low-velocity plasma pellet. (Those weapon's won't quite qualify as particle guns either, because their 'projectiles' don't travel at anything approaching a significant fraction of light speed -- something that should be expected from any self-respecting particle accelerator...)

So, if the Star Wars space weapons (and handheld guns) are really plasma pellet shooters, then a strong magnetic field would clearly suffice as a 'deflector'.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (5) May 03, 2014
Another slight problem: fighter ships, each boasting a very powerful magnetic field, flying in tight formations and fighting with similar swarms of enemy ships. Doesn't take a genius to imagine what would happen if you tried to throw a bunch of exceptionally strong magnets into close proximity with each other. Wouldn't be very effective warfare, but it *would* be fairly hilarious! ('Hey, get your ship off my ship! No, *YOU* get your ship off *MY* ship! Oh shit, is that a Star Destroyer pulling us in? Oh, crap, eject eject eject! ... Captain, Sir, a very long chain of enemy fighters glued end-to-end has fallen within the effective perimeter of our deflector shield, and are being rapidly accelerated toward the bridge! All hands, this is the Captain: abandon ship, I repeat all hands abandon ship!")
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2014
Now that would be a movie worth seeing...
Mimath224
4 / 5 (1) May 03, 2014
Anyone read the book Unconventional Flying Objects a scientific analysis (429 pages) by Paul R Hill a former NASA scientist. Okay, it IS aimed at UFO's but tries to explain effects in term of our current position in physics (1995 that is). The author attempts to explain certain force fields and their effects in realistic terms. The book also contains the math that the author has used in experiements while working at NASA. I admit that most of the force fields mentioned in the book are not viewed as deliberate defence (although some come could be) but as possible consequence of using certain methods of propulsion. SR, Graivtation and Qm are considered. UFO's, Star Wars Star Trek aside I think it gives an interesting view, to the layman that is, of what our 'classified' scientists MIGHT be working on.
No intention to advertise this book and has no connection to me.
I'd like to hear from those who might read other similar texts.
BenjaminNewells
1 / 5 (3) May 04, 2014
ASIA FOR THE ASIANS, AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS, WHITE COUNTRIES FOR EVERYBODY!

Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to "assimilate," i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

Diversity is a code word for White Genocide.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) May 05, 2014
ASIA FOR THE ASIANS, AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS, WHITE COUNTRIES FOR EVERYBODY!blah blah blah They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.
Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.
Diversity is a code word for White Genocide.
@BenjaminNewells
first off: your conjecture is not supported by empirical data
second: no links or references to legitimate science sites/universities proving your point
third: you are LOST.
this is a SCIENCE SITE, not a political, racist, conspiracy-theory forum... if you want to make friends here, you need empirical evidence and scientific knowledge, not whack-job soliloquy's supported only by your delusional outlook.

if ya want to post your opinion on race and conspiracy, I suggest you try here:
http://conspiracyplanet.com/
http://www.abovetopsecret.com/
http://www.whitepower.com/
whitepowerforum.com

antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (2) May 05, 2014
Deflector shields were from Star Trek.


Which predated the light-headed fantasy that is Star Wars by nearly 15 years.

Which was predated by Raumpatrouille Orion (where Star Trek got most of its ideas - including the deflector shields)
Hanover Fist
not rated yet May 05, 2014
Ok, since now we know we can create an Electromagnetic field around an object without frying the inhabitants of whatever the field is around now we can begin working on creating a field that is the exact same frequency of the Electromagnetic field created from a star. The resulting action will propel the object through space without the need for propulsion, instead the act of repulsion of two equal fields.

The only way we are going to get off this rock is to find a way to use the Electromagnetic Fields created by our own star for the energy for travel, and repulsion and attraction using Electromagnetic fields are the two best candidates.

Our logic and teaching are flawed from childhood, we are taught that space is an empty vacuum but nothing could be further from the truth. Space is a constant bath of Electromagnetic fields and energy that can be utilized when we learn how to harness it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) May 05, 2014
Another slight problem: fighter ships, each boasting a very powerful magnetic field, flying in tight formations and fighting with similar swarms of enemy ships. Doesn't take a genius to imagine what would happen
-Nor is it hard to imagine that they would develop tactics to avoid this sort of thing. The battle at the end of Babylon 5 was only artistic licence.
Modernmystic
5 / 5 (1) May 05, 2014
Deflector shields were from Star Trek.


Which predated the light-headed fantasy that is Star Wars by nearly 15 years.

Which was predated by Raumpatrouille Orion (where Star Trek got most of its ideas - including the deflector shields)


Incorrect. Raumpatrouille Orion first aired 17 September 1966, Star Trek first aired September 8 1966

http://en.wikiped...ginnings

http://en.wikiped...es_Orion

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) May 05, 2014
The only way we are going to get off this rock is to find a way to use the Electromagnetic Fields created by our own star for the energy for travel

It's called photovoltaics and every sattelite already uses it.
If you want to use the EM field for motion you use a solar sail.

Our logic and teaching are flawed from childhood

Yeah, because it seems to have failed to teach you about conservation of momentum.
we are taught that space is an empty vacuum but nothing could be further from the truth.

I dunno where you were taught, but the idea of photons isn't particularly new. Vacuum refers to the absence of MATTER. Not EM radiation.
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet May 07, 2014
I could be wrong, but I dont think the upper atmosphere plasma reflects radio frequencies based on plasma density. I think it is the difference of indices of refraction which causes "total internal reflection". That only works when the index of the 1st medium (lower atmosphere) is higher than that of the 2nd medium (upper atmosphere). So an interface between vacuum (lower) to plasma (higher) wont work as a reflective device.
rgwrisch
not rated yet May 10, 2014
About your headline Physics students design 'STAR WARS' deflector shields. Well, apparently they stole it from a FREE ONLINE COPY of my book 'Beyond Mars Crimson Fleet', downloadable at http://www.smashw...ew/18781 for at least two years, the book itself in publication since 2008! Page 10:

"...while several rows of rectangular magnetic and x-ray antenna transmitter arrays popped out of her sides and tons of liquefied hydrogen gas was released through huge spray nozzles from the ship's internal storage reservoirs. The liquid gas was then diverted away from the ship's hull by an intense diamagnetic field that was generated by the array. The field directed the substance to form a thick wall in front of the Mariner. The liquid was then boiled to an energized gaseous state by a bombardment of x-rays that also stripped it of its electrons at the same time. This transformed the gas into a thick churning, blistering shield of flaming red and orange-hydrogen plasma...
rgwrisch
not rated yet May 10, 2014
About me and plasma research. I have been a electronic engineer and technical writer in the defense industry for over 40 years. Plasma research has been under development has been under development for 20 at places like Princeton University in New Jersey. These students have done absolutely nothing new ACCEPT plagiarism, which is not an amusing matter! People have been sued over it. I strongly suggest you either lose this article or amend it!!!