Don’t Tell Me Star Destroyers Can’t Accelerate

What materials did the Empire use to build their fleets?

A Star Destroyer, from the Star Wars franchise. Mmmm, look at those engines!

I once had a professor tell me that it would be impossible for an Imperial Star Destroyer to accelerate at a useful rate, because the engines would have to be so powerful that they would rip through any known material the vessel was made out of. That made me sad. Though Star Wars takes place in a galaxy far, far away, we are still lead to presume that Star Wars takes place within the same universe. This suggests that it should abide by the same laws of physics which we use to engineer and design our greatest structures. Now, the Empire is clearly more advanced than humanity, but could they ever manufacture a material worthy of allowing a kilometer-long Star Destroyer to maneuver with dexterity using point thrusters? Well, I got bored again, so I decided to do a ton of research on just that. What I found is that our current periodic table of elements is far from the limit.

Extended Periodic Table

In 2002, a bunch of scientists in Russia smashed atoms of Californium and Calcium together to create the heaviest single atom of material ever observed. The new element, dubbed Oganesson, confirmed its place on the periodic table in 2016 as element 118. Though the isotope lasted less than a millisecond, the synthesis of heavy atomic elements shows promise in the realm of material science of the future.

An atom is defined by its number of protons and neutrons. The number of protons describes the atomic number and determines what element the atom is, while neutrons aid in atomic stability and determine the isotope number. It is well documented that the heaviest stable element humanity has discovered is Lead, with 82 protons. Several isotopes of Lead with varying numbers of neutrons are stable, due to the atom’s structural symmetry because of its “magic” number of protons. Typically after this point, atoms with lots of protons and neutrons experience asymmetry in their atomic structures, causing them to be unstable and decay into lighter elements. However, chemists speculate that it may be possible for some of these very heavy elements to have stable isotopes.

A plot of the stability of various atomic isotopes, with darker colors indicating higher stability. Traveling upward (along the y-axis) changes your element number, and traveling right (along the x-axis) changes your isotope. Circled is a proposed island of stability, centered around Copernicium (element 112).

Dubbed “The Island of Stability”, it refers to a localized region of atomic isotopes centered around Copernicium, element 112, which may be host to an array of stable or semi-stable atomic isotopes due to its “magic” number of protons. Thus far, we have only been able to whip up a few isotopes of Copernicium, all of which have half-lives on the order of just several seconds. Even this, however, is unusually long for such a heavy element, and points to potential stabilities in isotopes with more neutrons. The Empire, with their Empire-sized supercolliders, are perhaps more efficient at manufacturing these heavy isotopes.

Chemists speculate that stable isotopes of Copernicium may actually be gaseous at room temperature, which would make it the first gaseous metal. Still, it should be able to form stable bonds with a variety of known metals, such as Copper and Platinum. Because its valence shell of electrons would be completely full, Copernicium would be very resistant to corrosion. When crystallized into its solid state, it would be the densest known metal, possibly making it useful for radiation resistant structures (such as the walls inside the Death Star close to the super-laser?) Isotopes of elements 111, 113, and 114 may also be stable or semi-stable. After 112, the next “magic number” of protons centers around element 126, possibly generating a second Island of Stability. Multiple isotopes of elements 120–127 may in fact be stable, but research is still dubious due to our limited understanding of heavy atomic nuclei. If stable, these ultra-dense atoms may be extremely conductive due to the looseness of the distantly bound electrons.

Exotic Atoms

Or perhaps the Empire’s scientists would instead just modify the atoms we already know to make them more applicable to their dastardly agendas. All baryonic (normal matter) particles, like protons and neutrons, are composed of 3 out of 6 possible quarks; up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom. So far only the proton and the neutron have been identified as a stable, baryonic particles (when bound in atomic nuclei). However, there are 120 possible baryonic particles, only about 38 of which have been directly observed by physicists. Though the next most long-lived particle after the neutron has a lifespan of just a few billionths of a second, physicists are still uncertain as to the lifespans of other predicted baryons.

All known elementary particles. All the matter we know and love can be created using the 6 quarks in the upper left.

The idea behind an exotic atom is to replace one or more known subatomic particles in an atom, such as a proton or a neutron, with a counterpart baryon which boasts similar charge traits, but may differ in other fashions. This would allow the creation of analogous atoms to the elements on the periodic table, but with modified traits. An alternative would be to replace the electron with a similarly charged lepton, but all leptons which have a negative charge have been identified to be unstable after a few microseconds. Theoretically, one may also be able to create entirely new atoms from negatively charged baryons, orbited by positively charged positrons, as opposed to electrons.

The Empire may be able to manufacture exotic atoms as readily as we manufacture steel or aluminum, and these modified atoms would exhibit some very intriguing traits. For example, an analogue of iron with a very low-mass, positively charged baryon subbed in for the protons may create a material with the same strength and qualities as iron, but be extremely lightweight, making it more practical for space applications. On the other hand, a heavier version of lead may have extremely high melting temperatures, making it useful for high heat applications, such as near a spacecraft’s engines.

Pentaquark Matter

Perhaps all other baryons are truly unstable. If this is the case, the Empire may simply ditch the existing periodic table in favor of creating a new one. I said before that all baryonic matter is composed of 3 quarks. I lied. Every quark has a “baryon number” of either +1/3 or -1/3, depending on the type of quark. If the sum of the combined baryon numbers of any quantity of quarks add to a whole number, positive or negative, then a baryonic, tangible particle can be created. This means that combinations of 5 quarks, with 4 positive quarks and one anti-quark or four anti-quarks and one regular quark, may be able to create new, stable subatomic building blocks for atoms that would not fit our current models of chemistry. These 5-quark theoretical particles are aptly titled “pentaquarks”.

Technically, a pentaquark particle (left) is a combination of a regular 2-quark meson, with a baryon number of 0, and a 3-quark baryon, with a baryon number of either 1 or -1 (right).

This would entail the creation of an entirely new periodic table of elements, incomparable to the one our species uses today. The Empire’s new proton and neutron analogues composed of 5 quarks would allow the creation of new materials, alloys, and molecules that our 3-quark cousins could never offer. Pentaquark particles could be made to have the same charges as their triquark counterparts, but they would yield increased atomic masses compared to equivalent traditional atoms. This may allow pentaquark matter to have higher melting points, allowing for resilient, strong metals which can be applied at very high temperatures. Grand Moff Tarkin would be pleased that he can “continue with the operation” and “fire when ready” with a hull composed of pentaquark matter.

Super-Symmetric Particle Matter

All interactions in the known universe are governed by four forces; the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and gravity. Using these forces, we can explain the motions and interactions of every particle based on those particles’ intrinsic properties, such as charge and mass. Scientists have been trying for decades to relate these four forces to each other in an attempt to find an equation that can explain everything in the cosmos. So far, only the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces have been combined into a single equation, with gravity remaining as the resistant outlier. Many theories have been proposed to unite gravity with the remaining forces, but one elegant model known as supersymmetry is a forerunner in this quest, and it entails the existence of a slew of new particles.

Supersymmetric particles may exhibit similar traits to currently known particles, making it possible to form stable atoms of supersymmetric particles.

In some models, supersymmetric particles would be nearly identical to their standard particle counterparts, aside from having zero-spin (this means they can’t produce or be affected by a magnetic field, among other things). Theoretically, these supersymmetric particles should be detectable in a particle accelerator. So far, no such human experiment has turned up anything to suggest how these particles would behave with respect to normal matter, or even if they exist. The Empire, however, has plenty of room in the newly-cleared Alderaan system to build particle accelerators to determine their existences, and produce such particles in usable quantities.

Others?

And this is likely just the preliminary abilities of the expansive Empire labs. The Empire may also have the resources to transform ordinary matter into new forms via exposure to strange environments, form new states of matter under extreme conditions, or even harvest dense degenerate matter from neutron stars to use for their nearly impenetrable hulls. Whatever types of matter the Empire uses, it has surely allowed them to create materials which are stronger, more conductive, and more heat resistant than any traditional matter ever conceived by our feeble race. Given that we still have so much to discover in the realm of particle physics, I think it’s safe to say that the Empire has probably overcome the minor issue of their engines ripping through their hulls, and moved onto bigger issues… like the catastrophic failure in the Endor system…

Duuuun duuuun duuuun, duun dun duuuun, duun dun duuuuuuun! (you’re lying if you say you didn’t sing that in your head.)

Voila.

So there you have it. All of my knowledge about futuristic materials in one document. Please don’t rail me, I’m not an actual physicist. I just really love physics, engineering, and learning new things! Until next time, thanks for the read!

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