A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel might not actually be unrealistic, according to latest research – and physicists are using the phrase “warp drive” with a straight face.
The new idea puts a football-shaped spacecraft in the middle of a large ring encircling it. The idea is that the ring would cause space-time to warp around the starship and create the warp bubble that way. The star drive would compress space-time in front of the ship and expand it behind the ship, so effectively the ship would be surfing the fabric of space-time in front of an expansion wave. It would have none of the adverse effects of other methods of travel, and, strangely enough, would enable the starship to travel at about ten times the speed of light. If they can figure out how to generate that warp field – historically, that’s been the problem. How do you warp space-time using only physical technology available to us as a technological species? Getting that interface between the physical and what we think we know about the universe at a sub-quantum level has been the real trick the entire time.
Previous studies estimated that this warp drive would need a minimum amount of energy approximately equivalent to the mass energy of the planet Jupiter. New calculations by Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center show that if the warp bubble thickness is optimized by changing the shape of the ring around the spacecraft to that of a torus instead of a simple flat-walled cylinder, the warp drive would only need 500 kilograms of exotic matter to “send a 10-metre bubble at an effective velocity of 10c (10 times the speed of light). If the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required would be even less.
White and his colleagues have set up the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, creating a laser interferometer that will hopefully allow them to create microscopic warp bubbles. The table top experiment may allow them to disturb space-time by one part in 10 million, assuming it works.
Desktop warp bubble experiments. When a technology develops to the point where you can do table-top experiments with it, it starts to have some potential. What strikes us is how similar this is to the Star Trek concept of what warp drive is, and how the Trekkies have pretty much understood the basics of how all this works the entire time. The implications of this fact alone are staggering enough.
This things are never cut and dried, though, and like all theories, this one has its detractors. Some physicists suggest that the idea would require the use of particles billions of times smaller than any discovered to date, for which we have no valid means even to detect them, let alone emit them. This, however, is why we perform experiments – if the tabletop experiment works as expected, it insinuates that the new particles exist as well.
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