The Neutronium Fallacy

The opposition can really come up with some doozies.

One of the strangest claims in the Star Wars non-canon Expanded Universe is that Star Wars ships have neutronium in their hulls. Neutronium is a term used to describe the substance thought to exist in neutron stars. However, the most important aspect of it for our purposes is the fact that it is often referred to as being impervious to any and all Federation weaponry.

Neutron Stars

To get a good neutron star, you need to take a really old star . . . preferably one of sufficient age that it has an iron core (because once you hit iron, you actually have to put more energy into fusion than you get out of it, and most stars don't bother). The necessary stellar mass is apparently still being worked out (many ranges are quoted), but suffice it to say you'd need a star much larger than our own sun to end up with a suitable iron core (the core must mass about 1.4 solar masses in order to cause a collapse). Then, one supernova later, you have a fair chance of ending up with a neutron star. The pressures and densities involved in the catastrophic collapse of the star turn normal, well-adjusted iron atoms into a neutronium soup. This neutronium soup is actually composed of the former protons and electrons of the iron core, which find themselves requiring too much energy to maintain their separation in the intense pressure . . . so they don't. The combination of protons and electrons forms neutrons and neutrinos. The neutrinos escape (as they are prone to doing), taking heat energy with them, but the neutrons remain.

These neutrons . . . about 1.4 solar masses worth . . . find themselves compressed into a sphere with a radius of ten kilometers or so. This sphere will have a surface gravity that is zillions of times Earth's gravity, causing anyone who magically appeared on the surface of the neutron star to bear a striking resemblance to former President Taft for a zillionth of a second, until they were squished into nothingness. That's assuming the extreme temperatures didn't roast him, first.

With those exceptions, someone standing there wouldn't notice anything too exotic. Well, not counting the fact that the neutron star spins like crazy (hence pulsars). The surface is primarily composed of plain old iron, which at the outer crust still manages to exist. The deeper in you go, though, the more the density increases, until all you see are free neutrons hanging out with each other (not like they have a choice). Even deeper within a neutron star, the *really* weird stuff can happen.

In any case, a neutron star is a superhot, superdense, supermagnetic stellar corpse, formed by the collapse of a star which, had it been larger, could have been a black hole. Neutronium is the phase of matter which exists under the crushing gravitational pressures of a neutron star. The common statement made by many is that a teaspoonful of neutronium would weigh a billion tons. This is correct, mathematically, given the density . . . but the neutronium would not remain neutronium outside the neutron star. This is an important point.

Digressing a bit, certain pro-Wars debaters try to claim that Star Destroyer hulls are made of durasteel, which is one part neutronium, one part lomite, and one part zersium. The obvious response is to point out that neutronium would be expected to need a neutron star of ten kilometers radius to exist, and that Star Destroyers are only 1.6 kilometers in size, or that once you have neutronium, you can't have anything else, by default.

"No," they say, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The books say there's neutronium in the hull, so obviously there's neutronium in the hull. Phasers and photon torpedoes can't hurt neutronium, so ha-ha, we win."

Okay, then. Maybe, somehow, some sort of superstrong artificial gravity field technology could be created that would turn anything into neutronium and prevent it from decaying, so you wouldn't even have to try to go digging for it in a neutron star (good luck trying). As for the lomite and zersium . . . well, that's peculiar, and I'll come back to that. So, is that how it works?

"No," they say, "according to 'Timetales', quoting the "Cracken's Threat Dossier", neutronium, lomite, and zersium were found together in a rich vein under the reddish soil of the fourth moon of a planet called Dathomir. The Star Wars Sourcebook, Rebel Dawn, et cetera say neutronium is a heavy metallic element, and that those three elements make up Imperial dura-armor and durasteel. Ha-ha, we win."

Oh, reeeeeeaaaallly?

Extraordinarily sophisticated technology is one thing . . . far be it from me to dispute Clarke. However, Warsies are claiming that you can kick the dirt on a moon and stub your toe on neutronium. They are claiming that somehow, magically, neutronium has escaped from a neutron star and decided to bury itself just under the surface of a moon.

At no point is this moon referred to as being ultradense, ultramagnetic, ultragravitational, et cetera. It's just a moon, and once you kick some dirt away, you don't find an iron shell of a neutron star, nosirree bob, you kick straight to neutronium, conveniently disguised as a vein of some heavy metallic element.

Further, when the hell did compressed neutrons become a metallic element? You can look all day on the periodic table and not find a metallic element called neutronium, or sharing any of the characteristics of neutronium, for the simple reason that every metallic (or even non-metallic) element, by default, has protons and electrons, whereas real neutronium doesn't!

Finally, why would the Imperial Fleet from TESB be worried about the asteroids? If they had neutronium hulls (not to mention hull strengths a la the Ep2ICS), being nervous in the asteroid field would be like an M1A1 Abrams tank being nervous about going out in the rain.

So, if you're ever out in the fray and hear that Star Wars ships are impervious to Star Trek weapons because their hulls contain neutronium, just remind them that:

"Star Wars neutronium is a metallic element found in veins under the dirt of a moon."

Update: In an effort to try to keep neutronium any way they can, Warsies will say many things. For instance, they have argued that the neutronium under the moon's surface was from a crashed ship, even though this concept is contrary to what we are told about the ore on the moon. They also choose not to mention how neutronium, which requires extreme pressure in order to exist, would manage to maintain itself under the surface of a moon as part of a destroyed starship.

One "counterargument" used by pro-Wars debaters is to say something to the effect of "oh, yeah, well, Star Trek neutronium isn't real, either". Alas, this, too, is inaccurate:

Let's take a look at the known facts:

Star Wars Neutronium

1. Found in veins on a moon. (Cracken's Threat Dossier)
2. A heavy metallic element. (SWS, Rebel Dawn, etc.)
3. When alloyed with the other metals iomite and zersium, can be made into durasteel. (CTD)
4. Durasteel rods can be bent by an angry woman.
("Daala turned and ripped one of the electric-blue glowtorches from the floor behind her. 'Enough!' she shouted. She raised the durasteel staff high and smashed it down upon the tabletop. The glowcrystal exploded into shards with crackling blue sparks, and transparent fragments flew in all directions. She hammered the rod down again and again, denting the table, bending the staff, and fragmenting the end." (Darksaber, p. 133)

Star Trek Neutronium

1. Found in neutron stars, and decays outside of that environment. ("Evolution")
2. Can be "alloyed" with carbon, serving as the ultra-strong material of the Dyson Sphere ("Relics")
3. Can be crafted into a very roughly conical object, impervious to weapons, with a structure capable of withstanding 97.835 megaton impulse reactor explosions. ("The Doomsday Machine")
4. Can be crafted into a building by the Iconians which remain standing for ~200,000 years, with no apparent damage. ("To the Death")
5. The Dominion has managed to create at least two doors from it, impervious to all weapons.
6. Can be crafted into not-so-rough spacecraft (curiously, also roughly conical, though I doubt that's an important point). ("Think Tank")
7. The surface stratum of an artificial asteroid was "some sort of neutronium alloy". ("The Phage")

In light of these facts, it is clear that there is nothing in common between Star Wars neutronium and real life neutronium. Further, it is apparent that there is nothing in common between Star Wars neutronium and Star Trek neutronium. Why?

In the case of SW neutronium, there is no available method to rationalize the horrendous inconsistencies between it and real-life neutronium. Real-life neutronium isn't a metal, cannot be found in veins on a moon, cannot be alloyed with "other" metals, and you'd have a helluva time bending it.

In the case of ST neutronium, there are available methods of rationalizing the apparent inconsistencies. ST neutronium is within neutron stars, just like the real thing. However, ST neutronium can be "alloyed" with carbon. But, by default, this does not imply a metallic alloy of any sort, since carbon is not a metal, either, and one of them has to be in order to be an alloy in the usual way. The concept of impure neutronium is quite peculiar, but in reality all you need is neutronium at the point where it is a neutron superfluid, where protons and entire nuclei can still (barely) exist.

ST neutronium can also apparently exist under conditions where it should not, because the objects mass far less than what is required for such a material to form and be maintained (doors, buildings, ships), and we do not see the gravitational effects one would expect from such structures. Finally, these structures are not compressed to the point of being spherical, but instead appear in a variety of shapes. Does this cause ST neutronium to be neutronium in name only, and not the real thing at all? No. Given that ST neutronium is identified as neutron star material, we have just cause to try to find a rationalization for its existence outside of neutron stars. It simply will not do to claim that there are two separate materials, since this represents a multiplication of entities unsupportable by the dictates of Occam's Razor, or good sense.

So, what is needed is "neutronium containment". How do we get it? Easy.

Fortunately, a perfectly viable explanation is already in play, thanks to the technologies we have seen in the Star Trek universe. We know, for example, that shields operate due to some sort of graviton-based spatial distortion. This is demonstrated by La Forge's screen in Generations. We know also that the Federation has the ability to utilize gravitons in precise applications, such as Geordi's "heavy graviton beam" discussed (but not implemented) in "Best of Both Worlds". And, naturally, there were inertial dampening systems in place on spacecraft as early as 2063, with artificial gravity definitely observed as early as 2151.

How do these facts help?

1. Some sort of neutronium containment system would be required to maintain (and/or create) neutronium outside its natural environment, and this could be a very strong artificial gravitational field.
2. This field must be nullified beyond a certain point (at least in the case of starship interiors, doors, and structures which, as observed, do not cause people to fly into them and turn to chunky salsa, and worse).
3. So far, the only examples of neutronium use have been from more technologically advanced races than the Federation, such as the Iconians (creators of galaxy-crossing stargates) and the builders of the Dyson Sphere.

It is, therefore, not a leap to posit that the required technologies for neutronium use are seen in their infancy in the Federation, but that these technologies have been well-developed by certain races, cultures, or groups, to the point that neutronium becomes a viable material for use in various applications.

It makes sense, it fits the canon facts, and does not ignore the basic scientific theories of neutronium.