so, about that jewish space laser…

An absurd conspiracy embraced by a GOP congresswoman would be funny if she wasn’t serious and if people knew more about how lasers and space solar really work.
orbital lasers

The first rule of Conspiracy Club is that every major event is a conspiracy, no matter how likely it was to have happened on its own. For tens of thousands of years, the American West had fires and droughts, especially California, so it would seem like a no-brainer that a large fire starting in the middle of a season where fires are most likely due to a lack of precipitation, heat, winds, and exacerbation of heat waves and droughts by climate change, would be expected. But if you ask conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and newly elected Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-4chan), the droughts were caused by Illuminati chemtrails and the fires were started by an orbital laser owned and operated by Jews.

Now, there’s a lot of unpack there, especially if you’re an ex-Soviet Jew living in California and had a front row seat to the state’s fires but let’s start with the basics. Orbital lasers are a staple of science fiction and at one point towards the end of the Cold War, both the U.S. and the USSR tried to build and launch them to stop incoming nuclear missiles, with plans to eventually make them offensive platforms. In the United States, they fell under the Strategic Defense Initiative, or the Star Wars program, among other interesting concepts, and were criticized as infeasible. The Soviet Union’s response was to launch the Polyus experiment using a rocket manufactured by a “truck factory” in my hometown. It failed shortly after launch.

Hold on a minute, you might be saying, space lasers couldn’t possibly be an absurd notion if two global superpowers tried to build them. But there’s a huge difference between Greene’s inane verbal diarrhea and actual orbital lasers since the planned weapons were intended to function in space and destroy enemy ICBMs and each other rather than fry surface targets with sci-fi death beams because while the former was very difficult, the latter was impossible. In order for a laser to do damage at meaningful distances, it has to be powered by incredible amounts of energy, especially since lasers diffuse following the inverse square law. It takes four times the power to damage a target twice as far and that’s just the start.

Floating hundreds of miles above Earth, a laser not only has to reach the surface in a cohesive beam, which will be difficult since the particles inside it will repel each other, but also deal with interference from air particles that will diffuse it further, draining its energy. Sci-fi spacecraft that fire lasers at each other across dozens of kilometers would need to provide tens of petawatts, or tens of quadrillions of watts, for each shot. That’s around three orders of magnitude more than we produce around the world today. Starting a fire on the planet below from the lowest altitude we could call space, the Karman Line resting 62 miles above our heads, would require crossing the 100 PW threshold and demand dedicated fusion reactors to pull off.

Interestingly enough, we do have multi-petawatt lasers today with the most powerful registering at right around 10 PW for millionths of a nanosecond. We use them to study the distortion of space and time at subatomic scales, create antimatter, and better understand particle physics in a high energy environment we think is similar to that seen immediately after the Big Bang. But their short firing time makes them horrible weapons because they can’t impart any significant energy to a target without having to maintain their output millions of billions of times longer than they’re able to today. They may deliver those femtosecond bursts for hours and you don’t want to get hit by one, but they’re not going to be mounted on a bomber any time soon.

space solar array

With this understanding of the physics and numbers involved in hand, let’s return to the claim Greene parroted with unholy zeal and look at the details. Her allegation centers around a pilot program for space solar power and giving absolutely no proof whatsoever, asks whether it’s possible an attempt to beam back energy from space resulted in a fire-starting laser burst. In short, no, absolutely not because the technology for beaming back power from space solar panels is still in its infancy and current Earth-bound demonstrators’ maximum output is on par with that of an Easy-Bake oven. A study by the Air Force on scaling them up enough to get a meaningful pulse of energy back is still being drafted.

While there are tests to launch and deploy solar panels in space in useful formations, how we access the power they harvest is a very different endeavor and will require us to concentrate the relatively weak beams we’ll get back using innovative designs, not absorb an orbital cannon’s blast and hope we don’t incinerate the receiving station. That wouldn’t be a safe, sane, or even physically plausible way to get power from space solar. Even if it was possible, the Outer Space Treaty prevents an array like that from being built without Russia, China, and the United States quickly shooting it down since all three have proven technology to destroy satellites if needed. Simply put, nothing in her rantings is remotely plausible.

And this prompts the question of why people actually believe these ludicrous ideas and repeat them as if they’re important insights. Obviously, the lack of education about lasers, too much popular science fiction informing worldviews, and a deep anger at, and suspicion of powers, that be in a world undergoing rapid, profound change play their parts. Weave enough accusations into a nefarious plot, ask a few leading questions, and voila, you’ve got yourself a conspiracy ready for countless ready and willing minds to believe. As for why Jews had to be dragged into this, well, to paraphrase from a certain wordsmith on Twitter, far right ethno-nationalists are Don Quixotes tilting at windmills and those windmills are almost always Jews.

Just like spoiled brats who decided that if they can’t win a game right away, they’ll take their ball and go home instead of learning how to play the game better, no matter how many people offer to help them learn, the global far right is busy furiously redrawing borders and demanding we erect walls to create cozy echo chambers, safe spaces, and Potemkin villages were they could pretend the world hasn’t changed and they are the pinnacle of human evolution by the virtue of being who they are. Seeing the world come together and throw out outdated concepts scares and infuriates them, which allows countless opportunists and grifters like Greene to feed them ever more absurd conspiracy theories for money, attention, and votes.

Just consider that using space solar may well become a collaborative global endeavor. Orbital solar panels could beam back their power to a single spot from geosynchronous orbits but that means a significant loss of energy over nearly 22,000 miles compared to only a few hundred miles from altitudes similar to satellites as they pass overhead. It would be easy to buy power from panels as they pass over receivers lined up along their path no matter where in the world you are. Supranational blocks helping each other raise their standards of life and clean up the environment may sound like a great idea to those of us living in the 21th century but for far right conspiracy theorists it’s a nightmare, so they feed us horror stories of evil globalist Jews setting the world aflame. And, terrifyingly, get elected for doing so.

# oddities // conspiracy / laser / space solar power


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