What’s New In Pew Pew Pew: Solar Death Ray
Hello, and welcome to “What’s New In Pew Pew Pew”, where we bring you all the latest on futuristic and oddball weaponry.
This week we present Eric Jacqmain. The 19-year-old amateur scientist from Indiana in the United States posted a video on YouTube in which he claims to have created a “solar death ray” that unleashes “the power of 5000 suns” upon any object.
“The R5800 is my latest and greatest solar creation,” Jacqmain says. “When properly aligned, it can generate a spot the size of a dime with an intensity of 5000 times normal daylight. This intensity of light is more than enough to melt steel, vaporize aluminum, boil concrete, turn dirt into lava, and obliterate any organic material in an instant.”
Jacqmain’s ‘death ray’ is made from a 42-inch fibreglass satellite dish covered in around 5800 1cm mirror tiles, and mounted on a trolley. The video certainly shows it “ready for destruction”, very… slowly… burning impressive coin-sized holes in wood, metal, concrete and rock. But in an amusingly ironic twist, it was destroyed in a fire in December 2010.
As those sages at the Sydney Morning Herald pondered, “The project demonstrates how much power the sun can generate if you have the right tools to harness it.”
It’s not especially original. It’s basically a parabolic mirror – the same kind that is used to light the Olympic flame every four years. Large-scale solar furnaces, such as the one at Odeillo in the French Pyrenees, can be put to various industrial uses.
But due to its slowness to reach its maximum temperature, and its reliance on fair weather conditions, it is not really a reliably death-bringing power, so you can’t really call it a ‘death ray’.
For millennia, humankind has yearned to harness the power of the elements to bring annihilation upon its enemies, and feared the same ineffable power from its gods. Zeus’s lightning bolt, Thor’s hammer, the spear of Hindu god Indra and, of course, the Ark of the Covenant, are all mighty purveyors of pew pew pew.
Ancient philosopher Archimedes claimed to have set fire to attacking Roman ships during the siege of Syracuse in 212 BC using a mirrored device, but while his theory is generally regarded to be sound, both Barack Obama and the Mythbusters and a team of MIT engineers agree that it’s too capricious and unwieldy to have worked in battle conditions.
Also, as Becky Ferreira entertainingly points out at The Awl, if Archimedes’ death ray had actually worked it would have led to an arms race in the ancient world that would have fundamentally reshaped the history of military technology.
By the 1920s, various ‘mad scientists’ were claiming to have developed energy beams of various destructive magnitudes. In 1923, Harry Grindell-Matthews claimed to have invented a device that could “put magnetos out of action,” had tried to sell it to the British Air Ministry, but was unable (or unwilling) to give top brass a realistic demonstration of its awesome power.
A year later, the New York Times reported that American inventor Edwin R Scott’s “lightning device” could “bring down planes at a distance”. Despite the US military’s tantalising hints that UV beams were involved, Scott explicitly said, “There is no ray or beam about it”, preferring to dub it the “death stroke” or “canned lightning”.
In 1934, Cleveland inventor Antonio Longoria claimed the gruesome ability to kill pigeons, rabbits, dogs and cats at a distance of up to four miles. His vaunted death ray could even kill a mouse that had been enclosed in a thick-walled metal chamber.
Nikola Tesla spent 40-odd years perfecting his ‘teleforce’ weapon, but could never get it financed. His theory involved a high-voltage current to accelerate mercury or tungsten particles so they formed a concentrated “death beam” of tiny projectiles. As reported in the New York Times, Tesla believed this could destroy “a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 250 miles.”
The poignancy of these early death-beam pioneers, of course, is that their dreams of the ultimate deterrent against war foreshadowed the rhetoric that would surround nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Longoria planned to unveil his invention only when the US was threatened with invasion – curiously, come Pearl Harbor it was not on the table – while Tesla was sadly out of the loop on the Manhattan Project, dying in poverty in 1943.
Discounting the US Strategic Defense Initiative, much-derided as “Star Wars”, death ray development has since languished. Despite their use in cosmetic surgery and eyesight improvement, “lasers” have never been practical in battle situations, except for targeting purposes. Like the parabolic mirrors of old, they rely on focusing light through a delicate sequence of high-precision mirrors and windows.
However, Pentagon-funded researchers at Northrop Grumman have created garnet crystal-based “laser amplifier chains” that can create 105 kilowatts of power. (A hundred kilowatts is generally regarded as the threshold of battlefield-strength lasers.) This weapon is currently in testing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where top-secret military technology (and, allegedly, retrofitted alien technology) is put through its paces.
Slightly scarier are microwave-based weapons, which heat up the water in human cells to cause excruciating pain, incapacitation and even death. Alarmingly, the US military is already using microwave-based stun devices for riot and policing situations, despite suggestions that they could cause lasting cell damage.
Meanwhile, Eric Jacqmain works towards his next solar death ray…
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