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The Langston Field Effect: Descent to Fire

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Second-Empire star ships MacArthur and Lenin, in a scene from Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s novel “The Mote in God’s Eye,” descend into the red giant star Murcheson’s Eye in search of the Alderson jump-point to the Mote system.

Niven and Pournelle’s star ships depend on two critical technologies: the Alderson Drive, and the Langston Field.

This post is focused on the Langston Field, which absorbs and stores energy in proportion to the fourth power of incoming particle energy: that is, a slow-moving object can penetrate it, but the faster it's moving (or hotter it is) the more readily it is absorbed, according to the authors in ”Building The Mote in God’s Eye.”

The Langston Field allows Niven and Pournelle’s battleships to possess high-thrust fusion drives without enormous (and vulnerable) radiator panels, and permits them to hang for extended periods in a fire-fight - where heat is the enemy. The Langston field can be used for protection against lasers, thermonuclear weapons, and nearly anything else. It isn't a perfect defense, however.

The natural shape of the Field is a solid. Thus it wants to collapse and vaporize everything inside it. It takes energy to maintain a hole inside the Field, and more energy to open a control in it so that you can cause it selectively to radiate away stored energy. You don't get something for nothing.

This means that if the Field is overloaded, the heat stored in it will be radiated  internally as well as externally, vaporizing the star ship in the process. In addition, parts of the Field can be momentarily overloaded: a sufficiently high energy impacting a small enough area will cause a temporary Field collapse, and a burst of energy penetrates to the inside. This can damage a ship without destroying it.

In “The Mote in God’s Eye”  MacArthur and Lenin are only able to descend into the red giant star Murcheson’s Eye due to these properties of the Langston Field.

The jump point to the Mote system is located inside the red giant Murcheson’s Eye. Protected by their Langston fields, MacArthur and Lenin descend into the outer layers of the star. I’ve taken some license in this, as an image of two space-black eggs against this backdrop just didn’t seem satisfying – so I’ve shown the Langston field as transparent.  

I created the surface of Murchesn’s Eye by flattening the stock image Red Giant by PaulineMoss into a flat plane and building an aura of red and yellow haze over it with air-brush work in Photoshop. I cropped two solar flare images sourced from NASA’s Solar Dynamic’s Observatory and blended these into the image, final step involved matting my rendered images of Lenin and MacArthur, along with the transparent Langston field effect (rendered separately) into the image.  

Stock Resources:

Red Giant by PaulineMoss www.deviantart.com/art/Red-Gia…

Photo credits:

Solar Flare images via the Solar Dynamic’s Observatory, Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Related Images:

Coal Sack, New Caldonia, Murcheson's Eye, & Mote

Motelight

I.N.S.S. MacArthur

MacArthur:New Caldonia Orbit

Starship Fixture Design

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mr-wistan's avatar
Shouldn't the Langstron field make the ships appear as solid black spheres?