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Adjustments have radically reduced the theoretical amount of energy necessary to warp space-time

"There is hope."

Those were the words of Harold "Sonny" White at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, an event where science fiction fans and theoretical physicists alike met to trade suggestions and ideas about future starship designs.  Mr. White was talking about his novel warp drive that bears eerie similarities to the fictional drive of Star Trek fame.

I. From Fiction to Feasible

The idea for the real-life version was first hatched by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994.  Alcubierre's spaceship was a two-part design consisting of a football-shaped spacecraft and an outer ring of exotic matter, responsible for warping space.  

Inside the ring was a bubble of normal, safe space-time encapsulating the ship, but outside it the ring contracted space-time ahead of the ship while elongating it behind the ship.  The resulting distortion of the fabric of our universe would allow the spaceship to travel at a mind-blowing 10 times the speed of light without violating the fundamental laws of space and time.

Warp spaceship
The warp spaceship is a two-part design. [Image Source: Harold White]

So what’s the problem?  The amount of energy needed to warp the space was calculated to be equivalent to the mass of the planet Jupiter, the most massive planet in our solar system.  Thus for almost a decade the idea was written off as an interesting theoretical observation, but more fit for fiction than fact.

Then along came Mr. White with an interesting idea -- what if you turned the relatively flat ring into a donut.  The results were astonishing -- used the new rounded ring design, the mass-energy needed was reduced by orders of magnitude to around that of the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977 -- a small spacecraft.

And by oscillating the intensity of the warps over time, the energy could be even further reduced.

Comments Mr. White in a SPACE.com report, "The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation.  The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.  If we're ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we're going to have to think outside the box a little bit, were going to have to be a little bit audacious."

II. Moving Towards the Stars

Following the new revelations, Mr. White's next order of business is to set up a tabletop experiment at the Johnson Space Center using a measurement instrument they invented, dubbed the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer.  The laser instrument is designed to detect small warps in space.

Mr. White says of this "humble" experiment, "We're trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million."

Kepler Exoplanet
The warp drive could allow man to reach distant exoplanets. [Image Source: NASA/UCSD]

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight, is thrilled by the progress, commenting, "Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light.  But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light."

At this point the warp engine is still in its very nascent stages of development.


And yet one cannot help but imagine the words of fictional Star Trek character Zefram Cochrane, Mr. White's fictional analogue:

On this site, a powerful engine will be built - an engine that will someday help us to travel a hundred times faster than we can today. Imagine it: thousands of inhabited planets at our fingertips. And we'll be able to explore those strange new worlds, and seek out new life, and new civilizations. This engine will let us go boldly, where no man has gone before. 

And at that the mind wonders upon the idea of this device floating through the cold stretches of space -- a doubly round manmade instrument in a universe dominated by curvature, creating oscillations of space which are in turn oscillated in intensity with a sinusoidal, rhythmic beat that could one day carry mankind across the stars.

Source: Space.com



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NOT warp 10
By dgingerich on 9/18/2012 1:27:25 PM , Rating: 5
ten times the speed of light would not be warp 10.

1. according to the original series, warp numbers are estimated at the cube of the number times the speed of light. Warp 2 would be 8 times the speed of light, Warp 3 would be 27 times the speed of light, etc.

2. In Star Trek The Next Generation, it became much more complicated. Warp 10 is defined as infinite speed. other warp factor numbers were a more complicated variety, based on plateaus that were more energy efficient. (For example, Warp 6.9 would take almost twice the energy to maintain than Warp 7.)

Really, it wasn't all that well defined, but it was far more complicated than just "x times the speed of light"

http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Warp_factor




RE: NOT warp 10
By Motoman on 9/18/2012 1:56:36 PM , Rating: 5
In Voyager, when they invented a warp 10 engine, it wound up having the ship occupy all points in space and time simultaneously...since nothing can travel faster than light, if you're at that speed apparently you are everywhere at the same time.

Something like that. And then Paris turned into a giant salamander and made secks with teh captain.


RE: NOT warp 10
By dgingerich on 9/18/2012 2:02:06 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, the infinite improbability drive. :)


RE: NOT warp 10
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 2:14:20 PM , Rating: 2
You know, now that I think of it that way, you are completely correct! Suddenly that whole episode makes sense, remarkable!


RE: NOT warp 10
By Motoman on 9/18/2012 2:36:02 PM , Rating: 2
You're thinking too hard. The important part was that there was hot salamander secks with the Captain.


RE: NOT warp 10
By FITCamaro on 9/18/2012 6:13:03 PM , Rating: 2
Except it was with the Captain....

Now Seven of Nine would have been another story.


RE: NOT warp 10
By DigitalFreak on 9/18/2012 6:34:42 PM , Rating: 2
I still maintain her designation should have been 6 of 9.


RE: NOT warp 10
By wordsworm on 9/18/2012 7:37:27 PM , Rating: 2
All Borg were afraid of Seven, because Seven ate Nine.


RE: NOT warp 10
By Motoman on 9/18/2012 8:32:34 PM , Rating: 1
Oh c'mon...sure, 7 was hot as hell but seriously...it's not like you would've kicked Captain Janeway out of bed :p


RE: NOT warp 10
By amanojaku on 9/18/2012 9:36:44 PM , Rating: 2
No, I'd have just thrown her from the train, or pushed her off the cruise ship.

-Owen


RE: NOT warp 10
By superstition on 9/23/2012 1:26:32 AM , Rating: 2
I'm certain you were glad that Kess quit Neelix so you could have him all to yourself.


RE: NOT warp 10
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2012 1:59:02 PM , Rating: 1
Correct, at some point between the original series movies (some might recall the Excelsior class and it's "great experiment" Transwarp Drive), and Star Trek the Next Generation, Transwarp Drive was perfected. Which effectively raised the speed limit on ships, big time :)

I say perfected cause...yeah :P
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRf1zI2IoWQ


RE: NOT warp 10
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 2:24:49 PM , Rating: 4
Interestingly enough, this warp drive design would make ships look similar to the Vulcan vessels of the Enterprise TV series.


RE: NOT warp 10
By trisct on 9/21/2012 10:56:34 AM , Rating: 2
Probably because that series went into production after the Alcubierre paper was published. I would imagine there were people involved with the Star Trek series that paid attention.


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