The two Star franchises (Wars and Trek) and countless science fiction movies have given generations of armchair space travelers an idea of what to expect when looking out the window of a spaceship making the jump to light speed. But it appears these views are – if you’ll excuse the pun – a bit warped. Four students from the University of Leicester have used Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity to calculate what Han and Chewie would actually see as they made the jump to hyperspace.

The fourth year physics students – Riley Connors, Katie Dexter, Joshua Argyle, and Cameron Scoular – say that the crew wouldn’t see star lines stretching out past the ship during the jump to hyperspace, but would actually see a central disc of bright light. This is due to the Doppler effect, specifically the Doppler blue shift, that results in the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, shortening as the source of the light moves towards the observer.

What University of Leicester physics students suggest hyperspace travel would really look like (Image: University of Leicester)

As the spaceship makes the jump to hyperspace, the wavelength of the light from the stars would shift out of the visible spectrum into the X-ray range. Meanwhile, Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR), which is thermal radiation that is spread fairly uniformly across the universe and is thought to be left over from the Big Bang, would shift into the visible spectrum, appearing to the crew as a central disc of bright light.

“If the Millennium Falcon existed and really could travel that fast, sunglasses would certainly be advisable,” said Connors. “On top of this, the ship would need something to protect the crew from harmful X-ray radiation.”

Taking their investigations one step further, the students calculated that, despite being the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon would also need to pack some extra energy to overcome the pressure exerted from the intense X-rays from stars that would push the ship back and cause it to slow down. The students say the pressure exerted on the ship would be comparable to that felt at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

“Perhaps Disney should take the physical implications of such high speed travel into account in their forthcoming films,” said Dexter, referring to the fact that Disney last year bought Lucasfilm for US$4.05 billion and plans to add to the Star Wars franchise with another trilogy.

That appears unlikely, not only because it would break with the precedent set by the existing movies, but because star lines look a hell of a lot cooler than a disc of light.

The students’ paper can be downloaded here (PDF)

View gallery - 2 images