Main Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale Discussion

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05:20:24 AM Aug 13th 2016
> 10 quadrillion kilometers […] or nearly six trillion miles

This cannot be correct. 1km = 0.62 miles. I've no idea how far a light year is, but it cannot be both of those, cos one is 1000 times greater than the other.
04:21:17 PM Aug 13th 2016
It's not right, I just corrected it actually. :)

It should read "10 quadrillion metres (or 10 trillion kilometres), or nearly 6 trillion miles".

Somebody confused metres with kilometres. xD
11:23:32 AM Jul 5th 2013
I read a short story years ago. I wish I could recall who wrote it and what it was called, as it was so stupendously bad. The plot involved a criminal mastermind super-shrinking himself so he could hide on the surface of an atom and plot dastardly deeds in safety. a crack police team are similarly super-miniaturised and sent in to get him. not only do they find the right atom first time - what are the chances of that? - they discover they can breathe normally, and that dirt and seeds from the larger Earth have contaminated the atomic surface and created a small ecosystem... yes, right. The author clearly dimly remembered the lie-to-children that likens the atomic structure to a sun with orbiting planets, or a planet with orbiting moons, as electrons are seen in the sky acting in a very moon-like way... and if sub-atomic radiation is one of the strongest forces in the galaxy, it should have done something pretty dire to miniaturised humans? Totally ludicrous. wish I could remember!
06:29:05 AM Apr 15th 2012
edited by ActualScientist
I'm removing this until someone cares to fix it:
  • In Forbidden Planet, the crew of the spaceship is attacked by a monster and blast it with an impressive looking nuclear powered particle cannon. They then go on to mention that no living being should have survived the hit. The problem is, they give the output of the cannon as "three billion electron volts", presumably per particle, which is an utterly frightening amount. An electron volt is the energy carried by an electron that's been accelerated across a charge differential of one volt. So a three billion volt difference across which the particles are accelerated (or a roughly 1.2 million volt difference, if the cannon throws protons or neutrons) is enormous; the largest differential routinely created artificially is on the order of 100,000 volts, and that with equipment the size of a large building. It seems likely that the real issue here is that "electron volt" is a very different kind of unit from "volt", making this Unit Confusion of a sort: while electron volts are indeed a unit of energy — which volts are not — an electron volt is the sort of unit one would use on a subatomic scale, and not just some sort of energy-equivalent to similar numbers of volts.

"the largest differential routinely created artificially is on the order of 100,000 volts, and that with equipment the size of a large building"
100 kV is within the range of a perfectly ordinary x-ray machine - even one small enough to be portable. By comparison, even a regular old CRT screen can have a > 20 kV electron gun driving it. In radiotherapy, electrons with energies of several MeV are routinely used, and proton therapy uses particles with energies of several hundred MeV and above.

TL;DR: Three billion electron volts (3 GeV) per particle? Perfectly cromulent.
01:57:13 PM Apr 13th 2012
edited by Zaptech
WRT Firefly's terraforming, I'd have to question its validity based simply on the fact that we don't know how extensive the terraforming really was or how much work they had to do to the planets (for all we know, the planets are mostly almost Earth-like and needed only some adjustments to make them livable). Let alone their actual tech base; we get the barest glimpse of the technology of the setting, and that through the eyes of a band of penniless outlaws working on the outer fringes of society - and they still have access to an engine capable of generating nuclear-grade explosions and engage in Casual Interplanetary Travel. I'd say we have too little information to reach a conclusion at this point.

As for why they didn't repair Earth, the specific phrasing used was that it was "used up" which indicates that most of the natural resources were expended already, so there's no point to repairing the atmospheric damage anyway.
03:16:42 PM Apr 13th 2012
Yeah, I think they used a lot of local resources to terraform the worlds.
05:47:05 AM Apr 14th 2012
edited by Wagahai
If multiple planets are mostly almost Earthlike, then Firefly plainly takes place in the Elder Scrolls universe before Anu and Padomay shattered the Twelve Worlds that were born of Nir, because in nonfantasy settings, that doesn't happen. Not within one star system, and not within conveniently close-to-each-other star systems, either.

As for the "penniless outlaws", that's a no-sense-of-scale problem right there. Go read Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets, the page on Surface to Orbit. Nobody will ever have one ship do surface-to-orbit and orbit-to-orbit. It's basically impossible, without purely reactionless drives. Even on the remote off-chance a civilization could ever do it, penniless outlaws are never going to own them—leaving to one side that it is 100% impossible for Mal to ever own a spaceship in the first place. The "tramp spaceship" trope in Space Opera was unthinkingly copied from the "tramp steamer" of the 19th century; in the real world, they're about as likely as "tramp nuclear submarines". Except an actually decent spaceship engine makes nuclear fission look like a Zippo lighter. Nobody is going to privately own one of those things; once we kick the chemical-rocket training wheels off, commercial space-travel will be a mercantilist endeavor.

As for Earth That Was, it is ridiculously unlikely that it can be more efficient to terraform new planets than to fix the old one—never mind that it's also impossible Earth could be "used up" within a mere couple of centuries. Green alarmism notwithstanding, the realistic worst case scenario has us set for every resource except a few petrochemicals for the next several millennia. Even the most apocalyptic global warming scenarios are, at least relative to the question "Do we have to flee into space?", only an inconvenience—even if half the planet's land surface floods, well, we only live on about .5% of it anyway (we use another 9% for agriculture, admittedly, but presumably we'd lose a lot of population in that flooding, so the remaining agricultural land could probably still provide for the survivors).
05:39:10 PM May 8th 2012
edited by Wagahai
A recent edit to the terraforming-scale point said "They left Earth-That-Was because '[their] numbers were so great', suggesting not just a shortage of resources but also a shortage of land to live on. Terraforming might solve a lot of problems but it doesn't make a planet bigger. Also, I can't imagine terraforming a fully-inhabited planet is even remotely feasible."

With regards to there being "no room" for the human population: when the human population was 5 billion, it lived on .3% of the land. It used another 9% for agriculture. And most of that agricultural land was inefficiently utilized—some estimates say that merely upgrading our existing agricultural land to the mid-80s state of the art would allow us to support 35 billion people at an American calorie-intake level...who would only need 2.1% of the land to live on. If 35 billion people only need 11.1% of the land surface to support themselves, what population do you need to actually run out of room?

(At a Japanese calorie-intake level, our current agricultural land, suitably upgraded, could support 105 billion...who would still only need 15.3% of the earth's land surface.)

Famines nowadays are almost entirely caused by politics. North Korea has famines because its regime is both crazy and stupid. Africa has famines because farmers can't grow food when an army marches roughshod over them and their crops every other week. Neither of those is an issue of overpopulation.

Doubtless it pleases the human ego to believe we're on the brink of annihilating those parts of the planet that are not the works of our hands, but it is not true. Most writers live in urban areas, so they have a skewed perception; most of the globe, even in developed countries, is essentially untouched. The biggest problems are the exhaust from our vehicles, which will cease to be a problem in the near future, when we finally shift away from predominantly using fossil fuels, and the glare from our lights—and we have technologies to combat that, too, they're called "Dark Sky Cities".

With regards to terraforming a fully inhabited planet, they could've gone to live in space-colonies far closer to Earth while the terraforming was underway—e.g. in the Asteroid Belt, or even the Earth's Lagrangian points. That's what they did in G Gundam, not exactly hard SF by any stretch of the imagination. But even if Earth That Was were irreparable, why bother going to live in another star system, when the Belt and all its resources are (on the cosmological scale) right in your back pocket? Why bother terraforming a whole star-system worth of planets, when you can build station colonies (like the ones in the other Gundam series—O'Neill Island Three designs, specifically)? If you must live on a planet, why bother terraforming, when you can build habitat domes for a fraction of the resources and time?

Well, because that would make it less like a Western, basically. Though "go mend the dome over the back 40 before the cattle suffocate" seems plenty Western-y to me.
06:40:08 AM Mar 29th 2012
edited by Peteman
About the Star Trek ships blowing up: isn't it very difficult to get matter and antimatter to combine in the specific manner required to cause the amount of destruction that's being described? You need to time the combinations fairly precisely, otherwise only the outermost antimatter will contact the matter, causing an explosion that will cause the matter and antimatter to scatter or be destroyed. They'll cause a big explosion, no doubt, but you can't assume every single molecule will interact.
08:45:08 AM Jul 2nd 2012
It's particularly difficult if you're dealing with a diffuse cloud of matter and anti-matter, or when both are charged particles.

That said, individual anti-matter particles hitting matter particles won't do a lot of damage. I've seen proposals for matter-anti-matter engines that basically consisted of "firing" anti-matter particles at a tube filled with some kind of liquid denser than the tube material, so that most of the particles would pass through the tube without hitting anything aside from the liquid (which would heat up, and potentially create steam you could use). Some particles would hit the tube, of course, and so it would be very hot.
12:13:04 PM Mar 2nd 2012
I added a bit in the "Star Wars" tab under "Unitless Numbers", explaining that the figures regarding quintillions of droids were inflated in-universe and weren't just made up by the authors. Now, since I'm replying to other observations about droid numbers, I didn't want to delete them wholesale...but since those observations are inaccurate, is it OK to delete them?
01:04:15 PM Mar 2nd 2012
edited by Peteman
Thing is, I'm pretty sure the original author who put forth the quintillions of droids wasn't using them with the intent to have them dismissed as propaganda. The propaganda claim was a retcon. It didn't go over very well with some people who were invested in the quintillions claim.

The quintillions author probably did miss the "million clone warriors" statement in chapter 18 of the Episode 2 Movie Novelization, and the part where they defined the term "unit" as a unit of production in chapter 16, which is probably why Lucasfilm went with the lower numbers in the end (they were closer to the G-Canon) and allowed the other authors to retcon things in the first place. But there are a lot of people who don't realize this and simply think there was author favoritism. I'm pretty sure the only author favoritism that went on was the one between the authors who did what they were told by their superiors over those who tried to hijack the setting for their own ends.

That said, there probably shouldn't be so many paragraphs on the matter, they should be pruned or merged. Edit: Did.
04:48:57 PM Dec 28th 2011
  • The Doctor Who episode "42" shows a ship falling into sun, starting only 42 minutes from hitting the sun. However, even at less than minute before hitting, the sun still has a distinct curvature!
    • Maybe they were falling really really fast.
    • The gravity on the surface of the Sun is about 100 g, or 980 m/s^2. Since the Sun's atmosphere is very thin, there is little resistance to slow your descent. Starting from rest, the altitude required to take one minute to hit the surface is over 3,000 km. This is about the same fraction of the Sun's radius as being 30 km over the surface of the Earth.

  • In Doctor Who, the Slitheen scheme to use the world's stockpiled nuclear weapons to "reduce the planet to molten slag". In fact, the Earth gets more energy from the sun every hour than this. The effect would be tens of thousands of places reduced to slag and most of the planet unharmed, except by fallout.
    • Even worse than this is the episode "Journey's End" (season 4 spoiler), where 25 strategically placed nuclear bombs are meant to be enough to destroy the entire planet.
      • It would seem that nuclear technology in Doctor Who is meant to be that ridiculously powerful. May I direct you to the old series "Z-bomb", a UNIT bomb that destroyed the earth-like planet of Mondas.
      • In any case, each nuclear bomb would have had to have a yield of approximately 2,365,667,200,000,000 megatons, or 47,313,344,000,000 times more power than the largest nuclear bomb ever built. Assuming a fusion-type warhead, each of those bombs would probably weigh about 1,277,460,288,000,000,000 kg, much more massive than the asteroid theorized to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Such a warhead, strategically placed, would be extremely difficult not to notice as it could be as much as three hundred miles across.
      • For that matter, the Dominators nearly manage to blow Dulkis up with a small, hand-held bomb, and Stahlman manages to reduce the Mirrorverse Earth to molten slag just by drilling into it in the wrong place. It would seem that in the Whoniverse, planets are Made of Explodium.

...these are complete messes. Someone simplify them down?
12:46:25 AM May 7th 2013
Perhaps slightly related, most sci-fi writers assume that the surface of the sun is where the danger starts (and they're right, but only if gravity wells are your only concern). Most tend to forget that while the photosphere of the sun is a rather cool 5000 deg C, the corona surrounding the sun reaches temps of 4,000,000 deg C; You'll melt long before you ever reach the "surface" of the sun, so the danger begins long before you even get close to the observable sun.
09:07:17 AM Nov 13th 2011
Some of the examples in Literature are not from science fiction and have nothing to do with outer space at all.
09:01:41 PM Oct 19th 2011
edited by KingofMadCows
  • Unit numbers also fluctuated wildly between the series. The original series said there were only 12 Constitution-class ships, and showed little evidence of any others on Starfleet's possession; in The Next Generation there were intially only six Galaxy-class ships built, with another six on order, and a loss of 39 vessels against the Borg at Wolf 359 was apparently a total catastrophe that crippled Starfleet. By Deep Space Nine, the Federation was regularly committing as many as six hundred ships at a time to individual battles with the Dominion; and in response to questions about the unexpectedly-high registry numbers of Voyager and Defiant, Ronald Moore went on record as saying that Starfleet probably had at least thirty thousand ships.

Both the Constitution and the Galaxy were newly created top of the line ships during their perspective shows. While we don't see many other ship types in The Original Series, we do see plenty of other ships in The Next Generation.

As for the Borg attack crippling Starfleet, Commander Shelby also said that they would be able to get the fleet up in less than a year. That would suggest they can build at least 40 ships per year. You also have to take into account of how little time they had to prepare for the Borg attack. Considering how ships in Star Trek can only travel about a few light years per day at maximum warp, and Starfleet was more focused on exploration during this time, the ships gathered at Wolf 359 should only account for a small fraction of the entire fleet.

When the Dominion threat was revealed, Starfleet could have pulled back the ships that were sent on missions of exploration and diplomacy and gathered them closer to the wormhole. They could have also repaired and upgraded decommissioned ships.
05:45:23 AM Oct 20th 2011
edited by CrypticMirror
I thought it was canon that after Trek 6, Starfleet was being drastically reduced since it wouldn't have to focus on military issues and would return to it's mandate For Science! and diplomacy. Which carried through to next gen, and it was Wolf 359 that prompted a massive expansion and re-arming (they dropped the over complicated entrance test that rejected more than 99% of applicants, started spamming ships like the Defiant class, Intrepid class, and other smaller more manoeuvrable, heavier armed platforms instead of big stateships like the Galaxy class; note even the new flagship line of Sovereign class is smaller and more heavily armed than the Galaxy classes) in anticipation of a full on Borg attack (that thankfully didn't happen). So Starfleet was in a much better position to take on the Dominion after the Borg. If 359 hadn't happened then the smaller ship and officer cadre possessed by the Fleet, for mainly peaceful exploration, would have been swept aside.
04:26:42 PM Oct 21st 2011
But there were wars and other incidents between Star Trek 6 and TNG. Relations between the Federation and Klingons got much worse until the Enterprise C defended Khitomer against the Romulans. They had a decade long war with the Cardassians. There were also minor wars and skirmishes with one off races like the Sheliak and the Tzenkethi. The Federation may not have been completely focused on defense until the Borg but that doesn't mean they were weak.
09:05:44 AM Oct 22nd 2011
it seems most of these were either diplomatic crisis, or border scuffles that a single ship or two could deal with though.
08:21:02 AM Oct 23rd 2011
The war with the Cardassians lasted 20 years and as shown on "Yesterday's Enterprise," had the Enterprise C not protected Khitomer, the Klingons would have gone to war with the Federation.
07:54:17 PM Sep 21st 2011
edited by Peteman
No you absolutely can't. Not when tank-sized pieces of rock or metal structures far larger than the attacking ships themselves are blown to superheated shrapnel by fighter-scale weapons,

Watch the scene where the X-Wing does that, you'll notice the fighter produces a lot of sparks but no actual damage until that last couple of hits. Combined with the numerous shots where fighters don't produce nearly that much damage (see Anakin firing inside the TF battlecruiser here, the TIE fighter strafe here, and the Deflection Tower gangbang here, which took like a dozen shots before it blew up), and add the ANH novelization mentioning secondary explosions, Luke might have simply hit (and was shooting at) a vulnerable target that exploded more violently than he was expecting).

asteroids dozens of meters in diameters are completely vaporized by point-defense guns,

We've seen much higher rates of fire on Star Destroyers, including prequel era ships, suggesting those weren't the point defence weapons (especially since an asteroid managed to get through), and considering the yields stated, the fact that at least three Star Destroyers (including a Super Star Destroyer) couldn't shoot down one measly asteroid before it blew off the con tower of an ISD suggests more than simple self-imposed limitations. Also, what proof do you have that those were the Point Defence weapons? They have pretty bad rates of fire, bad spread, and if we're using the size of the bolt as a measuring stick, I'd like to remind you that author that proposes these figures also argues for invisible lightspeed Turbolasers, and the bolts we see are merely the equivalent of tracer rounds. If that's the case, then the size of the bolt is irrelevant to determining the kind of bolt it is. So if the bolts we see are merely tracer rounds and the damage precedes the bolt by a substantial margin, then the visible part of my anti-fighter bolt could be three times the size of my capital ship, and the visible part of my anti-capital ship bolt could be smaller than my fist, it makes no difference because the visible bolt has no destructive yield (at least compared to the actual weapon). Also, he based these "invisible light speed Turbolasers" on exactly one scene (see where the Star Destroyer is blasting the asteroids), where the destruction is a few frames before the bolt hits it, for a single asteroid. He uses this to deduce that all bolts are like that. It's that kind of "the exception is actually the rule and the rule is actually the exception" that he seems to base all his movie-based calculations on

above-mentioned secondary batteries of Inivisible Hand tear hundred-meter craters in the heavily armored hull of a Republican star destroyer

Funny, I see some clones not getting instantly mulched by those shots, and those don't exactly look like hundred meter craters, seeing as that would represent almost a tenth of the ship's length per crater. Also, if by "secondary", you mean "weaker", where's your proof for that?

(and hulls of SW ships are made from tougher materials than any we can imagine, as not only the fore half of Inivisible Hand survived a barely controllable atmosphere reentry, various apparenrly unarmored protrusions on it - including the bridge where the characters were - survived as well),

True they can take decent punishment, but the underside of the Invisible Hand got crushed under its own weight and needed fireships to not get completely screwed over, so it seems they aren't made of the indestructanium that some people like to throw around.

and so on. Heck, even SW ground artillery managed to carve up a landing pod over a kilometer in diameter, far bigger than any warship or arificial structure on Earth, like a watermelon. There are ample examples of firepower in kilotons and megatons range on screen and it is not possible to ignore them.

S-PHATs are some of the heaviest guns in Star Wars. You'll notice one of them breaking a ship in two in a single shot in ROTS, something no other weapon in Star Wars managed to accomplish, short of a Death Star. That's like saying "Heck, even ground based weapons were able to take out a Star Destroyer", when talking about the massive planetary Ion Cannon at Hoth. Also, that's not carving it like a melon. That's more like Julius Caesar getting ganged up by his former allies (yeah the ship got brought down, but it's not exactly the kind of dismemberment that you're describing).

If at times demonstrated firepower is lower, this means weapons in question were not firing on their maximum settings or generally were of inferior quality.

There's a difference between inferior quality and sending stuff against something that outclasses you by several orders of magnitude. What exactly was the point in lowering their shields and weapons in the Hoth asteroid belt to the point that they would feel threatened and suffer damage? The Imperials were feeling nice and wanted to give the asteroids a fighting chance? Or Anakin turning down his weapons (including his torpedoes) inside the TF Battleship? That would have been a golden opportunity to do as much damage as possible (unless we're subscribing to the "send things millions of times less effective than the enemy and not do anything approach").

If there not much waste heat, then the local Applied Phlebotinum can efficiently deal with it now (and by the way, IIRC 4.8 megatons is the yield of the Invisible Hand's ion cannons).

It says "Point-defence ion cannon delivers as much heat per shot as a 4.8 megaton bomb". Considering that an ion weapon is supposed to ionize (read: disable) the target, not melt it, I would assume that was waste heat. And 4.8 Megatons is about a thousand times as potent as the ships they're meant to disable. What's the point in having point defence weapons that are meant to disable ships, if all they're going to do is vaporize them?

Oh, and in movies fighters never manage as much as scratch a capital ship, unless its shields are taken down by other capital ships before. The Naboo squadron explicitly failed to dent the deflector shield on the Trade Federation's carrier, and the humongous wave of the imperial fighters in Ep.VI was entirely ineffectual.

Yes, two dozen fighters from an undermilitarized world facing off against a carrier with about 1500 escort fighters fail to do anything (except, you know, do some surface damage by crashing the enemy fighters into the ship, and Anakin blowing it the hell up), that's not exactly a resounding declaration that fighters are completely and utterly pointless against capital ships. Maybe if the Naboo had a few hundred ships they might have been able to do something). Meanwhile, in ROTJ, just about the first thing Lando ordered when facing the fighters was to "draw their fire away from the cruisers, and a few TIE fighters harassing the Medical Frigate was enough that they immediately dispatched Lando after them (please note, Lando expressly states right afterwards "only the fighters are attacking, I wonder what those Star Destroyers are waiting for", so it's not like they had capital ship support). This at the very least implies that fighters pose a decent threat when dispatched in sufficient numbers and don't have anything trying to stop them (like other fighters). Also, what's the logic in sending fighters to destroy enemy capital ships if they can't possibly take down the shields and do several million times less damage than just shooting it with a turbolaser? If the goal is to destroy the enemy capital ship, why wouldn't they just shoot it again with the capital ship guns, if the turbolasers are millions of times more powerful, and they've already shot it enough times that the shields are now breached? Don't give me any comment about disabling the ship. That's not what they were doing at Endor.

I remember Gary Sarli's take down of the sourcebooks in question. It was polite, and yet brutal, noting that the weapons (and consequently, the fuel requirements and the defences required to withstand said weapons) were at least 5 orders of magnitude greater than they needed to be, because the author in question made assumptions about the Base Delta Zero operation (which he apparently based the majority of his calculations on) that failed to take into account that it would be like 20 times as long (Caamas was rendered uninhabitable in about a day, not an hour), would have nearly 200 times as many ships (a 90 ship Force Superiority to clear out any opposition before the 100 ship System Bombard would completely destroy the planet from orbit, not a single, unsupported ISD Mark I having to do it by itself because they're not sending any support ships), and would require about 2000 times less energy (Assets of production like cities, mines, factories, arable land, droids, and people only need to be targeted, instead of the entire surface of the planet to a depth of one meter).
11:09:47 AM Jun 12th 2011
edited by Peteman
  • There is a starfighter's stray blast vaporizing a big chunk of the Death Star hull, asteroids flash-vaporized with light turbolasers, handguns blasting walls apart... maybe an insistent man can shave off 2-3 orders of magnitude, but hardly more.

We see numerous shots of star fighters firing with less devastating effect (like inside the Trade Federation Cruiser and against the Death Star itself) and the novelization refers to secondary targets getting shot at and blowing up, and not even every shot of Luke's X-Wing produced those explosions in that very scene!

We also have seen much higher rates of fire from prequel era Star Destroyers while those flash vaporized asteroids could only get popped one at a time, and the screen was insufficient that at least one asteroid got through, suggesting those weren't the light turbolasers.

Plus, if they had the weapons' yield suggested in those books, that seemingly undamaged Star Destroyer that got wiped out by the asteroid could have easily withstood that rock or had its two buddies vaporize it long before it got close.
08:27:32 PM Aug 4th 2011
The power of a turbolaser is described as having the energy output of 250 terajoules (with one terajoule equal to one trillion joules), under the assumption that the asteroids in the movie Empire Strikes Back are made of 100% (solid) iron, as stated on the Star Wars official main webpage.

Supposedly, that would mean each bolt from a turbolaser creates 3.96 times more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This is also the basis for the idea of how a Star Destroyer is capable of "melting an entire continent". Though one is made to wonder how small fighters like the X-Wing are capable of taking so much as one hit from such a powerful cannon, why the Death Star was needed in the first place (if a fleet of Star Destroyers would be sufficient for destruction), also Han Solo's comment that "the entire star fleet couldn't destroy the whole planet".

It should also be noted that asteroids in truth are not solid, but porous, and extremely light in terms of mass.

I was going to include that under the Energy scale section, but wanted to run that by here first.
09:26:58 PM Aug 4th 2011
When talking about the X-Wing and survivability, it's a matter of anti-fighter weapons vs anti-cap ship weapons. Starfighters really can't take hits from heavy guns. The X-Wing that got shot by the Executor when it was "intensifying the forward guns" blew up real good and the RPG source books do not ascribe anti-fighter weapons of any kind to the Executor (it's got an escort fleet for that), and the X-Wing simply couldn't dodge all 5000 heavy turbolaser and ion cannons.

I'm guessing the reason they want the Death Star is because Star Destroyers can be more easily engaged with conventional weaponry. In ESB, a single planetary ion cannon pimp-slapped an ISD with a handful of shots. But also the Death Star is this hugely psychological thing. Sure a fleet could level the entire surface of the planet, but at least it's still there after you finished pummelling it, and if you had any decent defences you could give them a run for their money. With the Death Star, it's basically wait 10 seconds and "poof".

As for where to put it, Star Wars pretty much got its own section.
09:37:36 PM Aug 9th 2011
edited by ColonelMarksman
I think the point being made was missed: the stated power levels are impossible, implausible, and incorrect. As for X-Wings, in video games as well as the movies, they are capable of taking glancing hits from turbolaser batteries, and their deflector shields are able to stop at least one hit if they are focused to a single area (i.e. the front as in the Battle of Yavin).

— I wasn't talking about planetary ion cannons or heavy weapons, but the smaller turrets, the turbolasers. In other words, the writers got it wrong (due to lack of research and a poor sense of scale). Their numbers indicate that a single bolt from a simple turbolaser turret is capable of nearly 4 times the amount of energy of an atomic bomb.

And no, a fleet cannot level the entire surface of a planet; Han Solo made that very clear in Episode IV. Every single ship in all of the Empire at the time wouldn't be capable of that. Their own sources and portrayal of the technology runs counter to the numbers they listed.

And the Death Star as a psychological thing or something harder to engage with conventional weaponry; it's simply too far outside the bounds of logic. It would be horrendously cost-ineffective for that since the 30-strong ISD fleet in the Battle of Endor was difficult to engage with the most powerfully concentrated fleet the Rebels ever assembled. All 4,000 turbolasers on an Executor would unleash almost as much power in 1.5 minutes than the entire amount of energy United States uses over the span of a year, about 90 exajoules of energy (or 90 million terajoules).
06:38:15 AM Aug 10th 2011
edited by Peteman
Turbolasers are the heavier weapons (they come in a variety of sizes though). I believe some of the analyses assumed those were the light weapons that were popping the asteroids. I personally am skeptical of that assumption (we've seen much higher rates of fire compared to the scene in question, and yet the ship couldn't keep up). I've assumed that those were the heavier guns.

As for Alderaan, there is a huge difference between levelling the surface of a planet, and blowing it to tiny little bits. Han didn't believe that the Empire could turn a planet from "there" to "not there". As an analogy, with nuclear weapons we could wipe out every person in the United Kingdom. That doesn't mean we can sink the British Isles.

With the Death Star, I never really got the idea that the Empire was into logic. I like to think as part of Darth Sidious' descent into Dark Side Psychosis, he stopped thinking "wouldn't the resources that go into this huge project be better spent in a more conventional manner? At this point all it is is a giant symbolic wang." Or at least added "Oh wait, I just answered my own question there, now didn't I?" The logic is that it could do things that conventional fleets could not. The logic simply does not hold up under scrutiny unless scrutiny gets you Force Choked and your family executed.
03:00:23 AM Jun 11th 2011
In "The Event", the aliens tried to release an especially nasty version of the 1918 flu virus to kill off most of the human race to "make room" for their 2.5 billion population they're going to bring from their planet which is threatened by their sun about to go boom. (About which the series writers are all over the map on what's going on.)

Make room? Ha! Wouldn't have to. Drop the lot in Alaska and nobody would even notice they were there. Or what about Texas? Texas could comfortably hold the entire current human population, with lots of room to swing a few billion cats...

The land surface area of the State of Texas, divided by the current estimated human population of Earth, equals almost 2,000 ft^2 per human. Texas, it is large.

After doing that bit of math a few years back, I've been wanting to see an author write a realistically super-populated world into a story. So here's the numbers to make it easy. :)

What would be interesting to see is a table comparing every super-pop SF story, with data on the population numbers, how high the buildings, whether or not it's total planet coverage or just the land, etc. Who came close? Who got it laughably wrong? Has any author got the numbers anywhere near right to match the descriptions in their stories? My bet is even in tales where the population is restricted to a few mega-arcologies, the buildings are still usually too large for the depicted population densities.

The total surface area of Earth could be divided into 2,745,191,623,680 – 2,000 ft^2 parcels, using this 196,940,400 I found for miles^2 for Earth's total surface area. Make that several trillion packed elbow to elbow in a multi-story building that covers an entire Earth sized planet. Even if necessary hallways, HVAC, water, sewer etc services uses half the space and cuts it down to 1,000 ft^2 per human, the 2,745,191,623,680 number is still the two-trillion pound gorilla in the room, and every individual still has plenty of space to rattle around in.

Science fiction authors have vastly undershot the mark, many times, in super-population dystopic tales. A 100 level building, and having to import *all* food and other resources, that just ain't plausible at all. With 1,000 ft^2 per person, that's 270 trillion, there's still gobs of elbow room, and the roof could all be covered in high density hydroponic farm.

More plausible, four story building, bottom floor all services, middle two floors living space, top floor food production. Cut the room size down to 200 ft^2 and again give 1/2 the space to etc and the pop per floor is 13,725,958,118,400 or 27,451,916,236,800 total. There we go! A mere 27.4 trillion beings in a world girdling building. Not quite 70,000 per mile^2.

The depiction of Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels, assuming that architecture is worldwide, would have to be at least double digit trillions - but the official-ish numbers are around 1 trillion permanent residents plus 2 trillion transients, tourists etc. Um, yeah, fail. Three trillion beings + mile high buildings everywhere = "poverty flat" is at least a whole floor.

Monaco's density is over 42,000 mile^2, so I suppose the 27.4T number could be within spitting distance of "packed in elbow to elbow", as long as it's kept to only two floors – but 200 square feet per person is ridiculously generous, in really dark and dingy dystopic Sci-Fi.

So please, somebody write a story about a super-packed planet with the population numbers to justify the scenario.
10:57:58 AM Aug 5th 2011
Building all that would require considerable time, especially for 2.5 billion people. Meanwhile, many would die from exposure and hunger, not to mention thirst, given that our current infrastructure is in no way prepared to those numbers in any single location. A better way would be to spread them all out. That way, the addition to each individual area would be negligible. Hell, we're expected to be at 8 billion by 2020.
05:42:58 PM Aug 6th 2016
There is a total of 57,510,000 sq. miles of land on Earth. If one were to assume a population density everywhere as great as that of Manila (the densest populated city on Earth currently), at 111,002 people per sq. mile, that would produce a population of approximately 6.4 million million (sorry, trillion for those US readers). That's really not a stretch at all.

In answer to you, Galane, I once thought to try and produce a record and graph of fictional worlds, plotting size/total land area against population, to see if any worlds had really sparse or super-dense populations. What I found to my surprise was...most fictional worlds don't actually have well-defined values for both those pieces of data, so it was next-to-impossible to plot anything.

If you were to assume a futuristic society where all primary and secondary industries (production, farming, manufacturing, etc) have been moved off-world, and the Earth were given over to miles-high buildings containing just living quarters, entertainment areas, all the various types of service industries like retailers etc, government, civil service and so on...I could easily see populations getting into the 100s of trillions, maybe even quadrillions. But I would imagine it would also require farming the entire solar system to sustain the planet Earth!

I concur with Galane, somebody please write a story about a super-populated world that gets the figures and the living conditions right!
08:30:07 PM Apr 6th 2011
edited by
Um, on the explanation on how much it would cost to travel one light year. Doesn't one of Newton laws says that an object will keep moving unless otherwise acted on by another force. So if a force accelerates a spaceship to the speed of light, wouldn't it keep moving in that direction at that speed forever. You wouldn't need to spend more fuel other than the initial force to get up to speed. The car example is different as you have to constantly keep adding force in order to keep the car at the same speed because of FRICTION. Which you wouldn't have in space.
08:25:13 PM Apr 9th 2011
You still need to accelerate the object to that speed. That takes a lot of energy, and the energy cost will rise based on the mass being added to the object. You will also need to decelerate the object in question, which will take similar amounts of energy, as well as maintaining operating costs on the object as it is traveling that far, along with other necessary additions, such as barriers against against micrometeorite impacts.
09:49:46 AM Mar 5th 2011
I contest the removal of the Empire Strikes Back backup hyperdrive thing, because not only were the RP Gs were introduced what, a decade after the fact, but George Lucas largely does not care about expanded universe material.
12:50:09 AM Aug 16th 2010
Just curious... if matter can't reach the speed of light, why even propose that a human in some mode of interstellar transport could go ten times faster...?
09:18:56 AM Nov 6th 2010
Usually through some kind of Technobabble or Applied Phlebotinum. For example, in Star Wars, hyperdrives can send ships to Hyperspeed, which is basically where the laws of physics are royally screwed up, allowing ships to go millions of times the speed of light with no cuckoobananas side-effects.
08:41:50 PM Nov 11th 2010
edited by TBeholder
Plot needs it. =)

There's more than enough of reservations and stipulations to safely ignore such limitations and not that much authors who professed their love to Einstein to begin with. Even if one wants GRT, there's Alcubierre's trick, and if not... Not that everyone cared to consider implications in either case, you understand. If the setting have vacuum as hydrodynamical as in Star Wars, why bother at all?

P.S.: shouldn't this go into "Headscratchers" directory?
05:44:52 PM Jun 14th 2010
Kust to be clear: when I said the calculations in Irregular Webcomic were based on Coruscant being 200 times larger than it was, I was referring to its population being 200 times larger.
07:56:40 PM May 1st 2010
Most of the "unitless number examples" seem to be written on the assumption that when a number is given without units, it's an example of this trope, for no other reason. I think that's an error.

As I understand it, this trope is about numbers being massively incorrect in scale. For instance, saying that the Moon is more than ten miles away (true, but a massive understatement), or that the human population of Earth is less than a trillion (in fact it's less than 1/100th of that). If you get the size of the numbers wrong, in a big way, that's an example this trope. If you do it for numbers like population that are *unitless*, then it's a unitless number example.

"Unitless" is a technical term from physics and engineering for numbers that represent things like counts of objects, that do not require units of measure. The fact of a number being unitless isn't an error if that's the kind of number it is, and even if a number that should have units is quoted without them, that's not an example if "Sci Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale". So: say the distance is a mile when it's a million miles, it's a distance example. Say the population is a thousand when it's a billion, it's a unitless number example. Say the time until the probe arrives is "three" without saying three what, and it doesn't belong in this trope at all.

I hesitate to just delete all the incorrect examples from the article because someone will think I'm vandalizing, but I'm noting it here in case someone else wants to make the attempt.
05:08:55 PM Apr 7th 2010
So, I noticed this little gem: "[...]Earth is seen with enough stars to look like a shot from Hubble."

Ignoring the fact that Hubble is never pointed towards Earth it made me curious about how much of the Earth HST would actually be able to see.

Finding a good source for the actual field-of-view of HST was a bit hard. While I'm sure it could be derived from knowing the area of the sensor, the area of the mirror and the focal length? (Or?) But calculating this would be a bit beyond my mad physics skillz... So finding a simple Fo V angle seemed much more simple.

What I found was this: which gave the Fo V for the most(?) wide angle instrument at 210 x 204 arc-seconds.

So, basic trigonometry gives us this:

Angle A == 204 arc-seconds ~= 0.05667 degrees

Height of HST (h) == 559 km

Side of area covered (x) == 2*(h*(tan A)) = 2 * (559 * tan 0.05667) ~= 1.1 km. (The '2' comes from the fact that we use a right-angled triangle and thus only get one half of the side.)

So, unless I've screwed up my math, or didn't understand the facts about HST the largest area of Earth that Hubble could picture is approx. 1

This is not taking either the curvature of the Earth into account, which could potentially increase the area covered minutely or the fact that from such a low orbit, even if you had the ultra wide-angle optics that would be required, you would still not be able to see more than significantly less that half the Earth. (To calculate this would require slightly less basic trigonometry, and is left as an exercise to the reader...)
08:27:24 PM Mar 17th 2010
1.21 gigawatts in everyday terms

I was curious (and bored and avoiding doing my laundry), so I started doing some back-of-napkin style calculations.

According to Wikipedia, gasoline contains roughly 8.89 kW*h/L (8.89 kilowatt*hours per litre).

Converting hours to seconds (8.89*60*60) yields 32004 kW*s/L.

Converting kilowatts to gigawatts yields 0.032 GW*s/L.

Again according to Wikipedia, the energy conversion efficiency of a combustion engine can vary from 10% to 50%. Let's split the difference and say 30%. That yields 0.0096 GW*s/L.

1.21 / 0.0096 = 126

So, burning 126 litres of gasoline per second in combustion engine(s) would be (very) roughly equivilent to 1.21 gigawatts.

My car gets roughly 30 MPG at a steady highway speed of 60 MPH. Google tells me 30 MPG is 12.75 litre/kilometer. Google tells me 60 miles is roughly 97 kilometers. An hour is 3600 seconds.

So, one hour at that speed (97 km / 12.75 L/km) yields 7.6 L. Per second, that is 0.002 L/s.

(There's probabbly a more direct way to get that result, but I get confused easy when juggling units.)

126 L/s / 0.002 L/s = 63000

So, 1.21 GW is (very very) roughly equivilent to the power output of 63,000 motor vehciles. I think.

More directly: Your typical hand-held hair dryer uses 1800 watts (in the US, anyway). (Why 1800? Because that's the maximum rating for a standard household outlet.) 1.21 GW / 1800 W = 672222. So roughly three-quarters-of-a-million hair dryers.

Of course, as people have nattered about on the main page, without knowing the duration of the usage, just knowing 1.21 GW isn't very useful. Running a 4 watt nightlight lightbulb for a year uses a lot more energy than running my hair dryer for five seconds.

08:47:37 PM Mar 6th 2010
edited by MattII
Dammit, double-posted. Anyone know how to delete posts now?
01:51:37 AM Mar 6th 2010
What the heck happened, where did this page go?
10:38:36 AM Mar 6th 2010
Evidently, the old stuff was archived and a new discussion system was put into place.
08:48:00 PM Mar 6th 2010
Oh, right. Missed that 'archived' button the first time around.
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