Science Fiction Becomes Reality 07: Lightsaber

Anyone who considers him or herself a Star Wars fan knows the sound: THHHWWOOOOOMM. The sound of a lightsaber being weilded. These brilliant energy swords are the hallmark of the never-ending battle between the dark and light sides of the Force.

Lightsaber: The Sci-Fi Version

Luke Skywalker stares at the weapon Obi-wan Kanobe has just pulled from his cloak. The deep hum eminating from the bright sword. The lightsaber is the signature weapon of the Jedi Order and their Sith counterparts, both of whom can use them for close combat, or to deflect blaster bolts.

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The lightsaber’s energy blade can cut, burn, and melt most substances with little resistance.  An active lightsaber gives off a distinctive hum (mentioned above), which rises in pitch and volume as the blade is moved rapidly through the air. Bringing the blade into contact with another lightsaber’s blade produces a loud crackle.

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How It Is Becoming Reality

This fictional weapon has become super popular as a toy and collector item for fans: prior to the release of the most recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie, Disney sold 10 million lightsabers per year. It’s probably way more now.  For those fans with a ton of money to throw around, you can even have a custom lightsaber made to suit your discriminating tastes.

So it’s not such a unfathomable thing to imagine an actual, real lightsaber weapon that we can use now. Right?

Well…

There’s the problem of energy. The Star Wars movies show that lightsabers are glowing blades about 4 feet (1.2 meters) long. They clearly contain a tremendous amount of energy and can quickly melt large amounts of metal. This suggests that these weapons must contain a powerful and compact energy supply. How do you get that much energy into a tightly compacted beam you can use to cut things?

Back in 2013, Harvard and MIT physicists grappled with this problem. They actually discovered a way to bind photons together in order to form a new molecule which behaves almost exactly like George Lucas’s deadly devices. More recently, in December 2015 some dude posted his version of a lightsaber on YouTube:

This guy’s version of the energy blade can’t cut through anything, it actually sets things on fire. It’s really just a giant lighter. Cool, but not a lightsaber.

Although we don’t technically have a commercial version of a working lightsaber yet, I’m sure it’s just around the corner. Until then let’s all go to Singaport and take a lightsaber martial arts class!

Now, I’d love to hear from you. What science-fiction ideas have you recently read about or have you seen in movies that you predict we’ll be using very soon? Let me know in the comments!

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Dana Leipold

Continuity Director
Dana is a freelance writer, author, and member of the Association of Independent Authors. She has self-published three books practices yoga, loves funny cat videos, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children.

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