The Science of Star Wars: How Giant Space Slugs Could Exist in Real Life

Wednesday, 08 June 2016 - 10:23AM
Science of Sci-Fi
Astrobiology
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 - 10:23AM
The Science of Star Wars: How Giant Space Slugs Could Exist in Real Life
While Star Wars is generally a space fantasy, there are several futuristic concepts within the franchise that are based in reality. We've already found several binary star systems, very much like the one Tatooine orbits, lightsabers might be unfeasible but are at least anchored in real science, and Kylo Ren is definitely the entitled manbaby villain of the near future. But one aspect of Star Wars most fans probably assumed was fantasy is the exogorth, the gigantic space slug that served as an accidental hiding place during the Battle of Hoth. But according to astrobiologists, there is actually a chance that these humongous asteroid-bound creatures could exist in real life.

At the Astrobiology of Star Wars panel at Phoenix Comic Con this weekend, Parker Castleberry, a PhD candidate in biochemistry at Arizona State University, said that he began his investigation of the science of the exogorth assuming that it would be "crazy," but "actually most of the problems and questions I had about it were solved."

The exogorth is silicon-based, lives in asteroids, and feeds on other silicon-based creatures such as mynocks, as well as stellar radiation, mineral-rich deposits from the asteroid, and, of course, spaceships. According to Castleberry, this is somewhat feasible, since the creature is mostly dormant and is hovering in space, so it has extremely low energy needs. Since it does consume some energy sources, it could lunge at a spaceship every once in a while, but that would expend all of its energy. And although it is still technically hypothetical, silicon has been widely suggested as a potential substitute for carbon in extraterrestrial life forms.

If the creature existed, it would reproduce by binary fission and "jump" from asteroid to asteroid once it had exhausted all of its resources. The one part of their biology that doesn't match up with reality is their apparent lack of excretion. To get an explanation for this, we would have to turn to Legends, which are no longer canon (although many of the explanations in the new universe may be similar). The House of Adasca found a way to control many aspects of the slugs' biology, including their growth rate and reproduction, so it stands to reason that they might have been able to genetically engineer them to consume detritus without excreting. Castleberry said that he "likes to think the Empire was being environmentally friendly" and that they had engineered the slugs to dispose of their garbage.

The only other problem is how in the world a huge slug that lived off of stellar radiation in an asteroid could have evolved in the middle of space, which is never explained in the canon or even in Legends. As Arkoh Adasca once said:

Opening quote
"They're the last remnant of a species that predates history-an unlikely being, if ever there was one. No one knows how or why they evolved-just that we have found a number of them in the galaxy, going about their business…Time has no meaning for such a creature."
Closing quote

According to Aireona Bonnie Raschke, a biology PhD candidate at ASU, the exogorth could have come from a planet with a slowly disappearing atmosphere, and then adapted over time to less and less atmosphere until it had no need for an atmosphere anymore. Or, they could be genetically engineered garbage disposal systems. That works, too.
Science
Space
Science of Sci-Fi
Astrobiology

Load Comments