The Star Wars Galaxy

I am sure it is every Star Wars fan’s dream for the Star Wars Galaxy to be a reality! Imagine the possibilities; thousands of species that could share information; millions of fantastical worlds that you could visit in a matter of hours or days; ability to use “the force” to move a lightsabre from one end of a table to the other! The possibilities are endless! But, alas, it is not to be…or is it? Did George Lucas pluck this fantasy galaxy entirely from his own masterful mind or, did he take inspiration from something closer to home; something from reality?

The known galaxy: an accurate impression of how the Milky way ought to look from outside. (Image credit: via wikimedia.org)

The known galaxy: an accurate impression of how the Milky way ought to look from outside. (Image credit: via wikimedia.org)

 

On closer inspection there seems to be some striking resemblances between the fictional Galaxy of Star Wars to our very own home galaxy, the Milky Way so let’s break the characteristics of them both down and compare the reality with the fantasy!

Size is always a good place to start when comparing two objects, and with these two galaxies we are talking about huge numbers. The Star Wars Galaxy measures 120 000 light years across and here is where we see the first similarity between the two milieus . The Milky Way galaxy measures quite similar in size between 100 000 to 120 000 light years in diameter but due to the limitations of technology in reality we cannot be as definite about its exact size. The type of both galaxies is slightly different with the Milky Way defined as a barred spiral Galaxy and with observation the Star Wars galaxy resembling a normal spiral galaxy.  A striking similarity though is age! Using globular clusters and the oldest stars in our galaxy we can try and determine and estimate the age of the Milky Way which has been placed to be about 13.2 billion years old, nearly as old as the Universe itself which is, at the moment, estimated to be about 13.7 billion years old. So again with the Milky Way we are dealing with estimates but with the Star Wars galaxy we can be more definite. Although Lucas may have taken inspiration from our own galaxy to add to the realism of the franchise with the Star Wars galaxy being the ripe old age of 13 billion years, just 0.2 billion years off our own Milky Way.

"A vast sea of stars": Globular cluster M13 (image credit: via wikimedia.org)

“A vast sea of stars”: Globular cluster M13 (image credit: via wikimedia.org)

 

Within the composition of the Galaxies we can find many similarities and many drastic differences. It seems Lucas wanted to achieve both individualism yet realism when he created the Star wars Galaxy, or maybe he just didn’t want to create full on galaxy plagiarism! Both galaxies contain stars, globular clusters and a very interesting centre to the galaxies. The Milky Way is estimated to have roughly 150 known globular clusters. Globular clusters contain some of the oldest stars in the galaxy and even the universe and are almost always found in the Halo around the Galaxy. The Star Wars galaxy had the number of globular clusters residing within it bumped up to 200 globular clusters, keeping the amount believable yet slightly different from the Milky Way.

The Star Wars galaxy (Image credit: via wikimedia.org)

The Star Wars galaxy (Image credit: via wikimedia.org)

 

The key area at the centre of the Milky Way is very mysterious but scientists have a theory that there is a supermassive black hole lurking there and in this we can see another similarity between the Milky Way and the Star Wars Galaxy, although this may not be so surprising as it is believed at the centre of every galaxy there is a supermassive black hole. The Star Wars galaxy is a little different, or maybe we can find a flaw in that it is just a black hole at the centre of the Star Wars Galaxy which may be a little too weak to control a whole galaxy similar in size and composition as the Milky Way galaxy? But that is the joy in fiction and maybe, as Obi-Wan Kenobi stated, it’s the force that ‘binds the galaxy together.’

With regards to the amount of stars in the Star Wars Galaxy they can obviously be much more definite in the number of 400 billion stars but inspiration had to come from somewhere. The Milky Way cannot be so definite in its answer with many issues plaguing astronomer’s attempts to give a more finite estimate than what we have, which is the belief there is between 100 – 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. The reason for such a huge range depends on the number of low mass stars or dwarf stars. These stars are difficult to spot as they mostly emit infrared radiation. This in turn leads to the question of how many of these stars in both galaxies have planets that could support life?  With the Milky Way this is an extremely difficult question. Astronomers believe that there are as many planets, if not more, as there are stars in the Milky Way, but the number of habitable planets (those that fall within the ‘goldilocks zone’ of a star system) could range from 60 billion to 100 billion. Now of these planets how many could actually develop life? That is the hard question as yes, there may be the conditions to support life but how many actually would?  At least with this question we can get many more answers in the Star Wars Galaxy and the logic to the breakdown of how many planets have life in this fictional world is quite scientific. It had a higher possibility of life forming on other worlds as it boasted 180 billion planets that could support life.  Lucas came up with the formula that 10 per cent of these planets actually did develop life and only 1/1000 of these developed intelligent life, so sentient life appeared on about 18 million worlds. The final population of the galactic empire was at more than 100 quadrillion beings which completely dwarfs the Milky Way as, from our current knowledge and exploration, there is only one actual planet we know of that has any form of life; Earth! And if we compare our known population to the Star Wars galaxy our miniscule population of 7 billion sentient beings is quite pitiful compared to it.

Now there are a few quite massively differential points that completely sever the ties between the galaxies, the big one being space travel. The reason given for the ability to achieve faster-than-light travel was a disturbance in hyperspace outside of the Star Wars galaxy which allowed travel from one star system to occur in a matter of hours or days allowing for a galaxy wide nation to form as opposed to our worldwide nation. But who knows if the possibility of this type of travel exists in the real world as not even the scientists of Star Wars fully understand this amazing phenomenon. In our Universe we do believe the vast space is mostly made up from ‘dark matter’ and in this instance maybe that is a similarity as our scientists are still very unsure of what exactly dark matter is either. Could it be something that could be harnessed like ‘hyperspace’ and allow faster-than-light space travel or could it be more like the ‘force,’ something that surrounds us and is in everything around us?

Well it is obvious George Lucas took a lot of inspiration from his home galaxy to create the much loved Star Wars galaxy and maybe that is why it has appealed to so many, because of those little facts that share so much with reality. It may be that it gives some people hope that someday we could very well discover faster space travel and new worlds and civilisations. It may give hope that one day we could manipulate dark matter just like Jedis do the Force! Just imagine the possibilities; saving people from burning buildings, stopping a bullet with just the mind and for me, levitating toast from the toaster to the plate! Ah one can only dream…for the time being!

(Article by Kerry Scullion, Education Support Officer)