Image sourced from official Star Wars website
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”
That’s the way the iconic Star Wars series started off many years ago. Fast forward to today, one part of that famous franchise is about to come to life — the Death Star. The Death Star, for those who have never seen the movies, is the Galactic Empire’s “ultimate weapon”, a huge spherical space station over 100 kilometers in diameter capable of destroying a planet with one shot of its superlaser. Terrifying, right? Well it’s this ‘superlaser’ element of the Death Star – something once thought implausible – that scientists are fast figuring out.
Debate no more, but reality
The Death Star’s superlaser was a complex machine, and one that was long debated by geekdom (I’m allowed to say this as I’m firmly in their camp). Firstly, how much energy would it take to fire a superlaser? Also, can you combine multiple lasers into one beam, to make it that powerful? Based on research from a team at Macquarie University in Australia, it turns out the answer is yes to the second question, and a fair amount to the first. The team has proven that indeed possible to multiply a laser’s power using an extremely pure diamond (another of my favourite things after sci-fi, naturally).
The Macquarie team used a pure diamond at the point where the beams converge, taking advantage of this metastable allotrope of carbon tendency to send the light’s power in a specific direction. Diamonds also dissipate heat well, which is rather critical when you’re channeling a lot of laser power into a small space.
Whilst the technology could theoretically be used to destroy worlds (and we all know we’re waiting for the Death Star to be built), it is some way off. That said, it has some pretty powerful and practical applications in modern science and potentially for the military too.
Practically for defence services, it is suggested that these super lasers, with the ability to transfer their power into a selected direction, will be able to destroy missiles and drones — which otherwise would have taken a sustained laser attack to bring down. More interestingly, however, is the potential for use in deep space. Theoretically these lasers would be able to destroy space debris — minimising and/or eliminating risks for travellers. It could also boost communications capabilities, making it possible to communicate with other worlds.
No matter what your passions might be for Star Wars, your beliefs on space travel or ethics on defence technology one thing is for sure technology (specifically laser) research and development is fascinating. In years to come, laser technologies might change not only the way we destroy things but also build them, how we communicate and possibly even how we travel.