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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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By drycrust3 on 9/18/2012 4:37:31 PM , Rating: 1
Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light.

I was wondering if Einstein was wrong here. As I understand it, he said that light only travels at the speed of light regardless of the speed of the object that emitted the light.
I was wondering if this was actually correct because if you look at Doppler shifted radar signals, such as used by the police for vehicle speeding violations, the receiver records the reflected radar signal as having a frequency change that is equivalent to the speed of the approaching vehicle. There are two ways this "perceived" frequency change could happen: 1) The vehicle actually changed the frequency of the RADAR signal, but not the velocity; or 2) The vehicle changed the velocity of the signal, but not the frequency.
To the receiver, the results are the same, but there is difference between the two. In the first one, the final actual number of cycles received by the RADAR unit is different from those transmitted, but in the second the number of cycles transmitted is the same.
As I see it, there is an easy way to confirm or disprove this aspect of Einsteins theory, which is to "ping" a distant space craft, such as the Mars Orbiter, with signals sent from each side of the earth. If Einstein is right, then the signals would take the same amount of time to get there because he said the speed of light is fixed, but if the velocity of light can be changed by the circumstances of the emitting object, e.g. the speed of rotation of Earth, then the ping times will differ i.e. ping times from the side of earth moving towards the Mars Orbiter will be shorter than those from the side moving away.

RE: Constant
By twhittet on 9/18/2012 5:19:01 PM , Rating: 2 this a real post? Or a type of sarcasm/joke I just don't quite get?

My physics are a little rusty, but I'm sure someone here could explain a bit on that very specific subject. Or perhaps a few minutes with Google. If this was a real post.

RE: Constant
By FITCamaro on 9/18/2012 6:22:19 PM , Rating: 2
It's well established that the speed of light can be altered by various things such as gravity and medium. The "speed of light" that is usually referenced is that of light traveling through a vacuum.

RE: Constant
By kerpwnt on 9/18/2012 6:30:10 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're pondering about redshift/blueshift. Light travels at the same speed whether the transmitting object is moving towards the observer or away.

In your orbiter scenario, both pings would reach the orbiter at the same time. However, the wavelengths of each ping would be altered by the relative motion.

RE: Constant
By wordsworm on 9/18/2012 7:55:30 PM , Rating: 2
Sound's velocity also does not change (in a given medium). Though, time (the sound of time), does. That's given me a lot to think about regarding whether or not time does get altered by relative velocity, or whether it's an illusion simply caused by the visual representation of time. That is, time does not bend, but the light waves that we rely on to transmit the passage of time does.

RE: Constant
By foolsgambit11 on 10/12/2012 7:31:23 PM , Rating: 2
Ironically, the OP apparently didn't know that the constant speed of light was actually discovered by experimental results, and the special theory of relativity was eventually developed to explain those results.

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