I am writing a story that takes place in the sci-fi 50's with vintage ray guns. After watching several old sci-fi movies I have observed several effects of old ray guns when fired which I will list below

  • The target glowing brightly
  • An x-ray effect where the targets skeleton is visible before vaporization
  • A pile of ash left behind/burnt skeleton
  • vaporization occurs


enter image description here

The question

  1. how and why a ray gun have such an "x-ray" effect?

Additional information

When Ray gun is mentioned , I mean any energy weapon, this includes

  • Plasma
  • gamma ray
  • Lasers
  • particle ray

There may be more that aren't listed, but if any of these listed could provide the effects pictured above then use that as the definition and or one that hasn't been listed

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Ray-guns producing an x-ray effect, commenced with "Mars Attacks" (1996). This is hardly vintage YMMV. Previously ray-guns enveloped victims in a glowing nimbus after they either exploded or disappeared. You should be applauded in writing 1950s style SF, with ray-guns even!, but a bit more research might be in order. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raygun Remember 1950s Sf was less grounded in real science. Ray-guns could melt, disintegrate, blast, disrupt, pulverize, vaporize, freeze, shrink, explode or leave the body dead without a mark. The effect was more important than the science. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ The original 1962 "Mars Attacks" cards showed the flesh removed from the bones of ray-gun victims. Less of an x-ray effect, more of flensing flesh from the bone. Even then, that wasn't the usual image of ray-guns in action. That suggests the rays induced a rapid dissolution of organic matter, while leaving the bones intact. Burton's movie used x-ray imagery instead of the cards' bone-exposing horror effect. A flesh-destroying ray can't too hard to devise, someone will find a way. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 7:04

3 Answers 3


I think the concept behind the x-ray effect is that you are vaporizing the soft tissue first, before the more dense bones. As the soft tissue turns into a gaseous form, you can see the bones before they too are vaporized.

The problems with actually achieving this effect with a real-science weapon are many. Some obvious points are that the density of gas is about thousandth of a solid, so a man would vaporize into a rapidly expanding cloud of man-gas, as opposed to just dissapearing. Also, any beam weapon carrying enough energy to vaporize a human (MJ at least, maybe GJ) would both ionize the air causing an expanding plasma ball and bore a hole right through the person in miliseconds, depositing the rest of its energy somewhere behind them.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm estimating about 25 MJ to boil (vaporize) a human, not accounting for the energy required to physically separate the material. You could use this as the hard minimum. $\endgroup$
    – Lacklub
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Lacklub Maybe I'm misreading your link, but I only see the specific heat for bringing water to boiling, I don't see the specific enthalpy of vaporization. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 20:19

I can think of no scientific basis for this answer but perhaps the "Ray" simply interacts with the large amounts of calcium in bones in the same way microwaves interact with water in a microwave oven.

Vibrating water molecules increases the heat of the substance (mmmm pizza bites); in your ray guns the weapons produce the same effect on a weaponized scale. The glowing bones aren't the effect of X-rays, the glowing bones are literally super heated material. This effect puts off a large amount of heat which vaporizes the target from the inside out.


It varies from work to work but the after effect is often a skeleton, so what we are seeing may not be x-ray so mush as all the non solid matter being vaporized. As the mostly water flesh quickly becomes a more transparent (possibly somewhat glowing) gas, the solid skeleton could be viable.


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