When I was a kid, I could amuse myself for hours on sunny days if I had a magnifying glass and an ant hill. On those days, I was Ra, Apollo, and Surya all rolled into one person. Maybe that's why the story of Archimedes' death ray has always fascinated me. Ah... to have the power to bring one of the most powerful nations in the world to its knees.
I thought of Archimedes when I watched the video of 19-year-old inventor Eric Jacqmain's R5800 Solar Death Ray. His invention had approximately 5,800 one centimeter square mirrors lining the inside of a satellite television dish, a simple aiming mechanism, and a wheeled base. The R5800 was destroyed in a storage shed fire in December 2010, and Jacqmain says the solar death ray was very likely the cause of the fire.
The R5800 Solar Death Ray is fascinating and scary. Jacqmain created the means to set alight the Roman navy, although the focal length is only about an arm's length, meaning that you'd need to almost be on the ship to set it on fire. While I'm not an expert on military tactics, I'm pretty sure the Romans would have something to say about this drawback. However, imagine if the focal length was at least 100 meters — people moving back and forth would be able to torch a score of ships at a time. By the time the Romans figured out what was happening, they'd be swimming.
The video of Jacqmain's R5800 Solar Death Ray also reminded me of the MythBusters failed attempts (in 2004, 2006, and 2010) to reproduce Archimedes' legendary solar death ray. Maybe Archimedes knew more about optics and focal points than most people suspect.
Jacqmain is not discouraged that his R5800 destroyed itself. In the Daily Mail article about his invention, Jacqmain says the next solar death ray he builds will contain approximately 32,000 mirrors. Ants and ancient fleets beware... Archimedes' legacy lives on.