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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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Light speed, its not possible
By michael67 on 9/18/2012 1:44:42 PM , Rating: 0
Even the speed of light would be a problem.

People properly could sustain max 1.5G over a long time.

I you would accelerate with 1.5G, it would take you 3000 years to hit light speed.

At 25G we are hitting the dead-zone, so even with 25G it would still take 180 years to hit light speed.

So unless cryo suspension is working, i don't see were hitting maned light speed travel anytime soon.

So sorry captain, there is a problem with the warp engine!

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By dgingerich on 9/18/2012 1:50:10 PM , Rating: 2
That's what inertial dampeners are for: hold everything within an envelop with the same inertial reference. No more G force stresses.

By Solandri on 9/18/2012 6:17:28 PM , Rating: 2
Problem is g-forces without acceleration are equivalent to a curvature (a warp) in space-time. So if you had inertial dampeners which canceled out the g-forces of a warp drive curving space-time, they would cancel out the movement caused by that warp drive. And you'd end up not moving at all.

It's like trying to survive a falling elevator hitting the ground by standing on a spring which shoots you up at just the right velocity just before the moment of impact. The force of the spring is equivalent to the force of hitting the ground, and you end up just as squished.

By markuss232 on 9/18/2012 1:50:48 PM , Rating: 2
My understanding is that space moves around the ship, while the space the ship actually inhabits is unaffected/doesn't move. Would this mean the pilots experience...0G? Maybe someone with better knowledge could elaborate

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By Amiga500 on 9/18/2012 1:52:27 PM , Rating: 2
Inside the bubble, you don't feel a thing - thats the beauty of this - there is no experienced acceleration.

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By michael67 on 9/18/2012 2:13:02 PM , Rating: 2
No ware its saying that there will be zero G-force inside the craft, they are only saying that they change space around the craft.

So even do you could be right, you could also be wrong, and will feel the G-force inside the craft.

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 2:18:45 PM , Rating: 5
Thankfully, you are wrong.

If you read up more on the drive and theory, there is -no- inertia experienced by the craft (no G forces, no acceleration or deceleration or momentum). This is the only reason it can get around the light speed barrier in the first place. Space itself is moving, and the craft's entire frame of reference is moving with it. The craft does not accelerate, space does, so there is no physical effect on the occupants of the bubble.

Additionally, this gets around the other problems with conventional attempts to get to light speed, such as extreme doppler effects which would make a ship traveling near light speed build up a deadly cone of gamma radiation in front of it that would irradiate to death the ship's destination. With a warp bubble, that also is not the case.

There are other FTL ideas, like worm holes and hyper dimensions, but the warp bubble is by far the most realistic, now that we can test if it's valid or not.

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By MrBlastman on 9/20/2012 2:08:42 PM , Rating: 2
Well, inside the bubble, yes. I believe though you'd have to build up some momentum first to "catch the wave." The spacetime that you are riding upon in the bubble is a complex issue. You can't exactly dislocate a part of it and move it to another spot--to do so would create a tear in the fabric of our universe and that's a scary thought! So, thinking of it that way, the buildup to enter the wave would require g-forces of some magnitude and once upon it, things would level out. Or so I think after placing a lot of pondering upon it over the last several years.

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By trisct on 9/21/2012 10:59:35 AM , Rating: 2
You'd have to be going at least 88 MPH.

By retrospooty on 9/18/2012 2:40:50 PM , Rating: 2
IT could never be done by standard acceleration. It will be a warping of space time, creating a bubble that moves outside of the current known laws of acceleration. Kind of like the alien ships flying all over our skies that accelerate to insane speeds in zero seconds.

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By gleep9 on 9/18/2012 2:23:40 PM , Rating: 2
As pointed out by others warping space would result in no perceived acceleration within the bubble.

Also your acceleration math is off by substantial factor, at 1G it takes ~354 days to reach light speed.

299,792,458 meters/sec divided by 9.8 meters/sec/sec = 30,591,067 seconds = 8497 hours = 354 days

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By Ammohunt on 9/18/2012 4:20:54 PM , Rating: 2
Its called folding space; travelling without moving haven't you seen Dune? The worm is the spice!

By blueaurora on 9/18/2012 8:31:13 PM , Rating: 2
The bile of the new born worm.... it was so simple!

RE: Light speed, its not possible
By DigitalFreak on 9/18/2012 6:42:25 PM , Rating: 2
Again, NASA scientist vs person who lacks basic spelling skills. Who should I believe...

By michael67 on 9/24/2012 8:37:37 PM , Rating: 2
At least not the idiot that thinks that everyone in the world speaks and writes native English.

And thinks spelling skills equals IQ.

Sorry only do that in Dutch and Norwegian ware i live, next to that, do i speak good German, and understand Italian and Spanish.

Sorry i am no Einstein, but having a IQ of 137 is still little above average.

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