Star Trek has been known to introduce futuristic technology that has become reality. For instance, hand held computers called PADDs are eerily similar to modern I-Pads. Transponders are like modern flip phones. Laser weapons, androids and handheld ultrasound were science fiction brought to reality. Maybe photon torpedoes are next.
Four students at the University of Leicester in the U.K. have calculated what would be needed to build realistic photon torpedoes.
Photon torpedoes have been standard weaponry equipment on Federation starships since 2215, according to Star Trek lore. They fire at warp speed and contain packets of matter and antimatter in a detonation chamber that, when detonated, interacts with normal matter to release huge amounts of deadly energy, causing a major explosion.
In the real world, antimatter (molecules formed by atoms consisting of antineutrons, antiprotons, the opposite of normal matter with reversed electrical charge) is a mystery. Stable antimatter is thought to not exist in the universe.
Star Trek’s fictional yield is based on 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of matter and antimatter.
The research team estimated that an electromagnetic cascade with the same energy release could be created. An electromagnetic cascade is the product of a particle shower when a high-energy particle hits some dense material.
To fit inside the 2.1 meter-long torpedo, the chain-reaction would require the use of a heavy transition metal like iron, lead or uranium as the dense material target.
The study states,
We use the working principle of an electromagnetic cascade as a source of matter/antimatter annihilation energy. We calculate the radiation length for the cascade in reference to the payload deliverable by the weapon in the series to infer the material vector for the weapon.
However, due to the scarcity of antimatter in our universe and the great practical difficulties involved in the synthetic production of such large quantities, we model the weapons with an electromagnetic cascade as a method of energy liberation. We investigate the promise of such a model and evaluate the material in which the torpedo should be comprised in order to release sufficient energy.
One issue, however was not addressed in the research. To ignite the photon torpedo, high-energy gamma rays or lasers would be necessary. These have yet to be developed.
For now, photon torpedoes work best in the new film “Star Trek and Beyond.”