Thursday, July 9, 2015

Let's hide the task force in a nebula!

I was killing some time the other day, having just managed to get into the Netflix service. I was hoping to see some of Star Wars: Rebels - but not in Australia, it seems. However, I did find Star Wars: the Clone Wars. So I watched a few episodes. They're fun, showing Count Dooku and General Grievous going head-to-head with the Jedi.

But one episode made me smile. The Jedi ships came out of hyperspace on the edge of a nebula, the plan being to sneak up on Grievous's flagship (on the other side of the nebula) without being noticed. There are two things a little bit dodgy about that.

The images in the cartoon showed the ships moving through a thick mist that looked a bit like the colour-enhanced image of Orion above. The reality is a bit different. If you look at the Orion nebula through a telescope it looks like a white mist. But surely the nebula would look very different up closer? Er, no. The nebula will look larger, meaning the light is dispersed over a larger area. This explains it rather well. So rather than sneaking up through a pea soup fog, the ships wouldn't even be going through a thin mist. #Fail.

But that's not all. So we come out of light speed at the edge of the nebula, right? Planning to take a shortcut through the billowing clouds. Well... nebulae are not localised patches of mist. Or at least, they are, for a given meaning of localised. As a ferinstance, the Orion nebula is 24 light years across. And it isn't even a big one. Assuming Grievous's flagship is on one side of the nebula and the Jedi force is on the other, the "shortcut" is going to take an awfully long time in normal space.

Hey - it's fiction. We all know Star Wars ships behave in vacuum the same way they would in atmosphere, don't we? But the reason I smiled when I watched the episode is because I knew those facts, having researched nebulae for a book I was writing at the time.

Gosh. Is there an elephant in this room?

However... the Universe is a remarkable place. You have only to look at the mind-boggling diversity we have already found in exo-planets. So perhaps, somewhere out there, we'll find tiny, dense nebulae as thick as a London fog that will hide strike forces. Who knows?

5 comments:

  1. Great post, Greta.

    "We all know Star Wars ships behave in vacuum the same way they would in atmosphere, don't we?" Bingo! Love Star Wars. Hate banking star ships. Ships don't bank in a vacuum, thankyouverymuch!

    And Star Wars isn't the only guilty party. Star Trek had a scene with the Enterprise hiding in the Orion Nebula in one of the movies. Wrath of Kahn, I believe. Just call it Hollywood physics.

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    1. Oh yes. And then there's the failed hyperdive on the way to Bespin. "It's pretty far but I think we can make it."

      Hollywood gets away with things that we mere writers cannot.

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  2. >Hollywood gets away with things that we mere writers cannot.

    Not necessarily, IMHO. I came across an...interestingly dense nebula in an SFR, but the rest of the story was so wonderful I was willing to overlook the wonky science in that particular scene. Now, if the other story elements had failed, I wouldn't have been so forgiving. Doesn't mean I don't want authors to strive and do better--especially when it's easy to Google info about things like nebulas--but I for one and willing to give them a certain amount of leeway if the story overall puts me in my happy place.

    Upon further reflection, sometimes *I* want a story to deliver fantastical elements, such as chase scenes through nebulas. I can't fault an author if I myself prioritize good storytelling over perfect scientific accuracy. Both would be ideal, but realistically, it's not always an option.

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    1. I confess the issue with the hyperdrive in TESB didn't even occur to me until somebody else mentioned it - because I was so sucked into the story. So yes, you're right. And the fact is, most people don't know (or care) about the science. But I'd prefer it when the science is right. I remember a wonderful science in (I think) Blake's 7 when the ship changed direction as seen from the outside. It simply pivoted - as it should. That was great.

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  3. >Blake's 7 when the ship

    That's a great example of making good use of plausible/correct science and having it serve the story simultaneously--and seamlessly. If general readers/viewers get turned off of scientific elements, it's sometimes because it's not integrated well enough.

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