Science-fiction science: How long could you survive inside a Tauntaun?

Applying Earth science to science-fiction scenarios might not be easy (or particularly necessary) but it sure is fun. Here, fans take the cutting-open-a-furry-beast-and-using-its-carcass-as-an-emergency-blanket scene from The Empire Strikes Back and attempt to deduce how long Luke Skywalker could have actually survived on the sweet, sweet warmth provided by Tauntaun entrails.

In a normal environment, a carcass gets cold in 8 to 36 hours losing an average rate of 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit per hour. However, the ice world of Hoth is not an average environment. The Star Wars database lists that Hoth reaches nightly temperatures of -60 F. In a frigid, sub-zero environment, body heat can be lost almost 32 times faster. This means a Tauntaun's body heat could drop almost 51.2 F every hour.

The initial estimate is probably off, as it looks like the author is using human body temperatures to figure how warm the Tauntaun would be when it died and how fast it would lose heat, but some of those issues get hashed out in the comments.

Wolf Gnards blog: How Long Could Luke Survive in a Tauntaun?


  1. After the storm, Luke has been moved to a shelter. I always assumed that Han used the Tauntan to bring up his core temperature, then transferred him to something conventional to keep him alive until rescue.

    Check out a blanket, it will retain heat great, but if you’re cold to begin with, it doesn’t really have much to work with.

  2. As a creature that is evolved to live in a cold environment, the tauntaun probably loses heat SIGNIFICANTLY more slowly than a human, evolved on the warm savanahs of Africa. That thick fur is there for a REASON. The square-cube law is probably also a factor.

  3. Bacteria on a cold world might also have evolved differently, and may be able to rot a taunton quickly, rendering heat with the digestion. They don’t recognize the alien “Luke” as food, and haven’t evolved means to act as pathogens in his system. Also critter built for uber-cold might have serious blubber/fur insulation not seen on this planet.

  4. I always assumed that was what Han did (see Chairboy’s comment). I think the animals was native to Hoth and was pretty resilient to the cold. The one that Han was riding may have died for a number of reasons, not excluding cold. If one assumes that the animal can withstand the cold better than a human, it most likely died from exhaustion, after all Han was riding the hell out of it to search the frozen wasteland. I’m guessing when a tauntaun is in a herd they huddle like cattle or penguins for warmth.

    One thing that always bothered me about that whole thing was the fact they didn’t use space or aircraft to search for the pair. I know they said something about having to retrofit the snow speeders for the cold, but couldn’t they find another craft that could withstand the tolerances of the cold climate of Hoth. I know some will use the “too much moisture” argument, but snowy cold settings have a lot humidity despite the fact there is a lot of snow around. Anywhy, there is my nerdy nerdy two cents…..

    Oh yeah, the animal’s disgusting wet insides would get Luke wet, and cold faster.

  5. Luke is alive and producing heat. The Tatuan’s body organs, skin and fur serve as an insulator surrounding him and holding in this heat. It’s not such a mystery.

  6. Ok, I’ve watched Empire way too many times. As memory serves Han put Luke in the tauntaun while he built a shelter fro the both of them to ride out the storm, and could have been as simple as a hole dug in the snow 4 or 5 feet down to keep out the blistering cold wind. Granted, by the time Han was done digging the shelter, the tauntuan would be close to cold and stiff, but Luke would be much better off than if he had been just sitting out in the snow and wind that whole time.

    The speeders the rebels flew were not designed to be “snow” speeders, hence the retrofit, just like the helicopters mountain rescuers use, aren’t designed for the cold (and just like our modern day mountain rescuers, going out in a blizzard to look for people is suicide, hence why they waited for the storm to break). The movie implied that the storm lasted all night (or at the very least into the early morning hours) and by the time Han ‘woke up’ there was already a search party looking for them (cue fly over by ‘snow’ speeder).

  7. The only mystery is why Han didn’t think to include a locator beacon with his supplies. Then the searchers could have found them right away.

    1. If I had to explain that away, it could be because a locator beacon could be spotted from space. Especially after a probe droid was already destroyed near their hidden base. But then again this is George Lucas we are talking about so it might have just been an oversight.

  8. Backtrack a second: I’ve never understood the logic of Luke leaving the Snow Beast cave– he had already chopped off its arm, he could have finished the job no problem, so he’d have a nice snow cave shelter, PLUS an even larger carcass to crawl inside. It’s a lot more logical than running out into the blizzard with nothing more than the clothes on your back and a light saber, but I guess the Force moves in mysterious ways. (Of course the real reason for that whole scene, as all nerds know, is they had to explain the scars on his face after Mark Hamil’s car accident during the filming of the blockbuster smash “Corvette Summer.”)

    1. True, I guess you have to chalk it up to “plot device,” though if I had to rationalize it, one could say that Luke was in fear for his life and was more interested in getting away from the hurt and extremely pissed off snow beast (which you could compare to an extremely pissed off grizzly bear, neither of which I would want to meet). Luke might have even had a concussion from getting hit by the snow beast, rendering incapable of making logical choices reducing him to his basest of instincts (get the hell away from danger now).

      @ill lich;
      On an unrelated note, you’ve humbled me as I did not know about that car accident that happened to Hamil. I’m gonna go curl up in my bed with my star wars sheets and cry myself to sleep now.

  9. Anyone have any idea why MKB’s recent posts appear older than appropriate in my RSS feed (e.g., this one is dated 12/19/09)?

    1. note from maggie:
      that´s probably a side-effect of the fact that i scheduled these in early december before i left for costa rica. it´s showing you the date the post was written, for some reason, rather than the date the post went live.

  10. I always go by the rule of threes
    3o days without food
    3 days without water
    3 hours in a Tauntaun
    3 minutes without air

  11. Ah, but you’re ignoring the all-important “retconned midicholrians interacting with Tauntaun fat” index: a better insulator the galaxy never knew.

    Have a happy (and nerdy) new decade, y’all.

    1. @Tdawwg.

      Oh dear dear. Every good nerd knows that there is still a whole year before the new decade!!

      1. I’m merely deferring to common usage here. Nerds do this sometimes, despite the lack of a year zero etc. etc. “Happy whatever,” if you prefer.

      2. No, there isn’t. Decades are named by the third digit the years share. The oughts (or Naughties, as BBC wants to call them) began on January 1, 2000, even though that year was the last year of the Twentieth Century. It was the FIRST year of “the 2000s,” however. The teens begin tonight. That’s a new decade, by the naming convention in common use.

        If you want to say that we’re still in “the first decade of the Twenty-First Century,” you’d be right on that, but that’s not really common usage.

  12. My college history prof owned a picture taken by his German father-in-law during the Nazi invasion of Russia (Operation Redbeard/Unternehmen Barbarossa). It shows two war orphans living inside the bloated, frozen carcass of a horse. They’ve got a little campfire and everything.

  13. This always bothered me: Wouldn’t the Tauntan continue to generate heat if it here alive? Like having dogs or cats sleep with you? But once it’s killed, the begins to lose heat. Now maybe it wouldn’t want to cuddle with Mark Hamil. But that doesn’t seem unlikely.

    1. The inside of a tauntaun is lukewarm.

      Dear sir or madam:

      Congratulations! You have won the internets for today.

  14. Han says the following as He’s inserting Luke into the Tauntaun, and I quote:

    “This may smell bad kid, but it will keep you warm until I can get the shelter buit.”

    I think that’s pretty obvious. Luke wasn’t in the Tauntaun all night. Like all of the other commenters have said, he was just in there long enough for Han to get their protective tents put up. After that, Han would have removed him.

    Oh, and just for reference, you can find the Empire Strikes Back script (with that line of dialogue) here:

  15. Everyone on this thread has assumed that Hoth beasts have the same internal body temperature (~100F) as Earth beasts.

    Next, all that heat was inside the Tauntaun, so regardless what temperature it was, Han would have been foolish to leave the heat in there.

    Next, in-story, the Tauntaun died of joy seeing Luke was safe. Out-of-story, the Tauntaun died so Han wouldn’t have to kill it to get to its body heat.

    Next, these guys can fly a 1-seat spaceship halfway across a galaxy – they can’t equip their pilots with Bic lighters that can keep them warm all night??

  16. If you’re dying of hypothermia you’d do well to swaddle yourself in layers of animal fat and fur even if the animal they came from is no longer retaining any body heat of its own. The German performance artist Joseph Beuys claimed that he was saved from a similar fate in this manner by Tatar tribesmen in 1942.

  17. BTW, there’s a scene like that in a Swedish movie, “Nybyggarna” (about Swedes who have emigrated to America). A father and small daughter get caught in a blizzard. He kills the cow they are with and sticks the child inside so he can go find help.

    This movie predates Star Wars so maybe Lucas got the idea from it. Those are the only two instances where I’ve seen such a maneuver. Are there others in film or literature?

  18. Yeah, a creature that lives on such a world, combined with larger mass (being large enough to ride a person comfortably) would be able to shelter a person better.

    But let’s not forget, Star Wars is a fantasy and storytelling experiment/innovation that has very little to do with actual science.

    The Republic/Empire whatever of Star Wars would have to be a much more advanced technology pretending its a lesser one. A “LightSaber” is quite possible, but it makes one wonder why a blaster can’t shoot through a mountain or to the other side of a planet.

    I’ve been in a few fiery debates about the “Battle of Yavin” – the end of the first Star Wars. Someone always brings up, “Why didn’t the Death Star just shoot the gas giant planet first, then the Rebel base planet?”

    Well, since Alderan and Yavin are roughly Earth sized, the force to do it (which would be a tractor beam, not a laser) would be (calculated on raw mass moved) equivilant to the yearly energy output of the sun. That it was barely a day from attempt 1 to 2 shows a lot about their technology. It’s beyond even GUT – Grand Unified Theory or the ability to convert all matter into anything, including raw energy. They seem to tap “Hyperspace” which is a much higher energy level. The Return of the Jedi Death star had a few more innovations, such as lower-powered shots from the turbo laser since Rebels had proven their ability to slip past standard military defenses, but those blasts weren’t planet killer level.

    However, shooting a gas giant planet with a beam that powerful is not a good idea. It would have a lot more mass and the power to rip it apart would be several orders of magnitude more, in the range of 10 to 100 times. Then it’s core, if anything like what Jupiter’s probably is, is a sea of liquid metallic hydrogen and probably a rocky inner core. Superfluid and super conductor, Jupiter’s core puts out more heat for it’s solar system of moons than it receives from the sun, and it’ll probably do that far after the sun burns out if it’s still in the solar system. Being shot with a turbolaser like the Death Star’s would have unpredictable effects, up to and including the beam reflected back at them, but more likely be absorbed. I wouldn’t want to be in the planet when it happens (like in a Bespin colony building) but it’d just mess with the gas patterns for a little while.

  19. My kids love their Think Geek tauntaun sleeping bag. They got it for Christmas and one of them has slept in it every night since.

    To Anonymous at #20: Han’s tauntaun had keeled over and died moments before Han decided to repurpose it as a snuggie to keep Luke warm long enough to get the emergency shelter set up.

  20. you can try to solve this using simple forensics.

    google: “henssge” or “nomogram” as picture search. make sure to get the “below 23 C” version.

    calculate the temperatures in celsius. the model assumes a temperature of 37,2 C for the living or 37,5 in later versions respectively.

    assume sub-zero ambient temperature as it snows.

    calculate the tauntaun weight in Kilograms. do NOT enter this weight into your calculations, but use it to calculate virtual weight using the corrective factor.

    that is a hard one – i guess insulation from the tauntaun fur is good for a CF of 2,3 at least (thick beadspread equivalent) but as the wind is blowing we should reduce it to say 1,5 or so.

    now you have everything to fiddle around with the nomogram and get a feeling what temp the tauntaun might end up with after 3 hours or so.

    note that after MARSHALL and HOARE there is a plateau phase where internal temperature does not significantly drop. up to 2 hours long but under Hoth conditions and with an open belly, this seems a little far.

    anyway. if we assume that luke was in an ambient temperature of more than 30 C for 3 hours or so, HIS body temp will not have dropped significantly, even under worst case scenario assumptions that he does not produce heat himself and therefore cools like a deadman (you can enter tauntaun ambient temperature, lukes body weight and a whopping corrective factor for tauntaun-covering according to the tauntaun example).

    have a great 2010 everyone!

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