The Alcubierre warp drive concept is capable of moving a spaceship, within an enclosed bubble of space-time
At the start of 2013, a research paper was submitted to the Astrophysical Journal and made public on arxiv.orgabout the discovery of 15 new planets, which add to the dozens of potentially habitable candidates out there. To travel to these planets in any meaningful time requires science to overcome the problem of the vast distances in the universe. Even the closest exoplanet found so far is four light years or 24 trillion miles away. Recent developments have NASA starting a laboratory called Eagleworks to develop interstellar warp drive technology. One idea they have is to create warp engine that enables faster-than-light travel. If this sounds all too Star Trek, it’s because the proposed warp drives are directly influenced by the cult sci-fi series.
In December 2012, researchers submitted a paper on HAL, an open-access archive for published and un-published scientific papers, that describes a Natario warp drive that could reach Gliese 581 c, the first Earth-like planet found in a habitable zone (just over 20 light years, or over a hundred trillion miles away) in just a few months traveling at 200 times the speed of light. But, there’re many impracticalities with theoretical warp drives. Take the precursor to the Natario drive, known as the Alcubierre warp drive. Astrophysics researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, published a paper in Physical Review D in March 2012 about its catastrophic side effects.
The researchers conclude that not only would a spaceship require shields to protect its crew from dangerous particles moving towards them, but light particles or anything else that’s picked up during the ship’s journey would be deposited at its destination as high-energy particles. “Any people at the destination would be gamma-ray and high-energy-particle blasted into oblivion,” say the researchers. Now, they plan to analyze this problem in more detail, which may involve parallel computing to simulate the warp physics in various space-time dimensions.
Like ants on rubber
The Alcubierre warp drive concept is capable of moving a spaceship, within an enclosed bubble of space-time – also known as a warp bubble – at any speed by expanding space-time behind and compressing space-time in front of the ship.
For those still contemplating how this idea could exist outside of sci-fi fantasy, Brendan McMonigal, a researcher from the gravitational astrophysics group at the University of Sydney, who is a co-author on the Physical Review D paper, gives a terrestrial analogy. “Think of ants walking on a sheet of rubber,” says McMonigal. “The ants can only walk so fast but the underlying structure they exist on (the rubber) is stretchy, so we can drag a small piece of the rubber surface around much faster than the ants can walk.”
“This makes it seem that the universe should want to snap back after a warp drive has traveled somewhere, but this is not the case,” says McMonigal.
Even if the Alcubierre warp drive were possible, there’s still the matter of that explosion once you reach your destination.
Which journey has the biggest boom!
The Sydney-based researchers looked at three different scenarios: a warp bubble at a constant velocity, a warp bubble on a one-way trip, and a warp bubble on a round trip. From their calculations, a ship traveling at a constant faster-than-light – superluminal – velocity would have the largest destructive result on a destination, also destroying the ship in the process. “Realistically, the large build-up of energy in front of the ship would disrupt the warp bubble before it became too ridiculous,” says McMonigal.
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