In a recent blog about advances in rocketry I described warp drives as pure science fiction. My exact words were “warp engines remain purely theoretical until we can discover a new physics that unseats Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.” To my surprise this last week, scientists at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston, stated that warp drives may be possible.
That means there maybe a loophole in the laws of physics that allows an object to move faster than light speed. As scientists conjecture a spaceship could fold space-time around it forming a doughnut-shaped bubble that would ride through space like a surfboard on a wave and travel at speeds exceeding that of light. This would require the manipulation of dark energy, a mass-energy force representing 74% of the Universe.
Scientists of the Big Bang have theorized that shortly after the Universe began matter exceeded the speed of light. And since light and matter go along together as the Universe expands there is evidence that space-time expansion can exceed light speed. You can blame string theorists for the explanation and for devising, theoretically, a way to manipulate dark energy to accelerate a spaceship. This is called an Alcubierre warp drive, named after physicist Miguel Alcubierre who first suggested it in a paper entitled, “The Warp Drive: Hyper-fast travel within general relativity.”
At last week’s symposium NASA physicist Harold White, presented a refined view of the Alcubierre warp drive that theoretically could wrap around a mass equivalent to 725 kilograms (1,600 pounds). When Alcubierre first proposed his warp drive concept the mass-energy requirement equaled a planet the size of Jupiter. Alcubierre described an exotic matter possessing strange properties that would allow the spaceship to occupy a spherical bubble with space contracted in front of the ship and expanded behind it (click here to watch a video explanation). Everything within the bubble would be time constant. White’s bubble is flattened to a doughnut shape and he proposes an oscillating space bubble to further reduce the energy requirements of creating a warp field.
As White envisages it, in the future we will leave the gravity well of Earth and travel a distance away from the planet. Then we will engage the drive to create our warp field and head off to Proxima Centauri traveling at speeds that could get us there in weeks. Compare that to light which would take 4.22 years. And then compare it to Voyager 1 now on the edge of the Solar System and its 81,000 year journey to reach the same destination.