The Physics of a Star Wars Bomber Dropping Bombs in Space

The team at look at physics behind Star Wars, in particular the introduction of the TIE Bomber in The Empire Strikes Back.

So, here is the scene. Han and Leia are trying to escape from the Imperials. Since the Millennium Falcon is broken, they temporarily hide in a cave on an asteroid. The Empire sends out the bombers to try to scare them out of hiding (I guess). Oh wait, is that a spoiler? Maybe not since the movie is almost 40 years old.

What is the motion of a space bomb as it drops out of a TIE bomber? We don’t have to guess. We can find out straight from the movie by using video analysis (I even have a book on this. With video analysis, we can look at the position of an object in each frame of the video. It’s much easier when we know the size of an object in the movie (like the size of a TIE bomber) and the camera doesn’t pan or zoom (also true for this scene).

Actually, we have two nice views of a TIE bomber dropping a space bomb. The first view shows the bombers moving straight towards the “camera” and dropping a bomb. From this (and the width of a bomber at 10.6 meters), I can plot the vertical motion of a bomb as it “falls” (if you don’t like the idea of falling, see the homework questions at the end of this post).

Here is a plot of the motion for one of these bombs. (Note: I am using the free Tracker Video Analysis software to get this data.)

It’s a fascinating read and well worth a few minutes of your time!
James is an active member of the Star Wars collecting community, and is the Brand Director for Jedi News. James is also the host of the Star Wars Collectors Cast, and co-host of RADIO 1138 on the Jedi News Network.