Gravity has often been used as a weapon in comics and video games. It has also been used in a few big movies, but could we actually use gravity as a weapon?
To answer that question, I need to go into what gravity is, both on the macro level and on the micro level.
On the macro level, gravity is a force that pulls two objects with mass towards each other. It’s a force that can warp space and time. It’s the force that keeps us firmly planted on earth. It’s the force that keeps the planets orbiting around the sun. It’s also the force that helps give the sun its energy. Gravity is a big deal.
However, gravity is weak compared to the other natural forces. How much weaker? A simple test shows that magnetism is much stronger when a small and weak magnet can pull a paper clip and easily overpower the force of gravity.
To help you understand just how weak gravity is I will make a simple comparison. For this comparison, I need to change the force to something visual. So if the weak nuclear force is a rock that fits in your hand, then the strong nuclear force is Mount Everest. That is a big difference, however, it is nothing compared to the difference between the strong nuclear force and gravity. If gravity were a single atom then the strong nuclear force would be roughly the size of the visible universe.
Gravity is only a noticeable force when you are within proximity of a very massive object. If it were not for the planets and the moon, we may not have any idea that this force actually exists.
Things get a little more complicated when we scale things down to the micro level. Brace yourself. Things are about to get heavy.
According to String Theory, gravity is created by a particle or wave called a graviton (not proven). There is some debate as to whether it is a particle or a wave, quantum physics says that it’s possible for it to exist as both.
Graviton particles are shared freely between matter as well as trans dimensionally. In string theory, there are two types of strings. Open strings make up most of the matter in the universe. Each open string has a D-brane at each end, which acts as an anchor to the other matter around it. This stops matter from moving between dimensions.
However, it is theorized that gravitons are made of closed strings, which don’t have D-branes. Without D-branes, the graviton can move freely between dimensions. If this is the case, then we might have an explanation why gravity is so weak. It might not actually be weak at all, but rather sharing that force between more than one dimension.
Before I go any further, when I say dimension, I don’t mean another universe. I strictly mean the dimensions in which we exist. We have three very common dimensions (up and down, left and right, and forwards and back) and a fourth dimension that is a little harder to grasp (time). This fourth dimension simply states were the other three dimensions are at a given point of time.
If you have watched Stranger Things on Netflix they discuss an actual physics theory and give it a science fiction twist, the acrobat, and the flea. An acrobat can move back and forth on a tight rope but that is all, a flee on the other hand can move all around the rope allowing the flea to move in another dimension.
It’s possible that gravitons can move among an infinite number of small dimensions.
It is unlikely, however, that we will be able to prove the existence gravitons. So manipulating them is very unlikely. Because the force of gravity is so weak, any attempt to study it on a micro level fails because the force appears to simply disappear before any real information can be gathered.
So if we can’t control gravity on the micro level, maybe we should just stick to the macro level.
The simplest way to change gravity is by adding or removing mass. Would it be possible for us to change something’s mass to weaponize it?
The Law of Conservation of Mass says that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. What they fail to teach about this law in basic physics classes is that mass can not be created from or destroyed into nothing (is that correct grammar?). Under controlled tests, scientists have been able to create small amounts of matter by forcing high amounts of light together. Light is a wave and by all intents massless.
When it comes to destroying mass it is a little easier to understand. When you burn wood energy is released as heat. The ash has less mass than the wood did. So if there is less mass after burning then some of that mass was converted into energy.
So, is it possible that we could use a high amount of energy to increase the mass of an object? Well… We could potentially use a very high amount of energy to increase the mass of an object, but it would take more energy than we can currently harness. Also, the amount of increased mass would be so little that it wouldn’t affect the gravitational pull between objects in any noticeable manner.
So creating and using a gravity gun like one found in Half-Life 2 isn’t possible with our current understanding of physics.
Could we create some form of artificial gravity and use that as a weapon? Using centrifugal force, we can simulate gravity. Imagine holding a bucket of water while spinning in place. As you spin faster and faster the bucket will rise up to be horizontal with the ground and the water will stay inside. The force keeping the water in the bucket is centrifugal force.
Centrifugal force can be used on spaceships and space stations to simulate gravity. The larger the station in size the slower it would have to rotate to generate the force. In the movie 2001 a Space Odyssey, the space station is three hundred meters in diameter and rotates once every sixty seconds. Simple math would prove that this would provide enough force to be equal to the gravity felt on our moon. In order for it to feel like the gravity of earth, it would have to rotate once every twenty-four seconds.
It would be possible to create a system that spun around in circles that we could put someone in for the purpose of killing them, but that type of weapon is probably too convoluted, even for a classic Bond villain.
In the 2009 Star Trek movie, we were introduced to red matter. Red matter is a fictional material that could create a singularity or points where matter becomes infinitely dense.
The way I would assume red matter works is by somehow compacting all matter that it comes in contact with in a mini black hole. The problem with this idea is that even if it could take a large amount of mass and create a singularity out of it, the gravitational force would still be the same because the amount of mass would be the same, just condensed.
However, we saw two distinct cases where the red matter behaved differently in the movie. First, Spock’s ship and the Romulan ship were moved through the fourth dimension completely intact. But when a small amount of the Red matter was introduced to Volcan, the planet imploded into a black hole.
If I were looking at this at a scientifically oriented point of view, logically I would assume that there were unknown variables that changed the outcomes of both uses of the red matter.
But one thing is certain. If the red matter operated within our known universe then there wasn’t enough mass on the planet of Vulcan to create a black hole. In addition, when the red matter was released on Nero’s ship, there wouldn’t be enough mass to destroy the ship.
So, either the writers were lazy and didn’t take the time to study the effects of singularities (WHICH IS THE CASE!) or the red matter used forces in physics that are unknown to us.
Even though the idea of using gravity as a weapon is a fun idea to toy around with in science fiction, there is no known way that it would be a reliable tool.
There is so much that we do not know about gravity, but who knows what the future holds.
Before I’m done with gravity I want to mention two things. The first is something that really upset me and triggered me to write this article. The second is a recommendation.
So, a month back the wife and I watched Independence Day: Resurgence. In this movie Doctor Ian Malcolm (I know that’s a different movie) finds himself on the moon when the mother ship fly’s overhead.
I don’t know the exact size of the mother ship, however, as it flew over the characters on the moon it picked them and other objects up. There was a throwaway line where one of the characters said it had its own gravity.
Images from an Internet search shows this ship having a larger diameter than the moon, however, the ship was flat. It also would have to be somewhat hollow to allow for the aliens to be inside. THERE IS NO WAY this ship had the mass required to pick objects up off of the surface of the moon.
Sorry about that.
Last, I wanted to leave you with a recommendation for a comic that has been running daily for seventeen years now. Schlock Mercenary is a comic written by Howard Tayler about a rag tag group of mercenaries in space. The reason I bring this up is that just about everything in the Schlock Mercenary universe is powered by gravy. Gravy is the slang term for technology that controls gravity. The comic is amazing and Howard is an amazing human who I have met and talked to in person.
Check his comic out here…