Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what's the weirdest Nazi concept weapon of them all? The "sun gun."
That seems to be the takeaway from a long-forgotten article in Life magazine's July 23, 1945 issue, titled "The German Space Mirror." The article, which has been making the rounds on the Internet, credits unnamed U.S. Army experts for revealing a Nazi plan to construct the extraordinary device. Consisting of a reflective, slightly concave disk approximately one mile in diameter, the sun gun would focus solar rays onto enemy cities -- and burn them.
An accompanying illustration shows a large mirror, "located 22,300 miles above the equator," focusing massive amounts of solar energy onto a city in America's Northeast.
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Eminent German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth came up with the space mirror concept in 1923, according NASA. Oberth originally intended the space mirror for peaceful purposes such as illuminating ports and thawing frozen rivers, but the concept may have taken on its "Death Star" undertones with the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.
"My space mirror," he wrote, "is like the hand mirrors that schoolboys use to flash circles of sunlight on the ceiling of their classroom. A sudden beam flashed on the teacher’s face may bring unpleasant reactions."
No schematics survive to show how the Nazis might have built the mirror, but Life suggests it would arrive in space preassembled. A small crew could possibly live inside the mirror, where they would breathe air produced by thousands of pumpkin plants, and "wear shoes soled with magnets" to combat the lack of gravity. A helmet would be mandatory -- "to protect against forgetful crashes into the ceiling."
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After the war, Oberth attempted to bring other nations around to the idea, again promoting the space mirror's peacetime applications. In a 1961 interview, the scientist suggested the U.S. build a mirror 300 miles in diameter and capable of terraforming Earth, using materials sourced from the moon to drive down cost.
Oberth wasn't the only one to champion far-out space weapons. During the Cold War, German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun lobbied the U.S. military to build a space-based weapon influenced by Oberth's ideas to combat the USSR. Von Braun said, "If we do not wish them to wrest the control of space from us, it's time, and high time we acted."
PHOTOS of the Life magazine article: