Star Wars Defense Shield's Could Become Real With The Help Of Radar Technology; May The Fourth Be With You

By Matthew Mientka on May 4, 2014 6:24 PM EDT

Physics students say Star Wars shields not only possible but probable as they eagerly await
Physics students say Star Wars shields not only possible but probable as they eagerly await "May Fourth," an international celebration of Star Wars filmology. Photo courtesy of Stella Dauer, CC BY 2.0.

The history of the human arms race now encompasses the evolution and adaption of arrows and shields on a global scale: scramjets and intercontinental missiles shooting through airspace defended by advanced radar not unlike the defense shields of Star Wars.

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Those fanciful force fields protecting intergalactic warships in the Steven Spielberg films are not only possible but probable, says a trio of physics students at the University of Leicester in England eagerly awaiting May the Fourth — the international observance of "Star Wars Day." In rudimentary form, the technology already exists in "over-the-horizon" radar and long-distance communication first pioneered decades ago. For advanced radar and communications not possible by satellite, the technology makes the world go 'round.

The physics students published their work this week in the peer-reviewed Journal of Special Physics Topics, published by the university. In recreating the type of force-deflecting shield of Star Wars, they described a field of super-heated plasma held in place around a ship with a magnetic field. Such ships would invariably be captained by a man ordering a subordinate to "raise the shields," which in this scenario would involve making the plasma shield denser to deflect a higher frequency of electromagnetic wave — the weapon of choice among space combatants.

"The Earth's atmosphere is made up of several distinct layers, one of which is the ionosphere," says student Alexander Toohie in an interview with Phys.org. "The ionosphere is a plasma, and extends from roughly 50 km above the surface of the earth to the edge of space. Just like the plasma described in our paper, it reflects certain frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, in this case radio frequencies."

Those radio frequencies and radar may be beamed toward the sky, where they bounce back to earth after hitting the ionosphere. "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," he said.

Yet the U.S. Navy sees potential in laser technology not just for defensive posturing but attack in a different sort of "Star Wars." This month, military engineers completed final preparations to install a prototype laser gun on the USS Ponce for sea testing in the Persian Gulf. "This is a revolutionary capability," says Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder in a statement. "It's absolutely critical that we get this out to sea with our sailors for these trials, because this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives." The cheap and potentially effective railgun, an update of the Pentagon's former Laser Weapon System will begin firing soon: Shield's up!

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