The city where Anakin Skywalker grew up is set to be destroyed by a giant, Pacman-shaped sand dune that is working its way across the Tunisian desert.
Scientists from the Space Department of a US university warned the public not to underestimate the power of the force involved in moving the huge crescent of sand, known as a “barchan”, which is expected to devastate the city of Mos Espa, featured in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The film set is a major tourist site in Tunisia, with thousands of fans making the pilgrimage each year via the nearby oasis town of Tozeur to see the childhood home of the future Darth Vader.
Scientists have been observing the fate of the city from space for some time, using it as a reference point in order to be able to compare the speed of sand dune migration on Earth to that of Mars, and Saturn’s largest moon Titan.
The barchan is estimated to be moving at a rate of 15 metres a year, some 10 times faster than those on Mars, and tourism photos from this year - featured as an example of “geomorphologically-useful citizen science” – indicate that the front edge has already reached the first buildings on the outskirts of Mos Espa.
The first author of the report, Dr Ralph Lorenz from John Hopkins University in the US, wrote in a guest article for the Planetary Society: “In 2009, a large barchan dune loomed just east of the site. But even only a few years ago, this dune was nowhere near!”
Dr Lorenz compared the fate of Mos Espa to that of a nearby set used in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, which was overcome by sand in 2003.
The astrophysics expert, who has previously compared the moment Titan moved into view of a giant telescope to a scene in Episode IV where a planet drifts into the sights of the Death Star, said: “Reality can sometimes be more amazing than science fiction.”
While dune migration can be difficult to predict, Dr Lorenz estimated that nothing short of an heroic intervention could save Mos Espa, once home to Anakin, his slave owner Watto, and rival pod-racer Sebulba.
He said: “Even if the threatening barchan fizzles out as it meets the set, a larger, slower-moving barchan is lumbering behind it. Watch this space!”
For obvious reasons settlements are not normally built amongst the volatile dunes, and so government intervention to stop the sands of time is rare.
But the scientists’ report indicated an exception could be made here. It said: “Given the importance of this site to the tourism industry of Tunisia, it may be that it is a candidate for mitigation measures, not being pursued at present.
“These could include erecting fences or walls, bulldozing the approaching dune (which would take considerable effort and would have to be repeated with each oncoming dune), or moving the site out of the path of the dunes.”
The destruction of home planets and towns was something of a running theme throughout the Star Wars saga. Fans around the world will be hoping the same fate does not befall the real life Mos Espa.
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