Do you long for an elegant weapon from a more civilized age? Something less clumsy and random. As you hone your sensitivity to the Force, you may wonder.
What if lightsabers were real? How hot would the plasma burn? How does a lightsaber know when to stop? And would this weapon require a license?
For the uninitiated, all three of you, the lightsaber is the fictional weapon of choice for the Jedi, Sith, and other beings who are sensitive to the Force in the Star Wars franchise. Back here on Earth, though, lightsaber duels are a competitive sport using LED-lit, rigid polycarbonate replicas of the movie props.
These very non-lethal weapons may emit the same glow we marveled at on the big screen, but they’re basically a 1 m (3 feet) long glow stick. But if lightsabers were real, how much power would they use?
Whether you’re looking to conquer a universe or save one, the power contained within this metal hilt would certainly help you achieve your goals. According to the mythology of Star Wars, these weapons are powered by equally mythical kyber crystals.
But contrary to its name, this weapon isn’t a laser sword. So, if want to arm yourself in this reality, you’d need to harness the power of plasma. And by the way, that’s canon, so don’t at me. Plasma is an ionized gas, and it’s considered to be the fourth state of matter.
This electrical gas cloud is made of atoms broken into electrically-charged particles, with both negatively-charged electrons and positively-charged ions. But if you were to press a button and release this plasma burst at will, how could you control it?
Well, you’d need a strong magnetic field. Otherwise, the plasma you released would extend over 100 m (328 ft), killing everyone, including you. The magnetic fields would counteract the plasma’s increasing pressure, keeping the plasma confined in a long, narrow shape.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is a tokamak that contains the strongest magnetic walls on Earth, harnessing the energy of fusion. It took nine suppliers seven years to create the magnets for it.
It also happens to be 830 m3 (29,311.2 ft3) big. So you’d need something a lot smaller and stronger before you go into battle. And if the plasma isn’t contained properly, one clash between two lightsabers would end the duel by vaporizing you and your opponent.
Magnetic reconnection is a force that involves two plasmas colliding with different magnetic fields. As the plasmas come near each other, the magnetic fields around them would realign and release a deadly amount of energy.
In the terms of a different movie, think of it as “crossing the streams.” And If that isn’t bad enough, if the magnetic fields were even slightly off, each swing could send plasma flying everywhere.
But why are the magnetic fields different in each lightsaber? Because you want your own color, obviously. If you’re wielding a purple lightsaber, or a green one, the colors will depend on how hot the plasma burns.
As the atoms within the plasma lose energy, they release a light. And the photon’s energy is also related to the wavelength of the light. Different wavelengths of light look like different colors to us, a sinister-looking lightsaber like Lord Vader’s would have a temperature of around 700 °C (1,292 °F).
But if you wanted to build a lightsaber tribute to Obi-Wan Kenobi, to get the blue color, you would need a temperature of around 6,000 °C (10,832 °F). Each lightsaber would contain a unique magnetic field, specific to the heat of its plasma. This handheld plasma cutter would rival the strongest weapons-grade technology in existence.
In 2012, a United States company developed the Metal Vapor Torch, which produces a flame moving over 2,500 m (1.2 mi) per second at temperatures over 2,700°C (4892°F). Since it’s more powerful than any technology produced by the military-industrial complex, legally acquiring a lightsaber would probably be a bit more complicated than applying for a gun license.
At least, we hope it would be. After all, the power within this metal hilt would be greater than a nuclear reactor. So, if you want to take down General Grievous, your lightsaber would need at least 20 MW of power. And with that much energy, you could power over 40,000 households in the U.K.
But if you’d rather power this lightsaber without an A.C. cord hooked up to a bulky power source, you’d need trillions of nanobatteries. Still being developed in testing phases, researchers predict that the future of our increasingly miniaturized technology lies in these powerful macroscopic batteries.
Owning a working lightsaber would definitely be a childhood fantasy come to life. But ironically, as the technology behind plasma containment and power cells progress, we’re more likely to move away from this reality. Just as drone strikes have replaced the calvary, creating a confined beam of plasma probably wouldn’t bring us an age of futuristic swashbuckling. Instead, we’d probably use that destructive technology on a more massive scale.