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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fluff time: Star Wars, wouldn’t a ship the size of an Imperial starship burn up before crash landing on Jakku?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26821points) January 30th, 2016

disclaimer The fluff Q&A will end soon, just hang on.

Mini spoiler alert! If you have not seen the film this will possibly divulge some minor details.

Would Rey living off what she can scavenge from downed imperial vehicles like the huge Imperial Starships have any real possibility? Upon heading for their demise on the sandy mounds of Jakku, would not they have burned up (since we are going on the idea that the characters of Star Wars breath oxygen) by friction caused by the air upon entering the atmosphere? If anything made it to the planet should it have been a burned out hulk of metal or whatever, at best be usable just as scrap metal with no viable components left that could be reused?

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26 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

It is protected by residual dark force from the divine emperor palpatine.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ It is protected by residual dark force from the divine emperor palpatine.
Shouldn’t “Palpatine” be caps? Anyhow, if the residual dark force keeps the ships from burning up when downed (which I cannot see how something that far away and out of the gravitational pull of a planet can crash), it had not enough power before it was a residual or even after to protect the vessel from being disabled to the point it crashed? How comforting to know the dark force is that weak. ~~

Darth_Algar's avatar

You seem to be under the impression that Star Wars is meant to be scientific.

ragingloli's avatar

by the way, it is not friction that causes the heat up, it is the pressure wave in front of the ship.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

I appreciate Abrams’ talent for showing scale, first seen in his interpretation of the Star Trek franchise.

We caught a glimpse of the stunning scale when the starship “ran aground” into San Fransisco.

Seeing the imperial destroyer on the desert gave us again a magnificent sense of scale not available in space.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Darth_Algar You seem to be under the impression that Star Wars is meant to be scientific.
Of course it was not meant to be scientific, there is no way to drain a sun to power a weapon (oops another spoiler gone). The unsensational parts using known laws of physics, such as gravity, inertia, explosive combustion, or even having clouds and water, to something as basic as something burning up in reentry they would adhere to, they did with fire when the Stormtroopers were burning things up (oh snap, another spoiler leaked).

Seek's avatar

I’m pretty sure the build plans of any space-faring vessel would include “capable of surviving atmospheric re-entry” as a standard feature.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ Did not work to well for the Columbia, STS-107, and that was just a hunk of foam that did them in, nothing close to a plaster, X-wing fighter or anything…...just saying…..

ragingloli's avatar

@Seek
And “build in a tunnel directly to the reactor big enough for a millennium falcon”

Seek's avatar

@hypo – “the Colombia”

That’s surprisingly, disgustingly tasteless, even for you. Shame on you.

kritiper's avatar

It depends on what the ship/hull is made of, how fast it is descending through the atmosphere, how deep the atmosphere is, and how dense the atmosphere is. As large as the ship you describe is, I would say not completely.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central

Columbia didn’t burn up upon re-entry. Damage caused by that piece of foam (and yes, even foam can hit with a severe impact when you’re moving at nearly 1,900 mph), caused heat to build up in the wing’s internal structure, destroying that structure, which caused the shuttle to become extremely unstable and uncontrollable, wildly rolling and yawing, which caused it to essentially rattle apart.

Inara27's avatar

For the ships to be as intact as they are, they must have hit the planet at low speed. Slow enough not to burn up. If they were fast like a meteor, the impact would have destroyed the ship, left a big crater, and perhaps caused mass extinction and changes in the climate.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Seek That’s surprisingly, disgustingly tasteless, even for you. Shame on you
You gotta be kidding me, stating a true fact, that NASA with all its money could not make a space bound vehicle that could reenter even when struck by mild material even at fast speed? I am just saying unless in a galaxy far, far away they got much, much better at that, how could they be any better than NASA of today?

@Inara27 For the ships to be as intact as they are, they must have hit the planet at low speed. Slow enough not to burn up. If they were fast like a meteor, the impact would have destroyed the ship, left a big crater, and perhaps caused mass extinction and changes in the climate.
They might have been in the atmosphere when they were felled, though it is uncharacteristic from what I know for them to operate in other than space beyond the gravitational pull of planets. Even if they fell from space intact somehow, I don’t think they are dense enough to cause any climate change.

jerv's avatar

There isn’t any one reason, but rather a combination of factors.

It’s safe to assume that any spacecraft on it’s way towards imminent deconstructive lithobraking would do everything possible to counter gravitational acceleration. If the repulsor-lifts were at least partially operational and just not strong enough to completely counter gravity’s pull, you would hit the ground slower and with more of a crunch than a bang the same way that slamming on the brakes before you hit a brick wall will crumple the front end instead of making the bumpers meet. That lower speed alone will also reduce the amount of heat generated by plowing through the atmosphere.

However, all else being equal, mass increases by the cube of the volume. Assuming equal lifting power for a given volume of lifter, a craft the size of the Millennium Falcon will need to dedicate a larger portion of it’s internal volume for lifters strong enough to leave a planet than something the size of an X-wing. (Those two craft are not directly comparable due to vast differences in shape; I mention them merely for size.) At a certain point, the lifters required to get a craft out of a gravity well become impractical, if not outright impossible. With that in mind, you can see why large craft remain in orbit and use shuttles, and why they rarely (if ever) land on a planet.

Civilian craft can get away with a little more engine for their size than something that is full of weapons and fighter-craft while military vessels will sacrifice a bit of equipment that doesn’t fit their expected operational parameters (comfortable living quarters, indoor malls, swimming pools…) for things that help it do it’s job better (weapons, shield generators, maneuvering drives…). Something like a freighter, or cruise ship will reverse those priorities since they aren’t designed for combat. Their job is almost the opposite; land, get loaded with cargo/passengers, and lift off again while leaving the whole combat thing to ships that are made for combat.

So it’s not unreasonable to assume that even if the Star Destroyer cranked the power to the lifters up to levels only attainable with all emergency overrides locking out the usual safety measures, it just wouldn’t have enough to pull out of it’s dive, merely enough to hit the ground at lower speed. Why would it have enough lifters if it were never expected to land? There’s part of the equation.

Considering that Beskar (basically steel made from Mandalorian iron) can stop a light sabre, it’s not entirely out of the realm of feasibility that they have materials that can survive the heat of re-entry at a speed lower than what gravity would give the craft if unopposed by any sort of lifters with little/no ablation. And considering that Star Destroyers are military vessels, they likely have the best materials available. (“Best” often has cost considerations in addition to anything related to engineering though; even the most advanced mil-tech gear is made by the lowest bidder.) At the very least something that can withstand mega-power lasers should something take out the shield generators. Durasteel is a common choice as it’s reasonable strong while not relying on rare (thus expensive) ingredients like Beskar does.

With all that in mind, it seems to me that a large military spacecraft could fairly easily get sucked into a planet’s gravity well and hit the ground without burning up on reentry, hitting the ground hard enough to lose structural integrity in any number of interesting ways, or leaving a crater while kicking up enough dust to block out the sun for long enough to potentially kill any plant-life that the lower rungs of the food chain rely on, with all of the ripple effects that entails.

* * * * *

“I am just saying unless in a galaxy far, far away they got much, much better at that, how could they be any better than NASA of today?”

NASA hasn’t made a pod-racer or hyperdrive yet, so I’d wager that the SW universe has slightly more advanced technology than 21st-century Earth. I’ve already named a couple of materials, one of which is common enough to be used for cookware.

filmfann's avatar

Perhaps you have forgotten how Anakin Skywalker successfully landed a craft like this in Revenge of the Sith.

well, successfully, in that he survived.

Darth_Algar's avatar

At any rate you can’t look too much into ‘Star Wars’, as the franchise has always established its willingness to play loose with physics.

Hell, after 38 years they still haven’t figured out that a parsec is a measurement of distance, not of speed or time.

kritiper's avatar

For those who wish to know, a parsec is the distance light travels in 3¼ years, or about 19 trillion miles.

Blondesjon's avatar

@Darth_Algar . . . The Kessel run is measured in parsecs because the shorter the distance used to make the run, the more successful the run. It has nothing to do with speed or time.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Blondesjon

Or, more than likely, the writers threw in a term that sounds sciency without actually understanding what the term means. Also, by using that excusing you’re removing the “Kessel run” comment from its context, which was Han bragging about how fast his ship is.

A comparable remark would be someone asking about how fast my car is and he saying it can make it from here to Chicago in 80 miles.

jerv's avatar

@Darth_Algar Considering how much speed is required to pull off a slingshot maneuver without getting sucked in by whatever gravitational source you are slingshotting around, I think it was a better ret-con than many I’ve seen.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Darth_Algar At any rate you can’t look too much into ‘Star Wars’, as the franchise has always established its willingness to play loose with physics.
Hell, after 38 years they still haven’t figured out that a parsec is a measurement of distance, not of speed or time.
Well, since SW play loosely with known physics, maybe there in the SW universe a parsec is a measure of time or time based.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central

Perhaps so, but that only furthers my point.

Blondesjon's avatar

@Darth_Algar . . . I used the Kessel Run specifically because it is in context and all about speed.

If the shortest established distance from Point A to Chicago is 120 miles and I manage to fold space/time in a manner that shortens the distance to 80 miles then I’m quite positive I made some pretty good time getting there.

Seek's avatar

I am not a Star Wars fan, so I’m not certain what the Wars canon says about their flavor of faster-than-light travel.

In Star Trek, warp speed is literally travelling really really fast. Same distance, more speed.

In Battlestar Galactica, their FTL Drives map out space within range of their subspace sensors, then a technician plots a point-to-point space-folding “jump” (they call it jumping). they may travel several light-hours in an instant, but the actual travel distance by the Galactica is equal to zero.

In neither case would the word “parsec” be appropriate to use in such a sentence with regards to speed travelled.

Now, if the Falcon’s reason to claim awesome speed was being able to map out ridiculously intricate short-cut routes like a New York taxi driver trying to make a big tip, “parsec” might work. But I don’t know.

ragingloli's avatar

@Seek
actually, warp speed, as the name implies, is the warping of space time around the ship (contracting it in front, expanding it behind) to dynamically shorten the distance between the ship and the destination.

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