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That blows! Sand dunes move in on famed 'Star Wars' set

Scientists report that Anakin Skywalker's hometown is under attack -- not by Tusken Raiders but by the desert itself.

This tourist photo, acquired by the researchers in December 2012, shows the edge of the barchan making contact with a building on the Mos Espa movie set in Tunisia. S. Slater

The sands of time might soon bury the sands of Tatooine.

Sand dunes blowing over the Tunisian desert are poised to cover a famous "Star Wars" film set that served as the backdrop for numerous scenes in "The Phantom Menace."

More than a dozen buildings, real and mocked up, still stand on the site of the fictional Mos Espa, where the young Anakin Skywalker grew up. But a team of scientists reports that mounds of wind-swept sand have made contact with some of the Mos Espa buildings, threatening to damage a popular geek landmark and tourist destination.

For the past several years, the scientists have used the fictional dwellings as a marker for measuring the migration of giant wind-blown, crescent-shaped sand ridges known as barchans, which are produced by wind moving predominantly from one direction. They visited the site located in the Tunisian region of Oung el Jemel in 2009, and noted that sands had already overcome part of a nearby set used in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope."

The roof on another set nearby collapsed under the weight of sand when the building was overrun circa 2005. The photo shows what damage could hit the Mos Espa site. Ralph D. Lorenz, Nabil Gasmi, Jani Radebaugh, Jason W. Barnes, and Gian G. Ori

The U.S. and Tunisian researchers -- Ralph D. Lorenz, Nabil Gasmi, Jani Radebaugh, Jason W. Barnes, and Gian G. Ori -- have continued to track the area via Google Earth satellite images, and their paper on the topic (PDF), titled "Dunes on Planet Tatooine: Observation of Barchan Migration at the Star Wars film set in Tunisia," appears in the latest issue of the journal Geomorphology.

The Mos Espa movie set, located on a clay-rich pan in an isolated field of barchanoid dunes, includes such famed spots as Watto's shop and the Skywalker slave quarters. The front edge of a 21-foot barchan, moving at a barchan-typical distance of around 50 feet a year, appears to be encroaching on the alley adjoining Anakin's homestead.

The barchan will likely blow past Mos Espa, which is expected to reemerge from the barchan assault, but probably not without sustaining damage.

For some fans, the real-world locales featured in "Star Wars" stand as sacred sites worthy of great care. Last year, we wrote about the Save Lars restoration group, which got the go-ahead from the Tunisian government to repair the original Lars homestead shooting location in Chott el Gharsa. See photos of the group's efforts in the gallery below.

(Via BBC News)