The Science Behind Space Travel in Star Wars and Star Trek - Reel or UnReal Episode 3
Introduction – Montage of video clips of the Great Orbax. Orbax is middle aged, bald with a ponytail at the back. A long curling moustache and a goatee. He is wearing a 3-piece grey plaid suit, with a lab coat, sometimes old motorcycle goggles. He is situated in a Physics lab at the University of Guelph and speaks directly into the camera.
Video clips show Orbax, putting on his lab coat and goggles. Running experiments in his lab with electricity, models, and beakers. Visuals end on the words Reel or UnReal.
Orbax is standing in the lab with a book in his hand, behind a lab table. On the table is a miniature of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek.
[Orbax] - Oh, hi there. I'm the great Orbax from the department of Physics at the University of Guelph. We're going to explore the science of pop culture as we see what's Reel or Unreal.
Hyperdrive vs Warp Drive.
Einstein's theory of general relativity states that nothing with mass or information can travel faster than the speed of light; a speed which is defined as 299,792,458 meters per second.
Visual: A montage of spaceships from Star Wars, Star Trek, and other space shows.
Yet in almost every science fiction world, we see faster than light travel.
[Orbax] So how does that work?
Let's accept the idea that in these universes we have these infinite energy supplies, these bizarre engines that could get our ships up to traveling even close to the speed of light.
Even if we can get around that problem, we can't get past this idea of time dilation.
Visual: Rough drawing of a spaceship with a person, and the Earth with a person and clocks.
[Orbax] - Time dilation is the idea that while on the ship, the crew experiences times slower than the rest of the universe.
We can't have Starfleet Command trying to communicate with the Enterprise, not in real time.
And you can't send the Millennium Falcon out on a mission that only appears to be two days to the crew, but in reality, is five years. So how do we get around all that?
Let's start with Star Wars!
Visual clips taken from new Star Wars trilogy; the Millennium Falcon is in a fight with Imperial spaceships on a planet.
[Orbax] - Star Wars deals with this problem in an interesting way, which is if we can't break the laws of physics in our own dimension, why don't we go to a different dimension where they don't apply? And that's exactly it.
So, let's assume that we live in a universe where we've got energy supplies in engines that can take the Millennium Falcon up to the speed of light. Sure. Maybe we can all agree that that exists.
- Image of Ewoks from the Return of the Jedi
[Orbax]- It's not any more farfetched than the Ewoks defeating the Empire.
Once we get to the speed of light, we click on the hyperdrive. The hyperdrive engines open a portal to another dimension.
Visual – Travelling through space via the hyper drive.
[Orbax] - A dimension where you can actually travel faster than the speed of light is here. Easy peasy, right? But here's the problem. How do you know where you're actually trying to go, if you're in another dimension?
Visual of Star Wars clip: Han Solos saying “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy. Without precise calculations, we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?”
Visual of Orbax at a large flip chart showing planetary shadows, intermixed with Star Wars footage.
[Orbax]- Massive objects in our dimension cast something called mass shadows in hyperspace. This means that planets and moons and massive gravitational bodies can still be seen.
But you need to rely on complex hyperdrive computers to map your routes through hyperspace lanes.
These mass shadows take time to project into hyperspace.
So, if a planet like Alderaan has just been destroyed, its mass shadow would still exist in hyperspace. Or something like the Death Star. Something massive like that has just been built, it wouldn't necessarily have casted a clear enough shadow into hyperspace yet.
This method of travel comes down to what they say about the Millennium Falcon.
Star Wars clip: Han Solo says, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.”
[Orbax] A parsec isn't a measurement of time. A parsec is actually a measurement of distance. So, the Millennium Falcon didn't actually travel faster. It just found a shorter route.
Visuals: Starship Enterprise flying through space and clips from recent Star Trek movie.
[Orbax] - Now with Star Trek! Star Trek achieves faster than light speed while still remaining in our universe.
So, Star Trek uses something called warp drive.
These large nacelles that appear on the Enterprise or any of these other star ships are the warp drives. What warp drive engines do is that they create a subspace bubble around the ship. Now inside the bubble, the actual properties of space-time remain the same as they do on the outside.
Visuals – Orbax working with a burgundy handkerchief and the Starship Enterprise model to show how Warp Drive works. Followed by more space travel clips from the Star Trek movie.
So, in front of the bubble, you compress space and out the back of the bubble you elongate space. So, what you're in essence doing is you're moving space past the ship rather than moving the ship through space.
[Orbax] - By doing that, we get around this whole idea of time dilation taking place because the space inside still remains the same.
Visuals – Shuttle spacecraft, the international space station, and the earth in space.
Our current cruising speeds in outer space are around 26,000 kilometers per hour, which is around 7222 meters per second or 41,511 times slower than the speed of light. So, you can see that any little boost that we could actually get would increase our ability to explore the vast universe that we live inside. But when it comes down to it, there's actually no contest.
Visuals: Map of the Star Wars galaxy and the Falcon flying off of a planet.
The Millennium Falcon in a New Hope was actually able to travel from Tattooine to Alderaan in a period of time that seemed like a day, maybe two days, to travel a distance of 50,000 light years.
Visuals: Map of Star Trek galaxy and the Enterprise flying in space.
While on Voyager the distance home from the Delta Quadrant, which was about 70,000 light years, was going to take on the order of 76 years.
[Orbax] So to finally end the debate that's raged for years, I the great Orbax am here today to tell you that hands down the undisputed winner is the Millennium Falcon and its Hyperdrive!
Star Wars, it's Star Wars! Star Wars!