Saturday, 14 April 2012

A to Z: M is for Meson Gun

Mesons exist. They are “hadronic subatomic particles composed of one quark and one antiquark, bound together by the strong interaction.” They form a family of subatomic particles about two-thirds the size of a proton or neutron. Mesons are not very long-lived, decaying in hundredths of a microsecond.

In Traveller, the Meson Accelerator is a dual particle accelerator, accelerating both electrons and positrons (anti-electrons). When the streams intersect, the colliding electrons and positrons create a pi neutral meson, as well as releasing a great deal of energy. The meson’s brief half-life can be extended by accelerating the meson to relativistic speeds, and by controlling the velocity of the beam, the precise point-of-decay can be set so that the meson decays within a target such as a starship. Mesons can pass through matter such as the armour on ships, and installations. They can also pass through matter such as planetary crustal material. Some planetary governments have taken to building large Meson Guns and burying them in deep sites. As long as they remain linked to surface detection systems, the Deep Meson Guns can engage hostile ships attempting to attack or land forces upon the planet.

Meson Guns are used as Spinal Weapons on Cruiser class and larger warships, or as massive bay weapons, on large destroyers. These starship-sized weapons are also used for planetary defence. At high tech levels smaller, vehicle mounted meson guns, are used as self-propelled artillery.

My knowledge of particle physics is pretty much what I’ve skim-read on Wikipedia today while trying to look at the science behind the Meson Gun. I’m a little sceptical of the Meson Accelerator as written – originally written up in Book 5: High Guard, this description is now recorded on the Traveller Wiki. From what I can gather, as a meson decays it actually produces electrons and neutrinos so the makeup of the original particle beams are more likely to be protons and anti-protons as it is the presence of quarks that determines the creation of mesons.

Even if the science as presented is a little wonky, it does appear that a weapon, that produces an effect similar to a Meson Gun as written, is possible. A gun that can shoot through walls, hills and starship armour is the ultimate AT&T weapon in that it can really reach out and touch someone – not so fun if you’re on the wrong end, though.