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Surprising Science

Are Deflector Shields Possible? Theoretically, Yes

Just in time for Star Wars Day, three University of Leicester students have published a paper in Journal of Physics Special Topics that uses a real-world example as a basis for their theory.

What’s the Latest Development?

For their contribution to the latest University of Leicester’s Journal of Physics Special Topics, students Alexander Toohie, Joseph McGuire, and Alexandra Pohl decided to ask themselves whether deflector shields — a classic device found in Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction universes — could exist. They figured that such a shield could consist of plasma held in place by a magnetic field that would encompass the spaceship. If the plasma was dense enough, laser beams from enemy ships would be unable to penetrate it.

What’s the Big Idea?

Toohie says that an example already exists above our heads: the Earth’s ionosphere. “Radio communications and radar can be beamed upwards toward the sky where it will be reflected back down toward the Earth. This method can be used to send communications over the horizon where radio transmissions would not normally be capable of reaching, much like using a mirror to look around a corner.” Unfortunately, building a real-world spaceship deflector shield would require clearing of some major technological hurdles, including the creation of a power source that would be strong enough to create the necessary magnetic field but small enough to not occupy too much ship space.

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