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Analysing the Star Wars Trilogy under Einstein's theory of relativity

One of the most iconic images of the Star Wars trilogy has been dissected and analysed using Einstein's theory of Special Relativity.

A group of fourth-year physics students from the University of Leicester have calculated that although the Star Wars ship, Millennium Falcon...

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One of the most iconic images of the Star Wars trilogy has been dissected and analysed using Einstein's theory of Special Relativity.

A group of fourth-year physics students from the University of Leicester have calculated that although the Star Wars ship, Millennium Falcon, makes the 'jump to light speed', in reality Han, Luke and Leia would not see light from stars stretching past the ship, movie-style. The students' findings are published in the University of Leicester's yearly Journal of Physics Special Topics, which features original short papers written by students in the final year of their four-year Master of Physics degree.

One of the students, Riley Connors, observes, 'If the Millennium Falcon existed and really could travel that fast, sunglasses would certainly be advisable. On top of this, the ship would need something to protect the crew from harmful X-ray radiation.'

Joshua Argyle, another student, added: 'The resultant effects we worked out were based on Einstein's theory of special relativity, so while we may not be used to them in our daily lives, Han Solo and his crew should certainly understand its implications.'

In the Star Wars trilogy, the spacecraft is equipped with hyperdrives, allowing the crew to approach the speed of light. As the hyperdrive is engaged, every star in the sky is seen to stretch before the characters' eyes as the ship speeds through the galaxy. However, the students determine that in reality, there would be no sign of stars because of the Doppler effect - a phenomenon caused by a source of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light moving towards an observer. The same effect causes the siren of an ambulance to become higher in pitch as it comes towards you.

After further investigation, the students also found that the intense X-rays from stars would push the ship back, causing it to slow down. The pressure felt by the ship would be comparable to that felt at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Course leader Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer at the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, says: 'A lot of the papers published in the Journal are on subjects that are amusing, topical, or a bit off the wall. Our fourth years are nothing if not creative! But, to be a research physicist - in industry or academia - you need to show some imagination, to think outside the box, and this is certainly something that the module allows our students to practice.'

He adds: 'Most of our masters students hope to go on to careers in research where a lot of their time will be taken up with scientific publishing - writing and submitting papers, and writing and responding to referee reports. This is another area where the module really helps. Because Physics Special Topics is run exactly like a professional journal, the students get the chance to develop all the skills they will need when dealing with high profile journals later on in life.'