Saturday, 30 January 2016

Phaser vs turbolaser

(Under construction)

The versus subculture in science fiction can be difficult to explain to the uniniate. It basically involves fans of two different franchises engaging in a debate about who would beat who in a fight. To most peoples senses, arguing about which fictional character or spaceship would defeat the other would seem a trivial waste of time. But the fact is, some of these topics require a degree of physics and math skill in order to successfully make your case: If you want to prove how powerful a phaser or turbolaser is, you need to observe instances when they were fired at objects, judge the collateral damage, and estimate how much energy was expended. In doing so, a debater can not only demonstrate his knowledge for all to see, but also gain new insights into how their fictional world operates. Following basic scientific principles can lead to some pretty surprising conclusions (such as the endor holocaust), and the versus trope is no exception to this. Lets take 'star wars vs star trek' as an example.

 Good times

Followers from both sides are able to dream up an astonishing variety of lethal encounters, like han solo vs captain kirk, warf vs chewie, red shirt vs stormtrooper, and (most popular of all) an imperator class ship vs a galaxy class ship. Even though the star trek universe takes a more egalitarian and pacifist stance than star wars, that doesn't seem to stop its fans from bickering about who would kick whose ass. Capital ship match ups are the most common, but there is alot of uncertainty with regards to things like firepower, shielding, acceleration, sensors, etc. To someone who is an admirer of both franchises, theres a certain appeal in knowing the specifications of each vessel. Matching separate ships against each other in a space battle definitely appeals to the nerd in all of us. Quite a few websites attempt to draw up hard numbers for the ships of both star wars and star trek. Here is one of the more popular ones.

 Beware of strawmen

It is immediately obvious that some of the figures posted are flat out inaccurate. Take a look at both sides of the table chart:
-For the acclamator class, power output is stated to be 8.36E20 watts (or 200 gigatons of TNT) for a heavy gun. *
-For the galaxy class, power output is stated to be 1.02E9 watts (or less than 1 ton of TNT) for a primary phaser array.

The problem with both of these estimates is that neither of them are based on direct observation of the on-screen evidence. Both are sourced from qausi-canon books that contradict on-screen feats. Lets try to reconcile these figures with visual analysis.

-For the acclamator class, power output is stated to be 8.36E20 watts for a heavy gun. On this page, however, that same type of gun was observed to melt or vaporise a 20 meter wide asteroid, a feat requiring only 4.5E14 to 3.75E15 watts.
-For the galaxy class, power output is stated to be 1.02E9 watts for a primary phaser array. On this page, however, that same array was acknowledged to have vaporised 1250 cubic meters of rock, a feat which would require around 4.8E12 watts.

*The so called 'heavy guns' which have a claimed output of 200 gigatons are actually XV7 light turbolasers. These twin barreled weapons fire 50 meter long bolts, and are mounted on 8-10 meter wide turrets. They are found on numerous classes of ship (including the acclamator and imperator), and were used during the infamous chase in the hoth asteroid field.