To paraphrase a beloved Jedi, that's no moon — but it's one step closer: the upcoming "Star Wars" movie promises a weaponized enemy base carved from an ice planet.
The Death Star might be Space.com's favorite version of an alien megastructure, and with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" just a month away, it looks like there might yet be another variation.
The movie's creators have been judicious with the details they dole out: Occasional interviews reveal a few character tidbits, and fans have caught intriguing glimpses in the movie's many trailers. And then there are the posters — where a giant sphere with a nasty-looking laser looms larger than everybody but the new villain, Kylo Ren. ["Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Photos]
Although it doesn't have a photo yet on the official "Star Wars" encyclopedia entry, this is almost certainly the "Starkiller Base," which is an ice planet converted into a stronghold for the militant First Order. (Fun fact: Starkiller was an original alternative for Luke's name.)
However you might feel about (what looks like) yet another Death Star, this is a decent idea for raining down destruction compared with its predecessors. The pre-existing planet cuts down on what must be a colossal material requirement (the White House estimated a Death Star would cost $850 quadrillion, in an unusual response to a petition demanding its construction); namely, a giant drilling job rather than massive metal imports. Plus, while in construction the base would have to maintain some natural defenses to prevent an early attack.
And as for the Starkiller claim — you might not have to kill a star to take out a star system, just heat it up a lot. When stars reach the temperatures needed to fuse carbon in their cores, the force of the reaction causes them to balloon outward to reach 100 to 1,000 times the sun's size, engulfing any planets too close in (when it happens to the sun, Earth might make the cut) and throwing the rest out of kilter. This usually happens when a star runs out of hydrogen to fuse and condenses down, boosting the temperature enough to start the carbon-fusing process — but it could happen with a large input of energy as well. Hopefully, Starkiller can stay far enough away to avoid the massive heat wave.
Whether moviegoers witness any actual "starkilling" or not, the Starkiller Base should prove an interesting twist on the old Death Star theme — who knows what weaknesses its icy shell might conceal.
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Sarah Lewin started writing for Space.com in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.