Preliminary notes on the asteroid belt from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back*

One scene from TESB has long been a hallmark of "vs." debates. The scene allegedly involves an Imperator class Star Destroyer vaporizing an asteroid. Mr. Brian Young, Mr. Mike Wong, Dr. Curtis Saxton, and numerous others have all presented findings based on this scene. Though the exact values for the firepower demonstrated in the scene vary with the estimations of the asteroid's size, it is important to note that almost all of the estimates agree that the "lower limit" for the firepower demonstrated by a turbolaser is no less than one kiloton.

Anderson collects information from several different sources over the course of this page. The first piece of evidence that Anderson presents is as follows:

"The "Bad Science Argument" from 'The Ambivalent DMZ':

One debater has pointed out a serious flaw in one of the most touted calculations for asteroid-destruction firepower. *Even if* we grant the energy levels the pro-Wars debaters generally claim for turbolasers, it is not possible for them to have totally vaporized the asteroid, as is claimed. Observe:

Wong's argument is a case of "bad science" rather than "pseudoscience" - he applies some physical principles to the calculations, and yet avoids others which could critically effect the results. This isn't comparison shopping, folks - you can't choose which physical laws you want to apply if you go down this road - it's all or nothing. An analogy would be the calculations to determine a man falling off a cliff - what speed does he have before impact? - the answer is much higher if we forgot to account for air resistance.

Silicates have very poor thermal conductivity, even given the (unspecified) iron content. Given the timescale over which the energy is absorbed (1/12s), we can expect local vaporisation to occur almost immediately. This local expansion is much greater than that required to blast said asteroid apart. The "blobs of superheated liquid" can only be from the area immediately adjacent to the initial impact. The vast bulk of the asteroid has been shattered and dispersed long before they have absorbed sufficient energy to "visibly glow."

The "lower limit" calcs are nothing of the sort. The figure obtained is meaningless, based on a false assumptions - namely that the entire mass of the asteroid is vaporised, and that the energy is absorbed uniformly and instantly throughout the entire mass (this second assumption also flies in the face of all known physics)- DMZ"

Anderson goes on to agree with the debater, and expands upon the concept slightly, but he misses a fundamental fact: Mike Wong specifically addressed this concern. While editing Mr. Brian Young's Turbolaser Commentaries (which is now housed on Mike's website), Mike wrote:

"note from MW: this idea deserves further explanation: speed is everything. Thermal conductivity through the asteroid's mass is insufficient to account for the effects we saw, because the rock simply cannot conduct that much heat that quickly, even if it's pure iron. The effect would be more of an explosive effect, with a tiny area being superheated and a concussive shock wave moving out and shattering the asteroid. However, in order to shatter these asteroids so quickly, the fragments would have had to move through the rest of the asteroid at more than 600 m/s! This would require extremely rapid large-scale deformation of material, and the mechanics of solid material deformation happens to be an area which I've studied in depth. Deformation involves work, as defined by the stress-strain curve of the material, and that work becomes energy in the resulting deformed matter; this effect is known as work heating. The question of whether the asteroid was heated or shattered is therefore moot, because the act of shattering it at such great speed would create so much work-heating that the resulting material would be superheated anyway [.]"1

We can thus determine that Mike Wong already recognized this possibility during his report, but found it meaningless, and that the lower limit presented is in fact a true lower limit, contrary to what Mr. Anderson attempts to demonstrate. The rest of this has already been rebutted by Mr. Wayne Poe on his site, and there is little reason why this should be elaborated upon until Anderson gets a chance to catch up, assuming that he wishes to defend himself.2

[Editor's note: I always find it amusing when people who are obviously ignorant of the most basic precepts of science accuse others of "bad science". This "Ambivalent DMZ" character shamelessly assumes that linear conduction is the only conceivable mode of heat transfer through a solid mass (totally disregarding work-heating) and then claims that it's "bad science" not to share his assumption (complete with folksy analogies). Of course, RSA is so ignorant that he doesn't see what's wrong with this. There is something fundamentally wrong with a culture in which total ignoramuses like this do a few Google searches and then feel confident in claiming scientific competence. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence, as anyone who has debated creationists will attest].


* This page is one of Mr. Anderson's pages that is "in severe need of updating." It is currently listed as a page that is "Incomplete or To Be Updated."

1 Wong, Michael and Brian Young. Star Wars Turbolaser Commentaries: Turbolaser Firepower (27 April 2002).

2 Poe, Wayne. Asteroids and A-Holes (Date Unknown).

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