This Week in Research: Darth Vader’s Childhood Home & the Soda Pop Comet

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mos_espa
Photo by Ralph Lorenz, courtesy the Planetary Society

Our condolences go out to Anakin Skywalker, whose boyhood home is about to be consumed by a giant sand dune. “Hold on!” you might be saying, “Anakin Skywalker is a fictional character!” True. But his home is real — or at least the set where the Star Wars franchise filmed his childhood is real — and it’s currently under threat by a giant, swiftly moving sand dune, according to a Johns Hopkins researcher.

George Lucas filmed Anakin Skywalker’s boyhood home at a set in Tunisia. (In the Star Wars canon, the town is called Mos Espa.) After the film, it became a major tourist site. But Johns Hopkins physicist Ralph Lorenz, who works at the Applied Physics Lab, has found that a massive, moving crescent of sand is swiftly bearing down on the cinematic city. Okay, “swiftly” is a relative term her — it’s moving 15 meters per year — but even at that slow pace, it’s already reached the outskirts of Mos Espa. The place where Lucas filmed Luke Skywalker wandering in the dunes for the first film was devoured by the desert years ago.

As the Johns Hopkins Hub notes, “Don’t underestimate the force (of dune migration).”
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comet_ison
Photo courtesy APL/NASA

Why is the comet above so darn fizzy? Scientists have been puzzling over the exact chemical make-up of the so-called soda pop comet for a while. And now, Johns Hopkins astronomers working with NASA technology think they may have an answer.

“We estimate ISON is emitting about 2.2 million pounds of what is most likely carbon dioxide gas and about 120 million pounds of dust every day,” said Carey Lisse of the APL. The comet, whose science-name is C/2012S1, is about three miles in diameter (“the size of a small mountain” the APL notes) and weighs between 7 billion and 7 trillion pounds.

The comet is currently nearing the sun; at its closest, it’ll pass within 724,000 miles on November 28, scientists predict. At that point, the sun’s heat may destroy it — but if not, it’ll be briefly visible in daylight and may glow as brightly as the moon. Keep your eyes peeled.



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