Science in Popular Culture is a column by contributor Jae Bailey. In this column, Jae explores the science and technology of bionic limbs, arc reactors, and Death Stars in popular culture.
WARNING: This article may contain spoilers for The Force Awakens.
In the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, the original trilogy’s evil Empire has been replaced by the more sinister First Order. While the Empire couldn’t get enough of building planet destroying death stars, the First Order takes this concept to the extreme: they’ve converted an entire moon into a weapon. Dubbed Starkiller Base, it gathers fuel from a nearby star. Since stars are mostly comprised of hydrogen, as they are essentially giant fusion reactors, we can assume that a base sucking in hydrogen for fuel is similarly a giant fusion reactor.
Fusion reactors, as discussed in my previous article on Iron Man’s arc reactor, fuse hydrogen atoms together to create helium. This process also releases energy. If you took a sun like our own, which still has a large hydrogen fuel reserve, and used up all that fuel at once, you could generate around six times the amount of energy released in an average supernova explosion! An Earth-sized planet can be destroyed for a meagre one trillionth of that. So, Starkiller Base has enough destructive power to obliterate all life in the entire galaxy. Yikes!
Although the original Death Star was described as moon-sized, you could fit about 3000 of them inside Earth’s moon. The same space could also fit about ten Starkillers, assuming the rebels’ hologram of the weapon is scaled to size. This means that Starkiller is smaller than our moon, yet it is shown to resemble Earth with a similar atmosphere and gravity.
Besides Earth, there is only one other place in our solar system where you can find a dense atmosphere—Saturn’s moon, Titan. You could fit three of our moons inside Titan, but this shows that under the right conditions, moons can indeed have dense atmospheres. As we know the size and surface gravity of Starkiller Base, we can also quickly calculate its mass: about 20 quintillion tons in total—for a tiny moon, that’s pretty heavy! Earth weighs 6 sextillion tons (250 times more than Starkiller).
Now that we know how much the base weighs, we can work out what materials it might be made of. If we divide the base’s weight in kilograms by its entire volume, we find out it’s about 1.8 times as dense as Earth. But Starkiller is a hollowed-out moon so how is this possible? Even if it wasn’t hollowed out and housing a huge fusion reactor, it would have to possess a core made of plutonium or another material just as heavy. But there has to be something very heavy inside Starkiller…
The only possible (science fiction) explanation that remains is that the First Order is hiding a small black hole inside Starkiller. Not just any black hole though, a controlled back hole (I mean, put a normal black hole at the centre of any moon and we’re soon left with a slightly bigger black hole with no more moon.) First Order seems to be able to turn this black hole on and off as demonstrated by Starkiller’s ability to steal a sun’s fuel whenever its weapon needs to be powered up.
If the First Order has really discovered a way to weaponize black holes, then it certainly poses a terrifying threat to the Rebellion!