by Vagabond ‘Tony’ Carter
I’ve been a Star Wars fan since birth, well technically, since I was just over a year old, as that’s when A New Hope was released. Yes, I was there. I’m also a big fan of physics simulations, be it “Stair Dismount,” “Kerbal Space Program,” or “Universe Sandbox.”
The 501st Legion, a fan-run, cosplay charity organization, marked this past Veterans Day in true Imperial style by calling forth images of the battles of Yavin and Endor. This got me thinking: What did Alderaan look like after its destruction, just before the Battle of Yavin?
Since I wasn’t content with potatoes in space, I loaded up Universe Sandbox and built the Alderaan system. To save
some confusion, let me point out that the planet Alderaan and its star share the same name. This is consistent with canon, as both system and planet are often referred to by the same name. Fan canon (Fanon?), and the extended canon (from the now-discontinued expanded-universe authorized-fictions) give the system between five and seven planets. I built the five, focusing on the inner planets (see Example 1, right).
Next, I had some choices to make: what kind of planet was Alderaan? We see it only briefly; at best, it looks fairly Earth-like, and if Leia is any example of its natives (yes I know, technically she’s Naboo-ian and Tatooine-ian), Earth-like it was going to be.
The next question, now that I had a template for Alderaan’s mass, size, orbit, and speed, was much more challenging: How did the Death Star’s gun work? On screen, we see the planet shattered. That’s no laser, that’s not even a blaster, that’s a planet
cracker! The only feasible explanation is that the Death Star’s beam must somehow superheat the planet’s already-molten core, causing it to detonate like an egg in a microwave. Fortunately, Universe Sandbox has just the tool for that. Calling upon the most vile whim of the Dark Side, I split Alderaan into no fewer than 64 pieces, each with an added outward velocity of 8.5 kilometers per second (or just under escape velocity). The result was spectacular! (Example 2, right)
A handful of the chunks managed to escape the system. The majority, however, spread out, as they had not only the added explosive velocity but also the momentum of the original planet. From that point on gravity would take over and something truly chilling would form (Example 3, right).
If the Force is a universal energy field created by all living things, then Universe Sandbox appears to have confirmed its
existence. The resulting debris forms a rough belt which passed between the former orbit of Alderaan and its inner sister planet, Raisa. However that’s not the most hair raising feature of this belt, as shown 3 years later (Example 4, right).
The Graveyard Belt has spread a bit and stabilized, it’s a hazardous system to visit, since many of the remnants of the planet hurtle at extreme speeds as they near the Alderaan star in their orbits. Most striking is that even after three years, with the Battle of Endor looming, each and every rock passes directly through the place where Alderaan was on that fateful day. The Graveyard Belt remembers.
At the end of the day, this doesn’t really answer much, apart from telling us what we already knew: Star Wars and the
man who gave it to us, George Lucas, are awesome.
Star Wars has become such a core part of our modern pop culture that it’s almost impossible to go a week without hearing that someone has “a bad feeling about this,” or suggesting someone else “stay on target!” Not bad for a film franchise born from a premiere the creators were certain was going to be a flop.
Want to know more about how I did this? Perhaps you’d like to see what happens if Mars suffered Aldaraans fate Universe Sandbox and its successor, Universe Sandbox2 are available at their main web site and the Steam Network.