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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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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...

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken

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