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How To Destroy A Galaxy

We’re not sure if you’ve heard, but Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out this week. It has an incredible cast and an unbelievably thrilling tale of derring-do, but the real stand-out star of the movie is, without a doubt, that infamous, moon-sized battle station.

Ever since those striking images of the Death Star appeared in the initial trailers, fans around the world could practically not stop salivating. As the ambitious director Orson Krennic notes to the looming figure of Darth Vader at one point, “the power we are dealing with here is immeasurable.”

Actually, for someone who was in charge of constructing the weapon of (super)massive destruction in the first place, saying it’s power is “immeasurable” doesn’t sound particularly scientific. So, because we are enormous geeks, we’ve decided to crunch the numbers for you. Warning: small spoilers may follow.

Destroying a City

Not quite planet-destroying yet. Star Wars via YouTube

The Death Star in Rogue One is not yet complete. At the beginning of the movie, it has not yet been affixed with its planet-destroying power by the Oppenheimer-like figure of Galen Erso. At one point in the trailers, it appears to fire its superlaser down onto the surface of a planet, causing a lot of damage but not destroying it.

So how much energy would its superlaser need to carry to destroy, say, a city? Let’s take Washington D.C. as an example. Say the Death Star positioned itself directly above it and fired down to the surface right at the geographic center of the city. What would be sufficient to level everything from the White House to the Pentagon?

We’ll use the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, as a benchmark. This weapon was the explosive equivalent of 50 Megatons of TNT. According to Nuclear Secrecy’s calculations, if detonated at the surface of Washington D.C., it would create a fireball just over 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) across, and would engulf an area of 113 square kilometers (44 square miles).

This would require 2.1 x 1017 joules of energy to be released by the superlaser, roughly that released in a 9.0M earthquake.

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