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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 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.


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Seems like fantasy
By chromal on 9/18/2012 1:28:03 PM , Rating: 3
We can't even warp spacetime in the lab, and so it seems like "and an outer ring of exotic matter" (that can bend spacetime) is well beyond practicality. Or am I missing something?

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Azethoth on 9/18/2012 1:46:03 PM , Rating: 4
That's what R&D is for. Magic box that talks long distance was beyond practicality just 150 years ago or so.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Dorkyman on 9/18/2012 3:15:51 PM , Rating: 2
What a crock. I can say "Shazaam!" over a piece of lead but that won't make it turn into gold, no matter how hard I imagine it to be true.

Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and reality, but in reality, there is."

RE: Seems like fantasy
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 3:50:49 PM , Rating: 5
Bombard that lead with the right combination of neutrons/alpha particles and you can. See, it's perfectly possible to turn lead into gold, it just takes the right -method-, which "Shazaam!" isn't, but which the point of science is all about finding out.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Souka on 9/18/2012 7:36:33 PM , Rating: 1
feasable != likely to ever work.

If I point my laser pointer at the sky, it's "feasable" aliens will detect my signal and attack our planet.... feasable...

RE: Seems like fantasy
By 91TTZ on 9/18/2012 8:57:11 PM , Rating: 3
Feasible has a slightly different definition than possible. While they both include the meaning "able to be done", the word feasible implies that it's realistic and workable.

In your example, it's possible that you could communicate with aliens using your laser, but it isn't really feasible.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By SPOOFE on 9/19/2012 3:39:24 AM , Rating: 4
It's almost as if, in his world, everything is either guaranteed or equally unlikely, with no middle ground or greater/lesser magnitudes of likelihood, or something.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Natch on 9/19/2012 8:03:34 AM , Rating: 2
Perhaps they should try the Bugs Bunny method, of using "Hocus-cadabra" and "Abraca-pocus"?? ;)

The problem with changing lead is that it's a very stable atom (highest non-radioactive, in fact). Much easier to change a radioactive substance by subjecting it to a neutron flux (which is how U-238 is turned into Pu-239).

The trick would be finding the radioactive substance that would decay into gold....

RE: Seems like fantasy
By StevoLincolnite on 9/18/2012 3:57:35 PM , Rating: 5
What a crock. I can say "Shazaam!" over a piece of lead but that won't make it turn into gold, no matter how hard I imagine it to be true.

Should drop you back in time a few centuries into the past; and see what people think of your magical electrical vehicles that have no hidden horses, cordless telecommunication devices, advanced medicines, space flight etc'.

You would probably be burned at the stake for "witchcraft" because it would all be imaginary and impossible in peoples minds.

Just remember without great ideas and research and development we would not have anything we have today.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By DigitalFreak on 9/18/2012 6:29:40 PM , Rating: 2
You would probably be burned at the stake for "witchcraft" because it would all be imaginary and impossible in peoples minds.

I vote for this.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By TSS on 9/18/2012 6:39:44 PM , Rating: 2
A few centuries ago?

Go back just 1 century and people will tell you that if you go faster then 60 mph, it'll kill you.

...Go back 10 years and tell a younger me that in the future, a decendant of Geocities will have 900 million users worldwide, and i will laugh in your face and call you a crazy person. Yet here we are.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Samus on 9/18/2012 7:50:50 PM , Rating: 1
You naysayers are the same people who think Armstrong walked on a staged set instead of the moon...

Christ, use your imagination a little bit.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By gwem557 on 9/18/2012 4:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
Wow...spend a little time with google. Not only CAN lead be turned into gold, it HAS been turned into gold.

Thank god curious individuals like Einstein, Pasteur, Bell, and the Wright brothers never had your attitude towards the unknown.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Dorkyman on 9/18/12, Rating: -1
RE: Seems like fantasy
By gladiatorua on 9/18/2012 6:33:44 PM , Rating: 3
No, you miss the point.
At some point there was no clear definition of warp drive. Science made a definition. Next there were N problems to solve so that this warp drive could be built. One of them was enormous energy requirement. Now this problem is solved. N-1 problems left.
One step closer.
No "Shazaams".
One of the way science works.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By dark matter on 9/19/2012 3:13:14 AM , Rating: 2
If you said "Abracadabra" it would.

You're simply using the wrong word.

What a douche.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By teldar on 9/19/2012 8:18:25 AM , Rating: 1
You are obviously a buffoon trying to cover your self because you can't about you said something stupid.
Either that or you believe we know the sum totality of all physics and sciences and all their applications and that there will never be another scientific breakthrough. In which case, just Wow, I'd hate to be you with your limited and pathetic world view.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Reclaimer77 on 9/19/2012 11:09:06 AM , Rating: 2
You have no point. You're being a closed minded fucktard.

If everyone thought like you, we would be banging rocks together still.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By dark matter on 9/19/2012 3:14:15 AM , Rating: 1
Of course saying a word will not make things happen.

Do you think yourself a God or something.

What a twat.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By RevenTyler on 9/19/2012 3:11:26 PM , Rating: 3
Of course saying a word will not make things happen.

"Computer, make me a sandwich."

*beep whir beep* "Access denied."

"Sudo make me a sandwich."

*beep whir beep* "Access granted."

Do you think yourself a God or something.


RE: Seems like fantasy
By vol7ron on 9/21/2012 5:11:36 PM , Rating: 2
That's only what The Doctor would have you believe - don't want the Daleks to start taking us out

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Mathos on 9/18/2012 1:46:41 PM , Rating: 1
My guess is it would be a rare earth exotic, or a manmade exotic material, that acted as a super conductor, or a large enough super magnet. Which theoretically would be able to warp the membrane of space time like it's showing in the picture.... Oscillating said field, would likely generate the same effect as having a powered wheel turning against a semi loose belt track. I don't know if that's the best analogy to use though.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By zephyrprime on 9/18/2012 2:31:32 PM , Rating: 3
No, the exotic matter they are talking about would be along the lines of dark matter or super symmetry particles or other stuff that is know by mathematical physical models only (no known real world examples).

RE: Seems like fantasy
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 2:45:47 PM , Rating: 2
Dark Energy might possibly be an example, as that is the sort of behavior the exotic matter would have. May well be that's what dark energy is; the effects of this exotic matter which may be what we call dark matter.

So much speculation though. As you say, there's no solidly known real world examples. But, since they are going to test this in the lab now, it seems we have a hypothesized way to do this without actual exotic matter (or to generate it temporarily into existence for a short time?).

RE: Seems like fantasy
By gwem557 on 9/18/2012 4:58:04 PM , Rating: 2
One possibility, I'm hoping:

Zero Point Energy

RE: Seems like fantasy
By teldar on 9/19/2012 9:19:40 AM , Rating: 2
The problem with dark matter is that it is dark because it interacts so weakly with other matter. There is some theoretical proof out is all over, there is just no easy way to detect it because of its nature.
Not to say it wouldn't be a possibility, but with its weak interaction, it would surprise me.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By geddarkstorm on 9/20/2012 10:54:02 AM , Rating: 2
Would something of negative density (which is what exotic matter is, matter with negative density!) be able to interact with normal matter, or light? The idea is it warps the fabric of space-time with its insane impossibility; but conceptually it's hard to imagine negative density matter interacting much or at all with normal matter in a direct sense... hence it might have the properties of dark matter as we see it. Absolute and complete conjecture! There are much better candidates for dark matter, but it's interesting to think about.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Jaybus on 9/25/2012 4:17:08 PM , Rating: 2
Why do you say it interacts weakly? It is true that nobody has directly detected dark energy or dark matter, yet it is very easy to indirectly detect dark energy by measuring the acceleration of the expansion of the universe and dark matter by observing light from distant galaxies being altered by gravitational lensing. Perhaps nobody can DIRECTLY detect dark matter or energy simply because we have not yet encountered any.

Consider a bunch of soap bubbles in the ocean. An observer inside the soap bubble can directly observe phenomena inside his soap bubble. He can look outside of his soap bubble and observe that other soap bubbles are moving relative to him and measure the forces being applied to the other soap bubbles. If he cannot, from inside his bubble, see the water, then he can only conclude that some "dark" energy is affecting soap bubbles. Perhaps a galaxy is a soap bubble of ordinary matter and energy floating in a sea of dark matter and energy.

Now that the Higgs boson has been found, we must consider the Higgs field. Mass is determined by how strongly a particle interacts with the Higgs field. We usually consider a particle, say an electron, to have a fixed mass. However, that is only true in a uniform Higgs field. What if the Higgs field is not uniform. The same particle would have a greater mass in regions of higher Higgs flux than in regions of lower Higgs flux. Now if we move a particle from a low flux region to a high flux region, then it's mass increases. Since E = mC^2, then either energy is not conserved or the speed of light increases. But wait! If we move it back into the low flux region the mass returns to what it was before. So did we gain and then lose energy, thus preserving the conservation of energy, or is the speed of light dependent on the Higgs field as well?

We don't know, because nobody has been able to reconcile the standard model with general relativity. Something is missing, and we are basically waiting on the next Einstein to come along and discover it.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Amiga500 on 9/18/2012 1:50:11 PM , Rating: 2
Stall the ball on that one.

Ok, like the work reported in the DT story, its in its absolute infancy - but you have to start somewhere.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2012 1:53:02 PM , Rating: 2
Of course it's fantasy, but it's still "possible". The science behind it is sound.

It's just at the moment there are massive seemingly insurmountable engineering challenges in actually making a working "Warp Drive".

But then again, so was breaking the sound barrier at one point /shrug.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By MrBlastman on 9/18/2012 2:04:13 PM , Rating: 2
What are you talking about? I warp spacetime, you warp spacetime, we all warp spacetime!

It's called... gravity. :) The mechanism for a device that allows you to use it for travel, well, that's a bit complex but entirely plausible. You have to stop looking at gravity as a pure "force" (even though it is one of the four fundamental forces) and more as part of the fabric... or a way to interact with it.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Sivar on 9/19/2012 10:39:59 AM , Rating: 2
Some of us warp space-time more than others.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By dgingerich on 9/18/2012 2:06:02 PM , Rating: 2
What if it didn't have to be a ring of "exotic matter"? They are just trying to figure out how to do it right now. What if they could do it through a very strong ring or donut shaped magnetic field, or possibly a dark energy ring that could be drawn in using a mild gravitational distortion?

RE: Seems like fantasy
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 2:12:25 PM , Rating: 2
You are missing something. We have the theory, we have the ability to use a much smaller and realistic amount of energy to test that theory. Now it's only a matter of doing and experimenting to see if this holds any water. That's what the lab work is investigating right now.

If they succeed, even in the smallest way, to detect a space-time bubble during the experiments meant to test this theory, then FTL travel will be a matter of when not if.

This is how science works; and the warp-bubble theory as just moved from science-fiction (where things like String theory still reside) to science now that we can test it directly.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By chromal on 9/18/2012 2:37:10 PM , Rating: 2
There is a pretty wide gap between what is theoretically possible and what is actually possible. It's the difference between having and not having fusion power, teleportation, direct computer/neural interface, or true artificial intelligence today. And I'll definitely continue to file 'FTL travel' right there amongst other ideas nowhere near implementation. Not saying it can't or won't be done, but we've no present reason to think it will happen in our lifespans.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 2:49:52 PM , Rating: 2
Sure, we have no reason to think it will or won't happen in our life spans. But, this now makes that "gap" not so wide, and puts it more on par with the hot fusion gap (something that can be tested and refined, but cumbersome).

If we can actually test it experimentally, then it is now science, and no longer conjecture; that's the real breakthrough here. And we know the speed science can work at once it sinks its teeth into something. Of course, the experiments may well falsify this theory instead!

Hopefully we will find out one way or another very, very soon.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By maugrimtr on 9/20/2012 10:38:14 AM , Rating: 2
Once upon a time a guy decided that Earth orbited the Sun and another discovered calculus and the mathematics to describe gravity. Both are heroes.

Once upon a time a guy decided that a donut of exotic matter was more energy efficient than a ring. If only he were alive to see us orbiting a planet 200 light years away, I could kiss him.

Science is a long long long super-long trek across the centuries. We'll never have FTL flight in our lifetimes. But one day...

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Camikazi on 9/18/2012 2:28:24 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Seems like fantasy
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 2:33:28 PM , Rating: 2
Don't worry! E = Mc^2! We can replace (or emulate) exotic matter (negative density matter) with the proper application of energy. How? I have no clue, but Dr. White sure does.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By dark matter on 9/19/2012 3:15:30 AM , Rating: 2
That equation has the speed of light in it. If you read the article, they are not changing the speed of light. Nor are they actually travelling at the speed of light.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By geddarkstorm on 9/20/2012 10:51:05 AM , Rating: 2
You... missed the point. Matter can be "made" from energy. With the right application of energy, it might be possible to replicate exotic matter without actually having exotic matter. Absolutely nothing to do with the speed of light.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By MrBungle123 on 9/20/2012 4:08:01 PM , Rating: 2
You use a bunch of Tech 3 power plants to run a bunch of Tech 3 mass fabricators and if you have enough of them you can build whatever the hell you want to, thats how...

RE: Seems like fantasy
By tayb on 9/18/2012 2:47:49 PM , Rating: 1
Although this is just a tiny instance of the phenomena, it will be existence proof for the idea of perturbing space time-a "Chicago pile" moment, as it were. Recall that December of 1942 saw the first demonstration of a controlled nuclear reaction that generated a whopping half watt. This existence proof was followed by the activation of a ~ four megawatt reactor in November of 1943. Existence proof for the practical application of a scientific idea can be a tipping point for technology development.

-Dr. White

We had the same thoughts about flight, flight speed, space travel, and endless other inventions. Things we once thought impossible or a fantasy are things you and I enjoy today. One day we'll have this same discussion about some unknown idea except "FTL travel" will be on the list above right next to "space travel."

RE: Seems like fantasy
By agsn on 9/18/2012 4:20:23 PM , Rating: 1
Because it is fantasy. Fundamentals on which these scientists are basing their calculation/prediction is WRONG. Time is not a dimension. Space wrapping does not happen like they think they do. Worm holes do not exists because science got the most fundamental question of what is space/existence wrong. The closest the would ever see a phenomenon that behaves like a worm hole is at the poles of a black hole. And u cannot travel in it.
And unfortunately yes we are in an inescapable count down to nothingness. Well it is too far away for us to care but its inevitability is also true.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By gwem557 on 9/18/2012 5:02:02 PM , Rating: 1
I think I'll put my trust in the NASA physicist, over someone that thinks 'u' is so much easier than 'you' to type out.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Jeffk464 on 9/18/2012 7:13:58 PM , Rating: 2
If you say so.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By blueaurora on 9/18/2012 8:28:49 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with him as well hehehe.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Helbore on 9/19/2012 1:08:45 PM , Rating: 2
Stop wasting time writing about it on Dailytech then and get your scientific paper published so it can be peer reviewed.

Unless you don't actually know as much as you are making out and can't actually support your statements in any meaningful way. In which case, carry on embarrassing yourself in front of the general public, as some of them might not notice.

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Schadenfroh on 9/18/2012 6:32:30 PM , Rating: 3
The Mars Explorer might locate the Prothean recon base, along with a sizable amount of refined eezo. Then, we will be able to reach the stars and defeat civilizations that reverse engineered the same technology thousands of years before us!

Not to mention, bang blue women with tentacles for hair!

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Bonesdad on 9/18/2012 10:03:11 PM , Rating: 2
You can't change the laws of physics....

where have I heard that before?

RE: Seems like fantasy
By PaFromFL on 9/19/2012 12:13:52 PM , Rating: 3
As a Ph.D. Physicist, it also seems like a fantasy to me. I don't think we know enough about the space-time "continuum" to assume that warp drive is physically possible. It would help if there were any evidence, such as black holes suddenly disappearing, gravity waves from warp transitions, objects popping into existence, or space aliens warping around the galaxy.

The experiment will probably produce results and conclusions along the lines of the Michelson-Morley experiment. It is hard to observe space-time warping or absolute frames of reference when your instruments are intrinsically part of the thing you are trying to measure.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By maugrimtr on 9/20/2012 10:46:12 AM , Rating: 2
I hate to say this, but you sound almost logical. Isn't there some place other than DT for logical people to act logical know...make sense? ;)

FTL is a bit like God, until someone disproves it, we'll all continue tracing it. Unlike religion, that would actually be good science so I disagree with referring to it as a fantasy just yet - this one is definitely subject to science.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By BifurcatedBoat on 9/20/2012 6:38:36 PM , Rating: 2
If it's possible, that means that someday it might be done. Up to this point, it didn't really seem possible.

If you could go back in time 1,000 years and start talking about production of smartphones, you'd say, "Well, if we just had a chip fabrication plant, and a means to produce LCD screens..." It would sound completely impractical, and yet here today we know it has happened and have the proof.

RE: Seems like fantasy
By Tanclearas on 9/25/2012 4:04:40 PM , Rating: 2
It's called Jell-o.

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