Mos Espa, the fictional town from the The Phantom Menace, may soon be lost to the sands of time. The movie set, built for the 1999 Star Wars prequel, is a popular tourist attraction for the Tunisian city of Tozeur, but it is now under threat from massive, advancing sand dunes.
The set, which has become a place of pilgrimage for truly devoted fans of the film franchise, is directly in the path of a large dune type known as a barchan. According to Johns Hopkins scientist Ralph Lorenz, who co-authored the Geomorphology paper, Dunes on Planet Tatooine: Observation of Barchan Migration at the Star Wars Film Set in Tunisia, Mos Espa could be completely buried within six years.
Tunisian authorities are reportedly considering bulldozing the dune to preserve the tourist attraction, but Lorenz believes they are only delaying the inevitable, since there is an even larger barchan waiting behind the current one.
If there is a silver lining to this situation (and perhaps the creation of The Phantom Menace as a whole), it's that Mos Espa's destruction may aid in the study of dune migration on Earth. "One of the challenges in measuring dune migration on Mars or Earth is that dunes often appear in vast sand seas where not only can it be difficult to tell one dune from another," says Lorenz. "But there may be no fixed reference point against which to measure the dune's position." Mos Espa, he says, may serve as a helpful "fiducial marker" as the barchan rolls over it.