Warp Drive – How It Will Happen

April 19, 2014 12:00 pm

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‘I don’t believe in a no-win situation’ is one of Captain James T Kirk’s favourite phrases, as any serious ‘Trekkie’ will know.

The no-win situation is one being firmly challenged by experts across the globe and within the US space agency NASA, aimed at probing the secrets of unlocking faster-than-light travel (FTLT).

Yes, you heard it right first time; warp speed spacecraft could one day be as plausible as the passenger carrying airliners of today.

Einstein’s theory of relativity is being carefully unpicked and examined by prominent physicists who no longer feel the need to distance themselves from what was once seen as a field of fantasy indulged by Trekkies and fans of the Star Wars franchise. In very recent times the idea that humans will one day be able to travel vast distances across the galaxy travelling faster than light itself has moved from pure conjecture to the less murky bracket of ‘speculation’.

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When theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre devised an equation in 1994 that would come to be recognised as the first genuine attempt at composing a blueprint for constructing a warp-drive motor, it was based on the premise that negative mass existed somewhere in the universe. No proof had ever been found that any of these incredibly rare conditions had survived beyond the initial birth of the universe as positive mass took hold, but when ALPHA scientists at the CERN project in Switzerland generated and trapped their first antihydrogen atoms for 0.2 seconds in November 2010 the march toward warp capability began in earnest. By April 2011 that figure had been stretched to a full 17 minutes, a huge advancement over the previous year’s investigations.

In basic English, we can generate the raw materials needed to construct a warp-capable motor. Assuming we can begin to manufacture such a device within the next 100 years, what effects will FTLT have on our fragile human frames?

This is where the raw science gives way to mind-boggling facts and, I hasten to add, a large amount of guesswork.

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Light is also the sensory medium by which we judge everything as humans. Our sense of hearing, smell and touch are all vital instruments but without light we are incapable of judging distance, position or movement. Whether it’s a star billions of light years away or your TV screen at home, the light waves travelling from the object to your retina are unequalled in their speed.

299,792, 458 metres per second, to be precise.

Even if we built a warp-capable spacecraft, our senses would always be one step behind our surroundings as we exceeded the speed of light. Any crew leaving Earth would not only be leaving terra firma; they’d be leaving their entire way of life behind as they will return to an Earth thousands of years older than their departure because of the effects of time dilation. The same phenomenon would ensure it was a one way trip – there would be no question of travelling back to your own timeframe.

This in itself leads to the inevitable conclusion that if we conquer Faster-Than-Light-Travel, we conquer time travel – at least into the future. Just like the advent of space travel itself, warp capability will unlock untold new possibilities for the human race.

Don’t laugh; look at the cordless, wireless and internet-connected phone in your hand. Was that not as far-fetched a century ago?

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  • Ryan Morwood

    Really interesting article, can’t wait to see where this technology goes.

    • Ant French

      Agreed Ryan – exciting possibilities ahead. Glad you enjoyed reading it.

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