The Halo 3: ODST Soundtrack enlightening my ears, and its time to write a new Reality of Halo. If you haven’t seen the past articles, be sure to check them out. Some lovely Google Earth exploring and out-of-this-world elevator rides await.
Today, we’re shifting the focus to what may be some of the most sci-fi parts of Halo. The Forerunners. Not them specifically, but their technology. And not their technology in general, but their weapons. Not just any weapons either, but the Promethean weapon class introduced in Halo 4. Our target, is the incineration effect caused by Scattershots, Incineration Cannons, and Binary Rifles.
If you’ve played through Halo 4 and introduced yourself to a couple War Games matches, you might notice that you may frequently get shot by these little orange things. And once in a while, said orange things will be a lot bigger and have a chance to literally disintegrate you. Yup. Those Promethean weapons.
You may have noticed that only certain weapons have disintegration abilities as well. Well, now you can stop telling your curious friends that it is because of game rendering and storage limitations and such.
The Lightrifle, Suppressor, and Boltshot use light mass as ammunition. Firing little bullets made of solid light.
The Binary Rifle, Scattershot, Incineration Cannon, and Pulse Grenade used ionized particles.
We will look specifically at the Scattershot, Incineration Cannon, Binary Rifle, and Pulse Grenade. The ionized particles they fire incinerates on contact. How realistic is that?
I’m no physicist, and definitely not a particle physicist. I may confuse myself more trying to research this on my own…
But luckily, a friend and member of Archive, “Fin”, is a lot smarter than me.
In a discussion on Archive, the Binary Rifle’s firing method and ability of disintegrating targets was a hot topic. Fin came in, and gave us all a very nice real-world run down of how it is possible without a lot of space magic.
And so, we dive into the reality of the things shot at your face (or any part of the body, actually) by the Binary Rifle.
The source for the Binary Rifle’s firing data is from the Halo 4 Essential Visual Guide. The Binary Rifle fires a stream of antimatter particles to incinerate its target.
Antimatter is a pretty general term. And our modern experience with antimatter is limited. So, where is our realistic root?
“Antiparticles annihilate when they meet their matter counterpart, releasing energy (as photons primarily). But it’s important to consider the type of particle involved.
So, yes, if you had one gram of anti-iron (each atom made of antiprotons, antineutrons, and positrons) and introduced it to matter (protons, neutrons, and electrons) these particles would all annihilate releasing a vast amount of energy.
Now most of this energy (>99%) will come from the interaction of the protons/antiprotons and neutrons/antineutrons, as these are the most massive particles by far. An electron, or positron weighs just 0.000548th of a proton’s mass and the equation for annihilation energy is mass-dependant, the famous E=Mc2.
But what about these positrons, I hear you cry? Or, ok, maybe not but I’m going to talk about them anyway!
We actually use positrons in medical imaging today, as the annihilation produces gamma rays in a very specific way that allows us to build images from them.
While the radiation produced is potentially harmful the patient doesn’t explode, because the amount of annihilation taking place (say 1,000,000 to 600,000,000 annihilations per second) is small.
What it does do, however, is ionise atoms within the patients body, this is radiation damage basically, and happens because electrons belonging to the patient are being consumed. This can result in chemical bonds between atoms breaking as the bond becomes electron deficient. Now in practice the patient is only put at a minorly increased risk of cancer by this damage, they have enough cells, atoms, and bonds the the direct physical damage is negligible.
But I’m sure a few of you can see where I’m going with this.
Lets forget medicine and talk about Binary Rifles; Let us assume that the Binary Rifle through some interesting physics blasts it’s target with a dense and energetic positron beam, what might we see?
Well, firstly a massive spike in gamma radiation at the target site, and the collapse of chemical bonds along the path of the beam and along scatter paths within the target material, you’d be left with positive atomic nuclei bonded to nothing, intensely electron deficient.
There would be considerable heating in the area around the target, due to absorption of the emitted gamma and x-rays from the annihilation, ranging from incandescence towards explosion thresholds depending on the time scale and intensity. Tissue and material that is even remotely flammable may likely ignite in air.
The secondary destructive effects at the target will depend on the now massively electron deficient atomic nuclei just liberated by the beam (eg carbon as C6+).
This is theoretical supposition, but it seems exceedingly likely that these intensely electron deficient nuclei would then react very quickly with their surroundings to try to get some electron density back. I say theoretical, because you only find nuclei without electrons like this in relativistic physics, and they aren’t available for chemistry. In this example the nuclei aren’t zipping off at an appreciable fraction of lightspeed and are available to wreak all sorts of havoc.
The resulting chemical reactions as these super-reactive positive ions try to get electrons back would be very rapid and destructive as they would attack any electron-possessing atoms nearby, destroying bonding and structure within the material. In other words, the target material now reacts with itself, explosively (chemical explosion this time). We’d see very rapid rearrangement from tissue and armour to simple gas molecules and radicals, ionisation at an extreme scale, explosion and flash heating, incineration of reactive material not immediately destroyed by the ionisation is very likely in atmosphere.
So let’s compare with effects observed;
Initial disintegration: Check, in truth most of the mass is still there, but with no electrons to bond with it’s not visible and will rapidly scatter.
Heating, glowing: Check, from absorption of the released gamma and x-ray photons. In reality there may be a visible-light flash due to heat effects, not rendered in game though.
Destruction/internal reaction of target after the beam: Check, the released intensely positive atomic nuclei will propagate through the target reacting as they go with just about everything in an effort to secure more electron density.
Incineration, heat, chemical reactions: Check, burning flakes of material are rendered in game.
So, all said and done, hypothetically you could reproduce a lot of the visual effects of the Binary Rifle using a positron beam, I say hypothetically because this is not something that’s been done, we can’t generate positron beams like that.”
So, how about getting the positron beam to its target? It technically should be creating a million little explosions with the air on its way to the Spartan crossing your path.
A positron beam would not go far on its own. But it is possible the Forerunners could encase the beam in a kind of hardlight sheath to deliver the particles safely. The same could be said for Scattershots and Incineration Cannons. It is mentioned that the Incineration Cannon buries antimatter within particle streams for deliver. For the Pulse Grenade, an ionization sphere is maintained. When the amount required is met, and the ionization sphere violently collapses, incineration commences.
The issue, though, may come from the amount of particles needed to annihilate objects like Spartans. You’d need a lot, which would increase the chance of a catastrophic explosion. Not to mention the particles are branching out only along the target. No interaction with the air around it. There must be some pretty intricate targeting and manipulation work going on here to keep the antimatter under control. Just the right amount and in just the right direction.
This, unfortunately, is where we just have to accept that the Forerunners are millions of years more advanced than we are.
This concludes our Reality of Halo for now. Please let me know when someone creates a Binary Rifle, and please don’t aim it at me.
Cognitive Bias out.
By the way, now you can complain that Forerunner weapons are overpowered not because of some silly gameplay mechanics, but because they use antimatter, which is vastly overpowered compared to primitive bullets and plasma bolts.