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Gravitational Waves in Science Fiction
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CRMcNeill
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2018 2:34 pm    Post subject: Gravitational Waves in Science Fiction Reply with quote

A little background...

I've gotten into a discussion with Fractalsponge over on his page about the nature of hyperspace travel, especially as to why it's broken up into discrete routes. He's of the opinion that hyperspace travel is much more "sandbox"-style (my word, not his) rather than being locked into a limited number of well-traveled routes, and he has a convincing argument. I'm looking for other possible explanations as to why hyperspace travel is what is, with a particular eye toward any potential hazards that might make some routes safer than others.

One possibility that has occured to me is "gravitational waves." This concept is used extensively in the hyperspace lore of the Honor Harrington series, but I must admit to being unable to fully grok the concept enough to apply it practically to hyperspace travel. Can any of our more physics-minded members chime in on this?
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Zarn
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2018 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Do you mean the way the 'gravitational waves' in essence are ocean streams, and the Warshawski sail a literal sail, completing the Hornblower trope - or try to fit that concept into the description used of Hyperspace in Star Wars?
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CRMcNeill
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2018 5:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Zarn wrote:
Do you mean the way the 'gravitational waves' in essence are ocean streams, and the Warshawski sail a literal sail, completing the Hornblower trope - or try to fit that concept into the description used of Hyperspace in Star Wars?

The latter. The Honorverse is a rich and enjoyable sci-fi universe in its own right, but it isn't Star Wars. While the Honorverse was my first encounter with the concept of gravitational waves, I'm not interested in porting the concept over as-is. I'm only looking at the potential application of gravitational waves as a hazard for hyperspace travel.
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Whill
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2018 11:33 pm    Post subject: Re: Gravitational Waves in Science Fiction Reply with quote

CRMcNeill wrote:
I've gotten into a discussion with Fractalsponge over on his page about the nature of hyperspace travel, especially as to why it's broken up into discrete routes. He's of the opinion that hyperspace travel is much more "sandbox"-style (my word, not his) rather than being locked into a limited number of well-traveled routes, and he has a convincing argument.

I don't know what his argument is, but the reason for routes is to explain why ships in the movies sometimes travel across the galaxy quickly. What's his explanation and does it support the films?

CRMcNeill wrote:
I'm looking for other possible explanations as to why hyperspace travel is what is, with a particular eye toward any potential hazards that might make some routes safer than others.

This is still routes. How does this relate to his alternate routeless explanation for hyperspace travel?

CRMcNeill wrote:
One possibility that has occured to me is "gravitational waves." This concept is used extensively in the hyperspace lore of the Honor Harrington series, but I must admit to being unable to fully grok the concept enough to apply it practically to hyperspace travel. Can any of our more physics-minded members chime in on this?

Gravity waves are caused by violent energetic catastrophes like supernovae and black holes merging. They can travel the speed of light, but that is extremely slow by hyperspace travel standards. And their intensity lessens over time/distance travelled. So based on the standard interpretation of Han Solo's statement in ANH (the gravity wells of massive objects being potentially dangerous to hyperspace travel), I would think that gravity waves could likewise be dangerous to ships in hyperspace. But I don't think they would really be a big factor because significant gravity waves are localized and easy to outrun.

But I don't know Fractal's explanation, or why you think hyperspace should work a third way, so not sure how gravity waves would apply differently.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2018 2:51 pm    Post subject: Re: Gravitational Waves in Science Fiction Reply with quote

Whill wrote:
CRMcNeill wrote:
I've gotten into a discussion with Fractalsponge over on his page about the nature of hyperspace travel, especially as to why it's broken up into discrete routes. He's of the opinion that hyperspace travel is much more "sandbox"-style (my word, not his) rather than being locked into a limited number of well-traveled routes, and he has a convincing argument.

I don't know what his argument is, but the reason for routes is to explain why ships in the movies sometimes travel across the galaxy quickly. What's his explanation and does it support the films?

Well, here's a few of the relevant passages:
Fractalsponge wrote:
Free hyper travel is definitely a thing – otherwise you would not have things like microjumps, and you wouldn’t be able to really go “off-route” – it basically determines whether the universe is a essentially a small network of points or actual open space. That travel is calculated by a navicomputer, and depends on decent astronomical data for a given volume of space.

Some navicomputers are small enough (a droid brain) that they can only hold a few preprogrammed routes, though with communication with a unit that has a full navicomputer and more navigational data stored, presumably those routes can be altered rapidly. An actual independent starship is potentially very capable navigationally – calculations may take time, but they should be able to actively and freely hyper within whatever volume of space they have data for (hypothetically the entire mapped galaxy).

So I think it makes sense that warships and independent civilian ships always have full navicomputers, and can always jump freely, data and position relative to local gravity wells permitting.

So why doesn’t every ship have the same ability? (i.e. why is merchant traffic confined at all to routes?) Given that astromechs bought at a flea market by smallholder farmers can do hyperspace navigation (to a certain point), I’m not sure that the infrastructure cost of such computers is *really* all that big a deal.

Speed might be a thing. Local free-jumps are probably less efficient and slower than routes, because they have to be recalculated often, and possibly it takes time to accelerate to maximum hyper speed – time that you don’t get if you constantly have to transition, re-orient, etc.

Hyperspace routes are paths that are consistently free of any mass shadow interference. You don’t need a navicomputer or a large navigational database to use these lanes because of their overall stability, and my thinking is that they are important because they allow for very long trips (and thus very fast trips, given time to accelerate in hyperspace) without having to transition, re-orient, and jump again. In economical terms, they also allow for minimal fuel usage (since I believe the jump transition is supposed to be the point of maximum energy usage in a trip). You don’t need a full navicomputer, and you reach points along the route faster. So ships meant for routine transport along fixed itineraries don’t need full navigation, and can move faster and more economically.

But hyperspace route blockades are a thing apparently. But these probably only make sense in the context of a logistical system that has been conditioned to have most traffic use routes only rather than having independent nav capability (i.e. times of relative peace). Given warning you can refit ships with basic nav capability (i.e. droids or something) and go around a blockade of a route, but because alternate rapid paths around single (or many) randomly inserted blockages in the route are not necessarily quick to calculate or able to be calculated by most (civilian) vessels, a blockade basically slows a transport system not used to dealing with such stoppages to a crawl. So like when a major road gets blocked, traffic stops, but it doesn’t mean some traffic cannot slowly use alternate side routes to get around. But from a overall system level viewpoint the connections are almost dead.

But in space, you cannot completely stop traffic unless your blockading force is huge. So you can only blockade a small region, not draw a wall across the galactic disk, given that the surface area of a region increases with the square of the linear dimensions. You can shut down local planetary space with a few gravwell projectors but if you want to shut down a system you might need dozens of interdictors, and there hasn’t been enough interdictors ever built to truly shut down transit (free jumps included) for a sector.

Quote:
I totally buy that long jumps are more difficult to calculate, and that all jumps require calculation time. I just don’t think the idea that pre-planned routes are *required* for all long-range travel is particularly credible. Computational limitations is not something that generally ever comes up in SW. Faster travel along a route? Totally buy it. Impossible or implausible off a route? I call BS. It makes the plausibility that you can have ad hoc meeting points in distant places that we see pop up all the time in the universe extremely low. Like does the Alliance spend all its efforts mapping secret hyperlanes to its assembly points, or does it just accept that it takes more computational power and nav data to use interstellar space as an operational area?

Looking at it another way, space is semi-permeable to travel on the basis of confidence in data. But the degree of that permeability determines how…deterministic the setting is from a geography point of view. At one end it’s basically Mass Effect, and at the other end it’s a free-for-all. I know which I’d prefer, but I suppose that is more of a taste thing.

Quote:
My read of it is that rapid and flexible FTL is one of those trivial and totally taken for granted things in the setting, like manipulation of gravity and artificial intelligence and insane power density. There are various reasons why ships can or cannot go into hyperspace, but once they jump, it’s done and they can be almost anywhere quickly. There’s never anything about we have to take this route or we have to re-orient or connect through here, or we only expect ships to come in predictable directions. Ships can appear anywhere where it’s convenient to the plot. Once a set of realspace coordinates are available ships can go to it and go to it very quickly, no scouting or route updates required, even for very remote or unpopulated places like Kamino or Dagobah or whatever.

I think major restrictions on this kind of free FTL are largely driven by uninspired writers that cannot break free from terrestrial tropes on how wars and travel are done. We don’t necessarily need to be bound by strategic predictability in terms of movement and access and WWII in SPAAACE – this is scifi, after all. The movies have (at least in the Lucas era), avoided most of this s*** by treating these technological issues as routine and unworthy of elaboration with valuable screentime. So anything could be made to fit, and therefore you could use interpretations that actually makes some sense in “real world” terms. Midichlorians are a notable exception to this. But the sequels seem to love Trek-style Macguffin of the week type plot elements, and I really hate that.






Quote:
Gravity waves are caused by violent energetic catastrophes like supernovae and black holes merging. They can travel the speed of light, but that is extremely slow by hyperspace travel standards. And their intensity lessens over time/distance travelled. So based on the standard interpretation of Han Solo's statement in ANH (the gravity wells of massive objects being potentially dangerous to hyperspace travel), I would think that gravity waves could likewise be dangerous to ships in hyperspace. But I don't think they would really be a big factor because significant gravity waves are localized and easy to outrun.

Hmmm. That might tie in with my theory about gravity potentially throwing ships off course...

Quote:
But I don't know Fractal's explanation, or why you think hyperspace should work a third way, so not sure how gravity waves would apply differently.

I'm not looking at a third way; I'm trying to come up with some additional ideas for hyperspace navigation hazards that better explain why the system as we know it is restricted to "known" routes, and that ships can't simply pick a point in space and make a straight-line jump to it.
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Whill
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2018 9:16 pm    Post subject: Re: Gravitational Waves in Science Fiction Reply with quote

CRMcNeill wrote:
That might tie in with my theory about gravity potentially throwing ships off course...

Sure, but I don't feel gravity waves themselves wouldn't be a big factor because I would think that steller sequencing and massive body movement would be much more easily and closely tracked in the Star Wars galaxy than we can on Earth now, meaning that these events causing gravity waves wouldn't normally just happen by surprise and could be accounted for.

CRMcNeill wrote:
I'm trying to come up with some additional ideas for hyperspace navigation hazards that better explain why the system as we know it is restricted to "known" routes, and that ships can't simply pick a point in space and make a straight-line jump to it.

How could there possibly be any restriction to travel known routes? The first hyperspace travellers had no routes. "Routes" are determined by repeat travel over time. How well known the routes are is a big factor in base travel time, so they start out slow and get faster (dangerous to go faster to safe to go faster).

So there are known routes, but there is still the possibility of going directly from one point to another without there being a known route. (Minor note: I wouldn't use the term "straight-line" because nothing moves in a straight line.) Going direct where there is no known "route" will usually be more difficult and take longer.

And astrogation computers hold thousands of years of travel data. It could be that the system no one ever goes to was travelled to 100 years ago, so there may be no "route" per se but there is still a baseline of data that can be used to plot a slow course.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2018 10:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I get that, but it doesn't seem as though there is a thousand years of route proliferation on the maps. With that amount of time involved, so many of the routes we see on WEG maps would be bypassed, because scouts or smugglers would just say "kriff it" and plot a route straight to their destination. The map should be criss-crossed with different straight-line routes running from every planet to every other planet, save for the ones where you pretty much have to pass through another system.

I'm not saying that new routes can't be mapped; it just seems that it doesn't happen nearly as often as it should if there wasn't anything in the way. Per WEG, scouting new routes seems to involve scouts making very short blind jumps a little bit at a time, inching their way forward in the hopes of finding a shorter route. That it isn't happening all the time implies that there are obstacles in the way, and that the scouting ships are constantly having to backtrack and try alternate routes to get around whatever the obstructions are.

Now, dark matter / hypermatter makes for a perfectly serviceable explanation as to why no viable route exists even if it seems clear to the naked eye, but I'd like to hedge my bets a little and come up with some alternate reasons. Gravitational waves are one potential option.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2018 12:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

i was under the impression that the main hyperspace routes were more like freeways and highways and the smaller the route the smaller the road, so to speak. with some being like going off road in a jeep. and going off the mapped routes was like paving your own way through untraveled terrain.

i also recall hearing about creatures that naturally travel in space via hyperspace. accidentally running into one of these while on an unmapped route could be potentially hazardous. and one told me that it was these creatures that originally gave the idea to use hyperspace for travel.

and isnt there debris floating around in hyperspace and thus the reason for particle shields? maybe the main lanes are maintained better and contain relatively less debris to come across.

maybe the reason few people use unmapped travel is the trip isnt as smooth or as fast, kinda like trying to take a box and driving it through a corn field at 65mph. can it get through it? probably, but not while maintaining 65mph.
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Whill
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2018 1:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

CRMcNeill wrote:
I'm not saying that new routes can't be mapped; it just seems that it doesn't happen nearly as often as it should if there wasn't anything in the way. Per WEG, scouting new routes seems to involve scouts making very short blind jumps a little bit at a time, inching their way forward in the hopes of finding a shorter route. That it isn't happening all the time implies that there are obstacles in the way, and that the scouting ships are constantly having to backtrack and try alternate routes to get around whatever the obstructions are.

Now, dark matter / hypermatter makes for a perfectly serviceable explanation as to why no viable route exists even if it seems clear to the naked eye, but I'd like to hedge my bets a little and come up with some alternate reasons. Gravitational waves are one potential option.

So it seems you are proposing that something is blocking the formation of direct routes between most systems, and that the existing route network is most of the exceptions where route formation wasn't blocked. You asked for scientific-minded input. I don't think gravity waves would be significant factor in that. Maybe someone else that knows more about gravity waves would feel differently, but I doubt it.

From a scientific perspective, hypermatter works better because it is completely fictional and there is no real world science governing hypermatter, and you can have it do whatever you want. Unless you are saying gravity waves from hypermatter, which may affect hyperspace travel while having no impact on realspace if you handwave it to be so in your SWU.

CRMcNeill wrote:
I get that, but it doesn't seem as though there is a thousand years of route proliferation on the maps. With that amount of time involved, so many of the routes we see on WEG maps would be bypassed, because scouts or smugglers would just say "kriff it" and plot a route straight to their destination. The map should be criss-crossed with different straight-line routes running from every planet to every other planet

I disagree. The reason existing routes are largely followed instead of constantly forging more direct routes between systems is because existing routes get you there much faster and safer. The formation of new routes is just to connect to new systems. Once connected, you don't need to connect that system directly to every other system. The system is connected to the existing "route network" by at least one route. It doesn't matter if the system was colonized thousands of years ago. In almost all cases, it is going to be quicker and easier to take the existing route network instead of forging new direct paths to back every other known system.

I didn't read your copy-and-paste of the Fractalsponge quotes because I was hoping for a summary. Is your above quote that summary? If so, I do not find that in the slightest bit convincing argument against the existence of a route network.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2018 9:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Whill wrote:
From a scientific perspective, hypermatter works better because it is completely fictional and there is no real world science governing hypermatter, and you can have it do whatever you want. Unless you are saying gravity waves from hypermatter, which may affect hyperspace travel while having no impact on realspace if you handwave it to be so in your SWU.

In your opinion, how does that square with my Dark Matter = Hypermatter hypothesis? Would what we know about Dark Matter dovetail with this theory?

If my theory about gravity in hyperspace potentially throwing ships off course (with no way to adjust due to flying blind on inertial guidance) is correct, gravity waves could be an alternative on the Astrogation Mishap Chart. IMO, that would make more sense than the Mynocks result...

Or perhaps gravity waves themselves are too weak to have that effect, but intersecting grav waves along a ship's path could cause a "gravity squall"...

Quote:
The reason existing routes are largely followed instead of constantly forging more direct routes between systems is because existing routes get you there much faster and safer.

But this then leads to the question of why one route is faster and safer than other alternatives, with one obvious possibility being that there are obstacles that affect the navigability of other routes. My theory is two-fold; first, that there are obstacles that make the formation of new routes difficult and time-consuming; second, that over the course of thousands of years, the "known" routes have become so well mapped that they have become the most heavily traveled, which contributes to the flight recorder -> navcomputer update theory, in that a well-traveled route self-perpetuates ease of travel along it due to the glut of available data to calculate safe routes.

Quote:
I didn't read your copy-and-paste of the Fractalsponge quotes because I was hoping for a summary. Is your above quote that summary? If so, I do not find that in the slightest bit convincing argument against the existence of a route network.

I don't feel I've sufficiently groked his POV to summarize it, so it seemed most appropriate to simply provide the comments in question verbatim. However, based on my interaction in the comments section on his page, he views the SWU through a hard-science lens, and doesn't feel particularly bound by the EU's rules. Now, if one were to throw out much of WEG's premises (and by extension, those of much of the EU) on hyperspace travel, and go just by the films, his argument becomes much more plausible. I can't think of a single thing in the films that directly supports the idea of a route network, either. I'm not saying that it doesn't exist, nor am I saying that we should throw it out and build something completely new; all I'm saying is that, if someone were to discount the concept of a route network and go with a more freeform hyperspace travel system, there is nothing in the films that particularly proves or disproves either point. It literally could go either way.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2018 3:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CRMcNeill wrote:
I don't feel I've sufficiently groked his POV to summarize it, so it seemed most appropriate to simply provide the comments in question verbatim. However, based on my interaction in the comments section on his page, he views the SWU through a hard-science lens, and doesn't feel particularly bound by the EU's rules.

His science lens must not be that hard because ships travelling FTL would become impossible and Star Wars would be completely invalidated. What seems more likely is that he uses a selectively hard science lens. Many of us do to some degree or another.

CRMcNeill wrote:
Now, if one were to throw out much of WEG's premises (and by extension, those of much of the EU) on hyperspace travel, and go just by the films, his argument becomes much more plausible. I can't think of a single thing in the films that directly supports the idea of a route network, either. I'm not saying that it doesn't exist, nor am I saying that we should throw it out and build something completely new; all I'm saying is that, if someone were to discount the concept of a route network and go with a more freeform hyperspace travel system, there is nothing in the films that particularly proves or disproves either point. It literally could go either way.

Things like the RotS novelization (G-canon in the EU) and TCW film (Disney canon) do establish that there is a network of hyperspace routes, but I agree that in the live action films alone, it could go either way. But while the films themselves do not really disprove Fractal's view, I feel his view is still an unconvincing argument against a route network existing.

CRMcNeill wrote:
Whill wrote:
Unless you are saying gravity waves from hypermatter, which may affect hyperspace travel while having no impact on realspace if you handwave it to be so in your SWU.

In your opinion, how does that square with my Dark Matter = Hypermatter hypothesis? Would what we know about Dark Matter dovetail with this theory?
...
Or perhaps gravity waves themselves are too weak to have that effect, but intersecting grav waves along a ship's path could cause a "gravity squall"...

I looked up that thread to refresh my memory. The Dark/Hypermatter congruence was a interesting idea, but the effect of Dark Matter on galaxies is vastly more significant than the effect of gravity waves. In almost all cases, the effect of gravity waves from different sources intersecting would not be significant because, again, significant gravity waves disturbance is localized, lessening over time/distance travelled. When gravity waves were discovered on Earth, they were from a distant (in time and space) source, and they measured less than the size of a subatomic particle. However for FTL travel in Star Wars we are talking about gravity waves effect on hyperspace, not realspace, and gravity waves could have a much bigger impact on hyperspace than realspace if you wanted it to.

CRMcNeill wrote:
If my theory about gravity in hyperspace potentially throwing ships off course (with no way to adjust due to flying blind on inertial guidance) is correct, gravity waves could be an alternative on the Astrogation Mishap Chart. IMO, that would make more sense than the Mynocks result...

I don't think gravity waves make more sense on the astrogation chart. The Mynock thing was based on Mynocks being so prevalent in space near were ships travelled that there was always the chance of Mynocks attaching themselves to your ship and causing trouble. It was meant to give the chart flair from something in the films. But if you want to replace Mynocks on your mishap chart with gravity wave turbulence, I say go for it. Maybe gravity waves do not upset the ship as much as knock the astrogation computer slightly out of alignment?

CRMcNeill wrote:
Whill wrote:
The reason existing routes are largely followed instead of constantly forging more direct routes between systems is because existing routes get you there much faster and safer.

My theory is two-fold; ...second, that over the course of thousands of years, the "known" routes have become so well mapped that they have become the most heavily traveled, which contributes to the flight recorder -> navcomputer update theory, in that a well-traveled route self-perpetuates ease of travel along it due to the glut of available data to calculate safe routes.

We seem to totally agree on the second part of your theory.

CRMcNeill wrote:
But this then leads to the question of why one route is faster and safer than other alternatives, with one obvious possibility being that there are obstacles that affect the navigability of other routes.

Of course distance is a factor, but not the only one and perhaps not the most important one. The simple answer to the question of why one route is faster than the other is because the faster routes are more well known. The standard route network model is not a binary route yes or no thing. It could be that there aren't usually more obstacles one way as opposed to another, just that one route is more travelled than the other.

CRMcNeill wrote:
My theory is two-fold; first, that there are obstacles that make the formation of new routes difficult and time-consuming

In the standard route network model, what makes the formation of routes difficult and time-consuming is that they are unknown - Not that there necessarily are obstacles but that there could be obstacles that could cause a mishap. In well known routes, these dangers are well-mapped. Even though space is mostly empty, there is more danger in going too fast through hyperspace on lesser known journeys, and this is partially represented in the game's RAW on the navigator end by being able to subtract hours from or add hours to the duration by accepting a higher or lower astrogation difficulty. The base duration for a journey is assuming a base safety level. The ship can go faster for more danger and slower for less danger.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2018 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Whill wrote:
His science lens must not be that hard because ships travelling FTL would become impossible and Star Wars would be completely invalidated. What seems more likely is that he uses a selectively hard science lens. Many of us do to some degree or another.

Fair enough, but isn't that a presumption that underlies pretty much all of science fiction, in that, while the rules still apply, there is a technological underpinning that allows those laws to be selectively broken?

In Fractal's case, his descriptions of ships and weaponry are much more technical than gaming, speaking in terms of wattage output for reactors, weapons and the like. In that sense, he's viewing the space opera of Star Wars through a much more "hard sci-fi" lens.

Quote:
Things like the RotS novelization (G-canon in the EU) and TCW film (Disney canon) do establish that there is a network of hyperspace routes, but I agree that in the live action films alone, it could go either way. But while the films themselves do not really disprove Fractal's view, I feel his view is still an unconvincing argument against a route network existing.

I think his argument is convincing within the SWU as he views it, which is markedly distinct from how we view it here. Of course, there's only so far you can argue the point in the comments section of the guy's very own web page, and considering the amount of quality work he's put in, I'd say he's earned the right

Quote:
However for FTL travel in Star Wars we are talking about gravity waves effect on hyperspace, not realspace, and gravity waves could have a much bigger impact on hyperspace than realspace if you wanted it to.

That's what I'm thinking, although I haven't quite hammered out the details.

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I don't think gravity waves make more sense on the astrogation chart. The Mynock thing was based on Mynocks being so prevalent in space near were ships travelled that there was always the chance of Mynocks attaching themselves to your ship and causing trouble. It was meant to give the chart flair from something in the films. But if you want to replace Mynocks on your mishap chart with gravity wave turbulence, I say go for it. Maybe gravity waves do not upset the ship as much as knock the astrogation computer slightly out of alignment?

My thinking was that, since Astrogation is entirely about plotting an accurate hyperspace course, and every result on the Astrogation Mishap Table - EXCEPT for Mynocks - had something to do with a ship going off course, the Mynock result was an anomaly. As in, I have difficulty seeing how a bad roll on the initial hyperspace jump would somehow cause space rats to appear.

What I'm thinking is that gravity waves (and gravity of sufficient strength in general) cause ships to go fractionally off course, which compounds over the course of the vast distances and multiple course changes of a hyperspace route. It can be accounted for, but factors into the increased Difficulty of Astrogation, as seen in the Gravity Well Projector rules in Wanted by Cracken.

Also, no one has ever really addressed the "radiation fluctuations" result, as in, what exactly is the source of the radiation fluctuations in hyperspace. A tentative possibility I'm considering ties back into hypermatter, in that a ship's hyperdrive field generator also serves as a sort of navigation shield in hyperspace, protecting the ship from colliding with hypermatter at ultra-high velocities. While a relatively diffuse hypermatter cloud wouldn't be concentrated enough to trigger a ship's hyperdrive sut-out, it would register as radiation on impact with the ship's hyperdrive field, with detectable radiation levels increasing in direct proportion to particle density. Hypermatter particle density along a route could also be a factor in "speed limits" along a route.

So, what I'm thinking is that ships in hyperspace navigate almost entirely on inertial guidance, with the exception of its CGT system (which measures strength and bearing-of-slope of the immediate gravity field) and radiation counters that measure the strength of particle impact on the hyperdrive field. These are both linked into the navcomputer, which can use the data to make some in-flight adjustments to the course, such as reducing speed when encountering particularly dense particle fields or unexpected gravity waves that might tip the ship off course.

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Of course distance is a factor, but not the only one and perhaps not the most important one. The simple answer to the question of why one route is faster than the other is because the faster routes are more well known. The standard route network model is not a binary route yes or no thing. It could be that there aren't usually more obstacles one way as opposed to another, just that one route is more travelled than the other.

Speaking as a truck driver, I can tell you that, if one route is faster, all other things being equal, it will be the one more heavily traveled, and per this theory, it will become the one better known. I have no doubt there are other factors; major trade hubs along one route will cause traffic to flow that way, even if other, shorter routes are available, but there will still be traffic on that route for trade that has no need to stop at that hub.

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In the standard route network model, what makes the formation of routes difficult and time-consuming is that they are unknown - Not that there necessarily are obstacles but that there could be obstacles that could cause a mishap. In well known routes, these dangers are well-mapped. Even though space is mostly empty, there is more danger in going too fast through hyperspace on lesser known journeys, and this is partially represented in the game's RAW on the navigator end by being able to subtract hours from or add hours to the duration by accepting a higher or lower astrogation difficulty. The base duration for a journey is assuming a base safety level. The ship can go faster for more danger and slower for less danger.

IMO, we're mostly looking at a difference of degree; I think we both agree that there are obstacles, but I'm of the opinion that obstacles off of "known" routes are much more common, common enough that anyone attempting to trailblaze a new route is almost certain to run into multiple obstacles, and be forced to backtrack and feel his way around whatever the obstacle may be.
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"No set of rules can cover every situation. It's expected that you will make up new rules to suit the needs of your game." - The Star Wars Roleplaying Game, 2R&E, pg. 69, WEG, 1996.

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