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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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too much energy
By bobsmith1492 on 9/18/2012 7:41:01 PM , Rating: 2
This is still nothing anywhere near feasible for the energy required.

Per the article: To transport a football (about 1lb) requires energy equivalent to the Voyager 1 probe. Now that's not very useful, so let's up-convert to transporting a test vehicle, like a car (let's say 4000lb).

Per Wiki: Voyager 1 weighs 1592lb = 723.6kg. Per e=mc^2, the energy required to transport a football is 65.1 billion terajoules (65.1 x 10^18 joules). A car would take 2.6x10^23 joules.

In perspective, the world produced about 2000TWH of nuclear power in 2010, or 7.56exajoules. So to teleport a football would require the world's entire nuclear power output over 8 years, 7 months, stored up and released at the same time. A car would require 34,400 years worth of nuclear power.

Or, the biggest atomic bomb ever designed (Russia's "Tsar bomba") can theoretically yield 210PJ. So, to transport a football would require setting off 36,000 Tsar Bombas simultaneously. A car would take 144 million Tsar Bombas.

Or, gasoline contains about 132 MJ/US gallon. The world has been averaging about 20,000 barrels/day of gasoline production, or 306.6 million gallons/year. This makes 40.47x10^15 joules/year of gasoline.

So, to transport a football would require the energy of 1608 years worth of gasoline production, burned simultaneously, and released into this device. A car would take 6.4 million years worth of gasoline.

My conclusion: it ain't gonna happen. :-)




RE: too much energy
By geddarkstorm on 9/18/2012 9:51:37 PM , Rating: 2
We went from needing the energy contained in the entire mass of Jupiter, to needing the energy contained in the mass of Voyager 1 with a single change to geometry. That was just one idea. Then there's the idea of fluctuating the field, and we don't know how much of a power reduction that will yield, but it's suggested to be huge.

Two simple ideas, and already we are slashing orders of magnitude off the energy requirements. If we can get it to work in a lab, we can refine it empirically.

I'd say, things are looking incredibly good!


RE: too much energy
By Belard on 9/19/2012 6:13:35 AM , Rating: 2
The article says football shaped ship... not football sized ship.

I think we are missing some info...


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