- Annika Santhanam
The Science Behind the Lightsaber
Before I dive head-on into this subject, let me quickly summarize what a lightsaber is for those of you who don't know a lot about Star Wars. Lightsabers are swords with a hilt and a long, thin, cylindrical blade. To activate a lightsaber, the characters in Star Wars merely push a button, and out comes the blade. The lightsabers make a humming sound when they're swung around, and they vary in color. They can slice through virtually anything, except another lightsaber. Some awesome duels between dozens of characters are fought with these formidable weapons.
I’m sure all the Star Wars fans out there like me have repeatedly tried to find out how a lightsaber works. The most common answer will talk about Kaiburr crystals and other materials that don’t exist on Earth. If you search up the science behind the lightsaber, you might be met with some very fancy scientific words. If you’re searching for a simple and understandable explanation, you’ve come to the right place. So now, let’s answer the big question; Are lightsabers fact or fiction?
There are three theories of what a lightsaber is made of: light, lasers, and plasma.
If a lightsaber happened to be made of light, which the name implies, they wouldn’t be able to cut through virtually anything, as lightsabers do in the movies. Why, you may ask? It’s because light has no mass. No mass equals an inability to come into contact with other objects. Light just passes through most things without any harmful effect.
A laser is not light. It’s kind of like how paper is not an actual tree. Looper.com has a great analogy that states, “light is to a laser what a tree is to paper.” The paper is made out of a tree, and a laser is made out of light. However, the paper is no longer a tree, and the laser is no longer the light. A laser is a light focused to a precise point. Some lasers are only harmful if they are shone in your eyes, but others, like ones used in surgeries, can cut through materials! Although this is very convincing towards the theory that lightsabers are made of lasers, there are a few technical issues.
First of all, the Star Wars books have stated that a beam of energy is focused through the Kaiburr crystal. It extends out of the hilt until a certain length, then curves back on itself and comes back the handle. The problem with lasers is that they cannot bend. Because of this, there would have to be a way to stop the laser at a certain point, so you’re not wielding an infinitely long laser of destruction. Another problem is the amount of power needed to power a cutting laser. Trust me; two AAA batteries won’t do the trick. An energy source powerful enough to power such a laser would be huge! The final issue, which isn’t that technical, is that the laser would be invisible! You’d never know if the lightsaber was on or not, which could lead to some awkward situations.
So that leaves us with one last option: Plasma.
What is plasma? Plasma is the fourth state of matter (that’s right, I said fourth!) and it’s basically like lightning. Lightning and plasma are both made up of ionized gas, which is gas that contains molecules that have been stripped of their electrons, forming ions.
Plasma can be controlled, and it’s already used to cut metals. The only issue is that plasma cutters are enormous, bulky machines. On top of that, the “plasma arcs” they create aren’t three feet long. There are also some safety issues, as anyone using a plasma cutter has to wear eye protection at all times because of the harsh light created by the plasma. And finally, in comparison to the laser theory, the plasma has to be powered by a strong source of energy. Modern-day plasma cutters have car battery-sized power sources attached to them.
So, the final statement is; it seems that we aren’t any closer to creating lightsabers. But don’t give up hope! Technology, and the world, is still changing. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find a way to use plasma cutters without using immense power sources and without all the safety hazards. And as that snowball starts rolling down the hill, maybe the development of lightsabers will be possible.