Hello, I was referred here by Cyrannian, who said that you know a lot about fictional technology, and I would like to know how turbolasers and superlasers work. I would like a very technical description if possible.
Any technical description is going to be limited because people who include these weapons in their stories tend to do so with typical sci-fi weapon depictions in mind rather than a rigorous adherence to any physics system, which means that adding more technical detail to a description risks making the description less consistent with the weapons' actual behaviour.
Superlasers are a hyperspace technology, and are defined by their power rather than their composition - so any type of particle beam should be able to function as a superlaser - in that they are particle weapons that are powered by extracting energy from "hypermatter", which is our Star Wars-inspired way of explaining how such a weapon can output more energy than it even has in the form of mass and thereby enabling planet-destroying space stations and such.
We attribute this extreme amount of energy in hypermatter to Kaluza-Klein modes, i.e. particles in hyperspace exist as very short-wavelength standing waves either across the "depth" of hyperspace or between its folds, with some handwaving to say that this energy doesn't contribute to gravity felt in realspace. We haven't established much detail on how this energy should be extracted; the hyperspace page currently rather vaguely refers to "bringing hyperparticles into realspace".
Wait, hold on. If turbolasers are nuclear fusion-powered plasma weapons, then would not an actual fusion rocket engine's exhaust be thousands of times more effective?
If a 25 Tg (just as an example) ship was using a nuclear fusion drive to accelerate at 30m/s^2 with an effective exhaust velocity of 30 Mm/s (a near-maximum exhaust velocity for nuclear fusion rockets), would that not release 80 PW of energy?
Even if turbolasers can potentially be that powerful, they could not (for safety reasons) actually release the energy of a fusion drive in one short burst because that would smash all of the occupants of the ship into the wall at tens of meters per second, not to mention what it would do to the structural integrity of the ship! So why are turbolasers used and not just the fusion rocket exhaust?
The fact that many warships use reaction drives as propulsion but not as weapons certainly does seem to me to be a plot hole carried over from some other sci-fi.
However, there are two important differences when it comes to having turbolasers as fusion weapons:
They don't release all of their energy immediately upon being fired - it's an explosion that occurs probably upon impact with the target, not energy used to accelerate the beam - so the effect on the ship is no different to that of other particle beam weapons.
Turbolasers are often mounted on turrets so that they can quickly change their targets without having to rotate the entire ship (so they're a lot less powerful than an engine but still a useful addition to combat). This does imply that the same turrets could be used as thrusters, which could perhaps again be a plot hole although maybe it could be rationalised as a detail that we've never had explicitly described.
Okay then. But why bother with turbolasers when you can just shoot thermonuclear warheads designed to explode on impact out of coilguns? And why have fighters or actual turrets when thermonuclear missiles work just as well and do not need pilots?
Also, why would anyone bother with actually invading a planet with an army when it would be so much easier to just point all of your fusion engines at the planet for a few minutes and heat it to 500 Celsius?
On turbolasers vs. warheads and missiles, all of these types of weapons are used; they have both advantages and disadvantages compared to each other. This is again a necessity carried over from other sci-fi so that turbolasers can be common, rather than being rigorously derived, but one can easily come up with plausible advantages to turbolasers, e.g. they're less vulnerable to being shot down by point defence (such as from being launched at higher speeds, or from not requiring an intact shell in order to work).
Yes, fighters are probably a terrible idea.
There are a couple of good reasons why you might want to avoid turning a planet into charcoal!
You might want to make use of the infrastructure and materiel already there, which is difficult if any of it is sensitive to heat. And if there's nothing on the planet that's of any use, then you have no need to attack it in the first place (if it can so much as resist your armies then it must at least have working military equipment).
Even for someone who doesn't care for one planet's worth of stuff, mass murder of civilians is likely to be unpopular, both at home and especially among other nations. Unless you're a totalitarian dictatorship that is capable of both preventing rebellions and shrugging off a coalition of your neighbours (who are rightly concerned about allowing a genocidal psychopath to remain in control of planet-scorching technology) then it's best to avoid such a thing.
Wait, but even if you could not scorch the planet, would not armies still be redundant?
I just realized that a huge sheet of micrometer-thick reflective foil could be placed between a planet and its sun as a form of siege. The planet would remain habitable for a couple of weeks, giving inhabitants time to surrender. Afterwards, the sheet could be removed, and the planet would warm up again, with the infrastructure intact. Would this technique be a viable method of planetary warfare?
It avoids the problem of damaging infrastructure. It does require a prolonged period of space superiority, but that's not a lethal flaw.
It doesn't get around the genocide problem. You're still implying a willingness to murder the civilian population of an entire planet - or at least those who can't or won't evacuate in time - if their government doesn't surrender.
Even if the government does surrender, that doesn't mean everyone is willing to obey. Especially since you've demonstrated such apathy towards their lives, your administration will encounter resistance from underground and guerrilla forces. You might not need a full-scale planetary army but you'll still want some force on the ground to deal with them.
You could try to do away with ground forces even then and maintain the threat of planet-freezing for a prolonged time after the surrender. Now you're implying a willingness to murder the civilian population of an entire planet unless everybody submits to your rule. And with that kind of attitude there'll be people who'll happily sacrifice their planet in order to hurt you, so you might have to go through with it.
Making the avoidance of genocide conditional on everybody submitting is going to lead to, and is therefore tantamount to, genocide. Your neighbours will just form a coalition to stop you from freezing planets rather than burning them.
Okay, that makes sense. With that in mind, I would like to point out that at some point in the takeover the civilian population would need to leave, and even with a conventional military takeover they will either comply of they will not. If they do not, either the invader must forcibly remove them or apply force until they are not on the planet anymore, one way or another. I suggested the thin sheet method as a means of not putting billions of the attacker's soldiers at risk, when they may have better served in warships. Even if a smaller ground force is required to help with the evacuation, it would only need to be on the order of 1% of the original population instead of 20%. This would mean that fewer supplies would be at stake.
I would also like to point our that if the planet's gravity is not right for the invader's species, the planet's best use would be disassembly anyway, for the purposes of constructing Dyson swarms and/or ringworlds. Also, if the sheet is removed and turned into a space habitat after some of the attacker's population has been transplanted in, then there would most likely be no genocide involved.
Third, the mere fact that this empire will most likely be trading and collecting taxes from its new planet means that thousands of ships with fusion engines capable of destroying small countries in minutes will be constantly circling the ship. Even if the planet was invaded normally, the possibility of an uprising being crushed by rocket exhaust would still be significant.
All this being said, I would like to note that I am not trying to bug you, just trying to figure out if there is an alternative to actually having a substantial army. I also am not thinking of actually invading anyone, this is purely to satisfy my own curiosity.
Oh, sure. It seems plausible to me that you can do away with an offensive army. The general principle is just that you need some occupying force on the ground to keep civilians under control, whether this is to deal with urban insurrections (where torching a city block filled with innocents is worse than sending in willing professionals) or to ensure compliance with relocation measures (although forced resettlement is also likely to upset people as a war crime).
I still don't believe you could avoid culpability and condemnation for the "surrender or we'll make your planet uninhabitable" method, though. A planetary government isn't responsible for you committing mass murder by not bowing down to you, and you can't force them to let your own evacuation ships get to work if you don't already control the planet.
Some of these are questions that I also had about it...
The basic idea of andasium was that it would be "space oil": a fuel that may require specialist facilities in order to obtain and get into a useable form, but can then be conveniently stored and burned. The information we have about it is designed to be a compromise between this narrative goal and vague physical plausibility.
So andasium is a chemical fuel, presumably. The idea is that you can just heat it up and then it releases energy. I don't think we ever tried to come up with other possibilities that would allow for that behaviour.
Assuming it's a chemical fuel, then nuclear reactions should be much, much better power sources in terms of energy released. I recall that the idea was mooted for andasium burning to be comparable to nuclear power but that didn't seem remotely realistic to me. So as to its energy density: more than fossil fuels, a lot less than uranium. Alas I cannot be more specific from the information I recall.
The advantages of andasium over nuclear are instead in terms of convenience: no radiation shielding required, no reactor more complicated than an internal combustion engine. One could come up with cases where this convenience is good for a story: say, someone marooned on a planet somewhere can perhaps throw a chunk of ansite onto a fire more easily than they can utilise a tokamak. Economically? No, I'm not sure it's worth it.
The possibility of synthesising ansite is mentioned on the andasium page. The idea that it's more profitable to extract it from space environments than to synthesise it... I don't know about that. Can it really take less energy than it does to move mining ships around? But as these things have never been quantified there's never been any strong movivation to say no.
Finally, the most important question: is it canon? Well, it's never been officially decanonised. It's mentioned in some places: Special:WhatLinksHere/Fiction:Andasium. It could probably be removed from canon without much difficulty if there was widespread community agreement but for now it's there.
So... Why not just use hydrocarbons (or actinides; they are in short supply too) if that was the point anyways? Hydrocarbons also come in solid (e.g. hexacontane), liquid (e.g. octane), and gaseous (e.g. methane) forms.
And what about RTGs? They are easy to use too, and can run on some types of nuclear waste! (I am looking at you, Strontium-90!)
Why use space oil instead of actual oil if we're just going to compromise and make the two comparable in energy output? ...I don't remember. I guess ansite must be a significantly more energy-dense, and it should be easier to extract andasium from nebulae and asteroids than it is to extract oil from a gravity well. Planets where hydrocarbons are plentiful presumably do burn them when pollution isn't a worry; this at least is known in canon.
Why use space oil instead of RTGs? I guess I must have just not thought of them back in 2015. We certainly didn't do a cost-benefit analysis to compare them. It's worth noting that andasium's creator really did want space oil...
Okay, I have an idea: Andasium (for clarity Ubh-310, which is probably the best candidate isotope as it is doubly magic and therefor probably stable) has two nuclear isomers: Ubh-310 and Ubh-310m. Ubh-310 is stable, as it is doubly magic (Z = 126, N = 184). However, Ubh-310 and Ubh310m have an energy difference of something like 18.73eV, so at high temperatures detectable amounts of Ubh-310m form, according to the Boltzmann distribution. The reaction between the two only takes a few minutes, as does the fissioning of Ubh310-m into Pb-208 and Ru-102, which releases 125.6 TJ/kg of energy, 50% more than most actinides. As the temperature controls the equilibrium, it controls the rate of fissioning as well. The element does not form in dying stars, but in the Gnocchi phase of the nuclear pasta layers of neutron stars, and it is sprayed out when they collide.
Come to think of it, since Ubh-310 is doubly magic, 125.6 TJ/kg would probably be a little much, probably more like 105 or something.
Also, I just realized that above a certain temperature the Ubh-310 would react extremely quickly, further increasing the temperature until it turned into a nuclear bomb. I guess if the Ubh-310/Ubh-310m equilibrium were to happen over microsecond timescales, but the Ubh-310m spontaneous fission were to happen over months or years it would work, and have a maximum temperature where almost half of the material was Ubh-310m...
OKAY, to maintain output at <10MW/kg for all temperatures, at 105 TJ/kg for spontanious fission, the half-life of Ubh-310m should be 42.118 days. That would also give the material time to cool down after the neutron star merger that created it. However, an energy density of 105 TJ/kg would mean that 1,000 trillion kilotons per day (top civilizations in the list on the andasium page would be burning it at 12,150 solar luminosities, which somehow seems implausible to me....
If this theory is correct, then for scale purposes the "t" in the trillion kilotons per day should be changed to an "m" for million kilotons per day to compensate for the power difference.
DISCLAIMER: This is just a theory; it may not be correct or plausible.
Most people don't use the forums but a lot of people do use the Discord. Additionally, when there are few people who use andasium in their fiction, you could ask them all directly. However, I don't think there's any real point in trying to decanonise it.
By "spent" ansite, you mean ansite that's been combusted, so presumably some oxidised andasium compound? Nothing's been written on the properties of andasium itself, so we don't have anything that we can say it would be useful for. As written there's no indication that it has any noteworthy value. In fact, the page goes so far as to unrealistically state that andasium is "destroyed" after combustion. Since ansite is burned in such huge quantities the supply will be so large that presumably the waste products of combustion will be extremely cheap unless they have some unique purpose.
Okay, that makes sense. I still wish that there was a reliable value for its energy density.
Ununoctium has a predicted covalent radius of 157 pm, so Ubh 8+ cation should have an ionic radius of 152 pm. If these eight electrons come off very easily, they could be excluded from the calculation. Oxide ions have an ionic radius of 126 pm, so the distance between the two ions would be 283 pm. If the crystal structure is similar to MnF4, then all of the bonds would have the same length and could be analyzed separately. This would yield 31.42 MJ/mol electrical potential energy from the ions moving together. The first two electon affinities of oxygen are +140 and -744 kJ/mol, leading to 2.42 MJ/mol compound to be absorbed, and 1.00 MJ/mol would be spend breaking apart the oxygen molecules.
Assuming ideal properties for Ubh (which is supposedly andasium), we get a chemical energy of 74.87 MJ/kg (assuming molecular weight of UbhO4 of 374). Luckily, this chemical energy is better than everything except diborane and hydrogen, diborane is violently explosive, and hydrogen is low density compared to Ubh's predicted >20g/cm^3 (This density is also a plausible reason why andasium would be better than oil.).
As such, I propose that the energy of burning andasium be set at 74.87 MJ/kg. What do you think of my proposal?
Your ideas seem good to me. I've asked in a couple of places on Discord if there's anyone else with an interest in the technical details of andasium who might want to comment. Otherwise then I think it'll be okay for you to add them to the page.
Oh, I just realized that if being burned in an oxygen atmosphere, the oxygen would not count for the energy density, so 90.33 MJ/kg. Better even than diborane!
Although the molecular weight would make it a horrible rocket fuel. Andasium combustion thermal rockets, maybe? No, nuclear thermal would be both easier and better, and probably everyone has fusion engines.
I don't actually remember the exact steps of joining Discord but I'm fairly sure it's not complicated. Either go to discord.com and go from there, or I think you can just click "connect" in the Discord widget that appears in the top right-hand part of this website which should take you straight to the SporeWiki server.
By the way, is it okay to send every user with a fiction that uses andasium a pre-written message notifying them of the possible technical rewrite? I just wanted to make sure that it would not violate SporeWiki policy. There were about a dozen users involved with andasium, so I thought that it would be easier to write a message (which is in my sandbox currently) and send a copy to everyone involved. Is this okay?
Okay, I have another random question: I read the article on the DCP, and then the article on hyperspace, and I was wondering whether extremely fast sublight travel using warp bubbles not lowered into hyperspace was canon in the fiction universe.
Also, would a lack of good computers (on par with 1990s humanity) be a plausible reason for a high-energy civilization never discovering hyperspace?
I don't believe they're non-canon. I don't recall them having been properly introduced into the fiction universe but I also don't think it's necessarily problematic to include them.
...Maybe? Are you thinking of anything specific there? Poor computing power might hurt scientific progress in a lot of ways, but since we don't know how hyperspace is supposed to be discovered in the first place, it's not necessarily obvious which - if any - might be applicable.
The Nivenian Empire is sublight only, and need to stay that way for balance reasons (To make them work, I needed a population >10^17). When I read the hyperspace page, I saw that it said that civilizations probing the planck energy tend to discover it: "The typical path of utilizing hyperspace is that a civilization begins to prototype hyperspatial technology when it is able to produce particles with energies approaching the Planck energy... " ("Hyperspace"). At this point I realized that I needed some random roadblock for the Nivenian Empire. I thought up a political roadblock very early on in the empire's creation: Political pressure keeps others from giving them hyperspace drives. Now I realized that another roadblock was needed, as they have kugelblitz reactors under development and the output of a star at their disposal.
Lack of computing was a possibility here, and I was wondering whether this could plausibly be an insurmountable roadblock to development of any hyperspace technologies.
Right; when I asked "are you thinking of anything specific", I forgot to be specific. I meant any specific ideas for what would make computing power a necessary ingredient, and why this hasn't hindered development in other places where the Nivenian Empire has made progress.
Reading their page, they do have very capable computers but they're also very large. So I suppose a concept might be that they can do plentiful science with them but they can't install them on spaceships, so... if hyperdrives need lots of computing power then their ships can't use hyperdrives.
A standard idea for this would be that you need to calculate your route in advance so you don't fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova or something like that. However, for travel between nearby systems (instead of across half the galaxy) these shouldn't need to be rapidly updated in-flight so, given how incredibly useful FTL travel is, you'd think that their big ground-based computers might be turned to hyperspace calculations (for at least some special missions) and the results transmitted to a hyperdrive-capable ship in advance of flight.
Okay, thank you for your response! I just had the idea that perhaps the accretion disc of their star might have a weird effect on hyperdrives that are not finely calibrated. That way, empires that have already invented hyperdrives can still come and go, but actual R&D on hyperspace technology might not work due to the X-ray radiation.
As an example of how this could work, let us consider the Longshot from the ringworld novel. This ship was an experimental device used to test the new "Quantum II Hyperdrive," which was a kilometer in diameter, but the non-hperdrive portions of the ship were tiny. One would suspect that experimental hyperdrives and other hyperspace technology could be so sensitive to ionizing radiation that they had to be heavily insulated. For mature hyperdrives this would not be a problem, but experimental ones would not be able to move the insulation material.
As the Nivenia System has a white dwarf with an accretion disc in it (which is in all likelihood emitting X-rays like crazy), it might be the least conducive place to hyperspace development for hundreds of light-years around.
Furthermore, the Nivenian Empire would probably have experimented with the concept of hyperspace hundreds of years ago, and centuries of failure could have lead to hyperspace being deemed a "crackpot idea." If your theory about computational needs for hyperspace travel is correct too, that would create a further hindrance to progress. When all of these factors combine, conditions could be so incredibly unoptimal for the development of FTL in the Nivenia System that research might not occur even when there are hyperdrive-equipped ships constantly going in and out of the system on trade routes.
This is all speculation, but I think that some combination of our ideas could achieve a result like this.
The problem with combining this with the idea that I suggested is that the idea that I suggested isn't actually convincing. Even talking in broad terms, if hyperspace-capable vehicles need advanced computers on them then the Nivenians are stuck anyway (radiation issues are moot); if they don't then we still don't have an explanation for how a lack of computing power could be a problem (given that the Nivenians do still have enough total computing power to do other important sciencey things).
You do nevertheless have an idea that could work on its own: ionising radiation disrupts hyperdrive development. We could probably come up with various ideas for exactly why (e.g. understanding hyperspace in enough detail requires precision measurements that are easily disturbed), so we don't necessarily have a problem in terms of lacking specifics.
There is, however, a potential consistency issue, in that the edgiest planet in the universe should also have suffered from this disruption but I don't believe there's any sign of this in canon. I can imagine that hyperdrive development in a highly ionising environment might be possible with some clever workarounds and the Drakodominatus simply managed to come up with these through random chance or sheer bloody-mindedness.
Okay, I might have a solution for Demogorgon Prime:
The surface temperature of a neutron star is ~200,000 K
While this gives off a lot of vacuum-UV (peak would be 14.49 nm), X-rays would be uncommon.
As for the solar storms:
"Solar storms are some of the most feared features of Demogorgon Prime. They periodically occur and bathe the planet in what would be considered by other species to be lethal doses of radiation" - Okay, so they PERIODICALLY occur.
The accretion disc around the white dwarf would undergo so much friction that it could easily start to undergo nuclear fusion, giving it a temperature of 20 million kelvin plus, and the peak frequency would be 144.9 pm, well into the soft X-ray portion of the spectrum, and emitting lots of hard X-rays as well.
Note: X-rays do a lot more damage than UV. Vacuum UV can strip several electrons off of an atom, but even soft X-rays will knock every electron off in most cases.
Conclusion: While Nivenia Prime in the Nivenia System has all of the right temperatures and chemicals for life, and its thick atmosphere protects it from the effects of being tidally locked and shifts some of the nastier frequencies down to "soft" UV or even visible through fluorescence, the space around it where things like hyperdrives would be tested is even nastier than the Demogorgon System.
On a side note, the Nivenians developed ringworlds, which could have made hyperdrive research unnecessary and thus underfunded for long enough to make it be considered a worthless endeavor by the Nivenian scientific community.