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Since nuclear bombs can level entire cities, is it possible that one can destroy a Star Destroyer?

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    If nuclear weapons have not appeared in the Star Wars universe, this may be Gorilla v. Shark, i.e. a question that matches up two things that have not encountered each other, and have no definitive mode of comparison. – Adamant Jul 11 '16 at 1:11
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    @Adamant - but they DID appear. It's a perfectly good and legitimate question, and already produced an objective answer. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jul 11 '16 at 1:40
  • @DVK-in-exile See this answer for why I disagree. – ApproachingDarknessFish Jul 11 '16 at 1:44
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    The term 'nuclear weapon' could have a yield of a few hundred kilotons (like the much rumoured recent North Korean efforts) or something like 'Big Ivan' with a yield of 50 megatons where anything larger is impractical due to the thickness of the earth's atmosphere. Which end of the spectrum are you considering? – Jeeped Jul 11 '16 at 2:14
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    It depends solely on what the writer needs it to do. – Russell Borogove Jul 11 '16 at 4:07
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Unfortunately, we have to go way outside of canon to be able to answer this:

Starting with http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Tech/Torpedoes/Torpedo2.html.

The reference Slave Ship and Iron Fist, old EU/Legends books. One thing they mention is that proton torpedoes have a range of explosive yields from "megatons to gigatons" - and that:

The recoil dissipation bracings on Imperial Star Destroyers can withstand "explosions measured in the giga-tonnage range" (ref. Slave Ship)

And also:

the Rebel fighters in Iron Fist used their proton torpedoes to blast through the hull armour of an unshielded Executor-class Star Destroyer

This indicates that the Star Destroyer mostly survived, but with a breached hull.

As has been noted - the largest nuclear weapon on earth (so far) was the Tsar Bomba at 50 megatons. This is way down the bottom end of proton torpedo range - and would probably not do too much damage to the hardened armor hulls of a Star Destroyer.

There is also the physics of nuclear explosions in space - http://history.nasa.gov/conghand/nuclear.htm

If a nuclear weapon is exploded in a vacuum-i. e., in space-the complexion of weapon effects changes drastically:

First, in the absence of an atmosphere, blast disappears completely.

Second, thermal radiation, as usually defined, also disappears. There is no longer any air for the blast wave to heat and much higher frequency radiation is emitted from the weapon itself.

So, unless the weapon was exploded directly on the ship surface, there would be almost no blast or thermal radiation. There, would, however be a lot of high energy radiation that would probably weaken hull structure and even kill crew inside the ship - but would not destroy the ship outright.

If the weapon was exploded in contact with the ship's hull, there'd still be an attenuation of the damage - but there would be some blast and thermal radiation into the hull. I'd say that the ship would still survive (again, in EU/Legends, the ships do survive this kind of punishment from multiple torpedo hits).

The final scenario would be an explosion inside the hull - this would maximise the blast and thermal radiation. However, the effect on the ship would be determined by the actual yield of the device and the internal structure of the ship. Chances are though, the ship would not survive as internal structure would fail, and then secondary explosions from weapon stores and the power reactor would pretty much rip the thing apart from the inside.

This is what happened in Star Wars: X-Wing (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Gafra)

the warhead was then delivered to the Invincible in a shuttle modified to appear to be an Imperial vessel, and the Star Destroyer was blown up from the inside.

  • Also, this might shed some light on this: dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a955411.pdf – Jay Carr Jul 11 '16 at 17:28
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    Based on other sources (the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games) that implies that a single X-Wing requires two hits in the megaton range to destroy. This seems silly given the size of the craft, that much force would simply move it out of the way and vaporize it versus the typical missile explosion hits we see. – Freiheit Jul 11 '16 at 17:46
  • Well, we don't really know what materials X-Wings are made from... – HorusKol Jul 11 '16 at 23:12
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According to Wookieepedia, a single nuclear weapon was sufficient to destroy a Star Destroyer on at least one occasion:

An Imperial nuclear warhead was captured by the Rebel Alliance from the freighter Gafra during Operation Strike Fear. The warhead was then smuggled onto the Star Destroyer Invincible, destroying it from the inside.

This probably isn't canon but I think it's the best we can get.

This leaves it unclear whether a nuclear bomb would destroy a Star Destroyer it were detonated outside of its hull, or what effect the ship's shields would have. One could try to reason about this case, but empirically, I don't think it can resolved using existing media. Nuclear weapons are not common in the Star Wars universe.

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    Destroy? With a blast radius of 30 kilometers (basically a 50MT Tsar Bomba), it's more like it would be completely evaporated. – Mazura Jul 11 '16 at 1:31
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    @Mazura, nuclear weapons in space behave very differently from nuclear weapons in an atmosphere. The main effect of a nearby detonation is heating from x-rays; for a mile-long Star Destroyer, that means localized heating from x-rays. In space, the shockwave can only be carried by the matter making up the bomb, for a "blast radius" measured in tens of feet. – Mark Jul 11 '16 at 2:28
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    @Mark Mazura is commenting on the detonation referenced in this answer which took place inside the destroyer. HorusKol's answer covers nuclear explosions in a vacuum. – user42419 Jul 11 '16 at 17:09
  • @Mark: Some more information on Starfish Prime for you. Ran across this trying to determine if I thought what you said is true or not, it appears to be true :P dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a955411.pdf. Thought others might find it interesting. – Jay Carr Jul 11 '16 at 17:36
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Starship and Space Stations are generally not the most structurally sound things to have ever been constructed to begin with, because they don't need to be. The thing that stops them from just being shot full of holes in Sci-fi is magic shields of one type or another, but this is important to remember that these constructs aren't somehow magically going to withstand the impact of things that structure normally wouldn't. So yes, it can be destroyed with a Nuke.

But here's the thing. Nukes aren't something with such an easily pinned down destructive capacity. Hypothetically, you can blow up a galaxy with a nuke or you can have a relatively small explosive that takes out only something the size the standard car. So when you say "Nuke" that isn't really something that can be categorically stated one way or the other. Some nukes can, some nukes can't.

It is fully possible that a Star destroyer could stand up to, say, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, but not be able to stand up to anything that we regularly make now.

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    I'm not so sure can you make nuclear bomb that would "take out something the size of standard car". Davy Crockett had the yeld of about 10T - that would be enough to destroy a solid building. – Yasskier Jul 11 '16 at 1:48
  • Define "stand up to" : "In Hiroshima almost everything within 1.6 kilometres (1.0 mi) [the exact length of an ISD] of the point directly under the explosion was completely destroyed, except for about 50 heavily reinforced, earthquake-resistant concrete buildings, only the shells of which remained standing." –Little Boy, Wiki – Mazura Jul 11 '16 at 2:06
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    It's likely a Star Destroyer could shrug off a near-miss by a Hiroshima-class bomb even without magic shielding: back-calculating from the Atomic Rockets estimates for a 1-megaton nuke at 1 km says that a 20-kt nuke will cause minor surface melting, but no vaporization or shock damage. – Mark Jul 11 '16 at 2:43
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    @Mazura This wouldn't be an air blast like Hiroshima, though. – reirab Jul 11 '16 at 6:20
  • @reirab - Agreed, far from it, as there'd be no "air". See Mark's comment and HorusKol's answer. Fascinating stuff. – Mazura Jul 11 '16 at 6:23

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