Science writer Matt Shipman knows that the way to the intellectual geek’s heart is through his or her fandom. Coat a pill of knowledge with the sugar of pop culture and before you know it, you’re knee deep in evolutionary theory while talking about the sarlacc pit. Tasking other science writers to try this tactic, Shipman has collected a series of articles aiming to teach you about everything from ecology to climate change using the fictional Star Wars planer Tatooine as the sugar.
Over at Southern Fried Science, marine biologist David Shiffman explores the desertification of Tatooine in a fake scientific paper. In it, Shiffman muses that the extinction of the apex predator on the planet—the Krayt dragon—led to a blossoming herbivore population that eliminated much of the greenery of Luke Skywalker’s home.
Shiffman uses the Krayt dragon to explore many of the same issues that face ocean ecosystems when shark populations decline. He links to papers and presentations, and even produces figures that outline how off-world hunters may have inadvertently turned Tatooine into a desert.
On Boing Boing, author Maggie Koerth-Baker explains how the megafauna of Tatooine contrast with what we find here on Earth. On our planet, “Deserts are not places where lots of different species congregate. Nor are they really home to wild animals larger than, say, a small deer,” writes Koerth-Baker. In other words, evolution is a powerful force that crafts organisms with their environment in mind.
Most of the creatures we see on Tatooine are large enough for humanoids to ride, something that evolution likely wouldn’t produce in a desert wasteland. Elephant-like Banthas would need enormous amounts of water that the planet simply doesn’t offer. Luke has to get his water from moisture farms for Force’s sake!
At SciLogs, biologist Malcolm Campbell waxes poetic about the plant species that would make their home on Tatooine. Using the “hubba gourd” as an example, Campbell discusses the incredible adaptations that allows plants to thrive in harsh environments with the tone of a visiting planetary botanist.
Biologist Joe Hanson explains the intricacies of the dreaded sarlacc pit on his site It’s Okay To Be Smart from the perspective of an interplanetary naturalist. Sarlaccs aren’t quite animals and aren’t quite plants. The closest organisms on Earth are the long-lived desert Welwitschia, the sea anemone, or the vicious ant lion. Oh, and the post features the most detailed image of sarlacc anatomy you’ve ever seen while going over the possibility of telekinetic torture.
At What’s In John’s Freezer, evolutionary biomechanist John R. Hutchinson takes it upon himself to investigate the functional anatomy of Tatooine’s megafauna. He draws the various dissections he undertook—from banthas to Krayt dragons—to teach readers about the intricacies of animal organs. It’s an amazingly detailed article in which Hutchinson gets to flex his biomechanist muscles while talking about the ontogeny of dewbacks.
Over at GeekGirlCon, physical chemist Adrienne M. Roehrich tries to solve the problem that Maggie Koerth-Baker brought up—where do the large animals of Tatooine get all their water? Roehrich says that though water may be scarce on Tatooine, it exists. Humanoids could get their water from the famous “moisture farms” or even from underground aquifers. As for the non-humanoid animals, perhaps they have adapted like Earth’s desert animals have, and use substantially less water than you’d expect. Maybe life finds a way in a galaxy far, far away.
Last but not least, David Ng, an academic at the University of British Columbia, uses Tatooine to teach concepts related to climate change. Taking text directly from a Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Ng uses the mock Tatooine report as “an admittedly elaborate teaching prop” that he hopes will encourage people to learn about real IPCC reports and climate science. He offers easy and “hard” downloadable versions, as well as once of the geekiest temperature charts I’ve ever seen.
Science can be a bit dry, let’s admit it. It takes a great teacher, mentor, or communication angle to make the wonders of science really stick. What do you think, does a spoonful of Tatooine help the science go down?
Kyle Hill is the Chief Science Officer of the Nerdist enterprise. Follow the continued geekery on Twitter @Sci_Phile.
IMAGES: Lucas Film, Wookiepedia, John R. Hutchinson, David Ng