Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Exodus under the magnifying glass (2) - Cannons

In my previous article I started talking about the technologies in Exodus. Today I will continue with the Cannons.
The cannons in Exodus: Proxima Centauri

Particle beam weapons

Most of the cannons in science fiction are particle beam weapons. Compared to the technology of the far future, today's conventional weapons, including nuclear devices, would seem obsolete. The main reason behind this, in my opinion, is that the space ships of the future move fast enough to dodge any kind of conventional missile which needs to travel from the source to the target in a matter of seconds, minutes or hours. Just accounting for this and it starts to make sense why in most sci-fi movie, books or games the weapons are far beyond what we can touch today. However, there were already ongoing projects on Earth (and I mean especially the US Army) aimed at developing anti-ballistic particle beam weapons.

But what are particle beam weapons? According to Wikipedia, "a particle beam weapon uses a high-energy beam of atomic or subatomic particles (either photons or forms of charged particles) to damage the target by disrupting its atomic and/or molecular structure. A particle beam weapon is a type of directed-energy weapon, which directs energy in a particular and focused direction using particles with negligible mass."

Cannons in Exodus

The Phase Cannon is the basic ship-to-ship weapon in Exodus: Proxima Centauri and my source of inspiration for it was Star Trek. Without specifying what kind of particles it directs, the Phase Cannon outputs a beam of accelerated particles which can affect the structure of a target object or, if the object is shielded, disrupt the target shield. It is considered the oldest type of cannon, developed by the Centaurians several thousands years ago, using technologies which resemble those on 21st century Earth.

The Plasma Cannon is technically not a particle weapon. The 'design' is inspired by the coilgun technology, in which a projectile containing ferrous minerals is accelerated through a series of coils to reach a very high speed. The Plasma Cannon, is a two stages weapon. First, large particle accelerators heat up the plasma, confining it to a high pressure. Further, the projectile is accelerated to a relativistic velocity by lenses (or coils) which focus the plasma towards its target. This whole process is a combination of imagination and nowadays edge technologies, resulting in a large cannon, not very popular on Centaurian space ships, but quite inexpensive and a weapon of choice for some of the human factions.

The Solid-State Laser (SSL) Cannon is the pièce de résistance in the Centaurian weapons hall of fame.Let's admit it, we have all been fascinated with laser weapons since we were kids. I think everyone dreams of holding a lightsaber and impersonating a Jedi knight. 

I introduced the SSL Cannon to Exodus after having read about diode pumped solid state lasers. A laser is a device that emits highly coherent electromagnetic radiation through a process of optical amplification (Wikipedia) and it consists mainly of a light source and a gain medium. There are several types of gain media, from gas or water to solids. The solid-state lasers are both accurate and provide a large yield and weaponizing them is already becoming reality. In Exodus, the precious and rare Phasium crystals are used as a medium for generating high power laser beams, making these weapons both destructive and compact, easy to mount on any kind of space-ship.

The last and likely the most destructive weapon in the Centaurian arsenal is the Antimatter Cannon. I must confess there's little innovation here, you can find these cannons all kinds of sci-fi games or movies (e.g. Star Trek).

Antimatter is the 'material' made of antiparticles which are just like the 'normal' particles (same mass) but they have opposite charge and quantum spin. When matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate each other in an epic discharge of energy in forms of gamma rays and other particles and antiparticles. The resulting energy is equal to mc2. No wonder that we've been fantasizing about weaponizing antimatter, the destruction this kind of weapon could bring is beyond imagination. 

Humanity has succeeded to produce antiparticles since late 20th century, but in very small quantities and with a tremendous cost. Furthermore, the difficulty of storing antimatter is another concern. Several grams of antimatter would be necessary to reach the same yield as a nuclear weapon and this does not seem possible in the foreseeable future. So, we're left with the science fiction.

In Exodus: Proxima Centauri, the Centaurians have developed such a weapon, using some sort of magnetic fields to contain the antimatter. There is little to nothing known about this technology, other than the antimatter cannon can only be fired in the outer space in vacuum  otherwise it would react immediately and destroy the carrying ship.

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