The "Mass-lightening" Myth
Last Revised: 1999.04.25
This particular myth (and I used the word "myth" with some reservations, because I can't believe that any more than a tiny minority of trekkies believe this nonsense) is so amusing that it almost belongs in a special "comedy" section of this site. However, since this site has no "comedy" section (yet), it will have to be discussed here. Some time ago, I received an e-mail containing yet another attempt (apparently from an AOLer who will identify himself only as "Chris" and who seems to be an endless source of amusing pseudo-science jibberish) to contravene Conservation of Energy with respect to the Death Star:
It was actually several weeks ago and that was before I found a way for the superlaser to destroy an entire world with far less energy than I had originally calculated. The bombardment of the planet's metallic core with a heavy particle beam such as the superlaser will result in a reduction in the energy density of the space-time continuum surrounding the planet.
In layman's terms... the act of firing the superlaser upon a planet's core creates a subspace field around the planet (just as the driver coils of the impulse engines do) which causes the entire planet to have less mass and resistance to inertia than it normally would. A similar phenomina was employed by Geordi with Q's help when they used a subspace field to reduce the mass of a moon so that it would be easier to move with a tractor beam.
The net result is that because the planet has less mass it will take far less energy to accelerate the parts of it out and away from the core. In fact the electrostatic repulsion between atoms would actually help significantly in blowing the planet apart, since without gravity to hold them together they will naturally repel each other. As this field is being created by the superlaser striking the core... the superlaser will also be superheating the core causing it to rapidly expand... further increasing the rate of explosion for the planet.
ZPF, Zero Point Feild, specifically allows for the lowering of the energy density of a region of space. Lower hte energy density of space, and you lower gravity and intertai (since both are due to EM interaction with the ZPF, the energy of space). This can be demonstrated by the Casimir effect.
Frankly, I felt compelled to discuss this claim only because it is almost hysterically funny. The Star Trek Technical Manual describes how plasma causes an effective mass reduction "subspace field" when it strikes certain metals. However, this is Trek-science, not real science! Unlike most people, I have actually seen a plasma torch striking metal. In the real world, plasma simply melts metal. It does not reduce the energy density of the ZPF or create a subspace field! There is no such thing as subspace! This post is an excellent example of "bad science" as practiced by trekkies. It contains, among other things:
The assumption that the Star Trek "mass-lightening" idea is real science rather than Trek-science.
The use of Star Trek buzzwords like "subspace field" as if they are real scientific terms, coupled with a not-so-subtle attempt to imply that he is scientifically trained, when he tries to explain his idea "in layman's terms" (thus suggesting that he himself is not a layman, even though he obviously does not understand Conservation of Energy).
A conclusion based on ignorance of Conservation of Energy, since the increase of the gravitational potential energy state in the system would be vastly in excess of the energy which is input to the system. An energy increase cannot exceed energy input without violating Conservation of Energy. Theories which violate Conservation of Energy have no scientific validity, and they instantly reveal their authors' scientific ignorance.
The repetition of the erroneous idea that a planet is in a state of perpetual electrostatic repulsion with itself, even though it is electrically neutral. This myth is dealt with earlier in this page.
The gratuitous inclusion of a real scientific term in such a manner that it appears to support his theory, even though it does not. ZPE/ZPF deals with quantum fluctuations in space-time, and the Casimir effect is theorized to be due to an assymetrical light pressure caused by a reduction in the number of even wavelengths which can "fit" between a pair of very closely spaced plates. It has nothing whatsoever to do with "mass-lightening" or a "lowering of the energy density of a region of space."
Clearly, the author of this theory feels that he can lend cheap credibility to his theory by simply referencing an exotic science term, and he hopes that no one is familiar enough with the real theories of ZPE/ZPF to contradict him. People like this often reference articles and papers written by authentic experts in the field to further enhance their credibility, without acknowledging that these articles do not actually support their theories! Again, this practice is based on the idea of riding someone's coattails- by trying to attach the name of a recognized authority to their ideas, such people hope that the credibility of the authority will "rub off" on them.