NASA Goes Full Jedi, Channels Mace Windu With Purple Laser
Image Credit: Nasa/Lucasfilm
We all know that Mace Windu is the coolest Jedi Master.
Sure, Yoda's funny, and Obi Wan is always classy, and there was that time that Qui Gon fought a wolf with nothing but broken glass taped to his hands, but you can't beat Samuel L Jackson waving around a lightsaber and threatening the most evil being in the galaxy (even if he is forced to keep his language PG-13).
It's been well documented that the reason why Mace Windu has a purple lightsaber, when most Jedi have blue or green, is because Samuel L. Jackson specially requested it while on the set of Attack of the Clones. It turns out that NASA agrees with Jackson's taste, as they've been using a giant purple laser to test the heat shielding on the Parker Solar Probe.
As we covered yesterday, the probe is designed to get closer to the sun than any man-made object to date, skimming its outer atmosphere, and enduring heat of around 2500 Fahrenheit. The probe will be solar powered, because that makes sense - if you're sending a probe to explore the biggest battery in the solar system, you might as well let it charge up at the same time. This makes things tricky, because the probe therefore needs to be able to absorb solar radiation without absorbing too much.
So why has NASA build a giant Mace Windu lightsaber to stress test their new probe? Why not pick another color?
The boring answer is that purple is the right shade on the spectrum of light to properly test the probe. Solar panels do a good job with ambient light colors, such as purple, so this gives the scientists a good idea of how the probe will function in space.
There is, though, another reason why purple was chosen: it's a fun color. Indeed, the particular shade of purple that was used in the experiment coincidentally matches up with Pantone's Color of the Year, described by the company's director, Leatrice Eiseman, as hinting at "the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead and the discoveries beyond where we are now".
This does seem to fit wonderfully with the experiment at hand.
While Mace Windu's lightsaber choice may have been decided because of Samuel L Jackson's personal preferences, as with pretty much every aspect of Star Wars lore, a neat explanation has been created to explain its in-universe presence. The color is also canonically associated with Revan of Knights of the Old Republic fame, a character who (spoiler alert) straddles the line between Jedi and Sith. Purple feels fitting in this respect - Jedi often have blue blades, and Sith have red, so purple is the perfect mix of the two.
Similarly, as the Parker Solar Probe goes on to explore the sun, it's worth bearing in mind that a single discipline of learning isn't enough to bring humanity into the spacefaring age of civilization. The probe is a mix of engineering, mathematics, physics, and astronomy. Its testing also looks absolutely beautiful thanks to some gorgeous lighting provided by a giant purple laser - a reminder that art and aesthetics are important to inspiring a desire to explore the unknown.
At the end of the day, the reason why the solar probe's test is so interesting, is because it's so visually striking. If the future of space travel involves really cool-looking giant purple lasers, then nobody's really going to complain.
Except maybe people who are colorblind.