The 'Dune'/'Star Wars' Clash You Weren't Expecting

A Tunisian set from 1999's 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' may face partial burial in the future as a sand dune edges ever closer towards the one-time Tatooine town of Mos Espa.

Even the forces of the Galactic Empire couldn't completely overrun Tatooine, but it turns out that the forces of nature may be much more powerful. Scientists believe that buildings constructed in the Tunisian desert for the 1999 movie Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace are about to be partially buried underneath something called a barchan dune.

Ralph Lorenz, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, was the one to sound the warning. Writing on the website of the Planetary Society, Lorenz -- who has co-written the book Dune Worlds: How Windblown Sand Shapes Planetary Landscapes with James Zimbelman -- Lorenz explained that the Mos Espa set from The Phantom Menace was actually constructed in the middle of a field of dunes, with the dunes moving at a rate of 15 meters (Around 50 feet) a year.

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"In 2009, a large barchan dune loomed just east of the site," Lorenz wrote. "But even only a few years ago, this dune was nowhere near!" The barchan dune is, according to the font of all knowledge known as Wikipedia, "an arc-shaped sand ridge, comprising well-sorted sand" that has been observed on Mars as well as here on Earth.

According to a paper written by Lorenz about the future of Mos Espa, if the barchan dune overruns the set as he expects, "many buildings will be temporarily buried," with their speedy construction meaning that "roofs will likely collapse, degrading the [tourist] attraction of the site when the dune moves on." However, he doesn't believe that the dune is big enough to fully bury the entire site, instead just having enough effect to cause a significant amount of damage.

If all of this makes you feel as if you should visit Mos Espa while it's still in one piece, don't worry about rushing your travel plans: Lorenz predicts that the dune "will begin overrunning the site in about 80 years."