Big bada boom!

18 January 2007

A weapons test at the Naval Surface Warface Centre made the news yesterday because a heretofore novel device was successfully tested: A railgun, more technically referred to as a Gauss-effect linear accelerator. Railguns are, conceptually, pretty simple devices: A ferrous projective rests inside a set of conductive metal rails, through which an electric current passes. When a sufficiently large pulse of electricity passes through the rails, the projectile goes out of the business end of the device at high velocity. Whatever is hit by the projectile either ceases to exist or has a very, very large hole through it due to the immense kinetic energy imparted by the projectile. The prototype isn't very powerful, as linear accelerators go - just eight megajoules of force were imparted to the round fired, but when you consider the fact that most Navy gunships' shells leave the muzzle with a net force of nine megajoules, that's pretty good for a prototype. The best way to describe the impact of a railgun is by comparing it to hitting something with a Ford Taurus moving at 380 miles per hour.. not something you'd shake off with a couple of layers of ballistic plate.