Science, Not Fiction: Nasa Working On... Get This... WARP DRIVE. Really.



"warp factor" image manipulation by a female faust

"FTL (Faster Than Light) Human Transportation Soon To Be Reality,"  "Too Bad The Military Will Be In Charge," and "Earth First! We'll Destroy The Other Planets Later" (alternate headlines).


It takes my breath away, brings it back sharper, shallower. We stand at the threshold of the impossible made possible: this is only the beginning, of that I am sure. O Brave new world, that has such science in't!

From "Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say"
by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Assistant Managing Editor:


 A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television's Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.
A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre; however, subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.
Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

But... Warp drive?  Really. Really?

From "NASA Scientists to Begin Warp Drive Experiments," written by Mark Whittington for Yahoo News:

It is an axiom in modern physics that faster than light travel, at least by conventional means, is impossible. The fasting an object is accelerated, the more massive it becomes, according to a piece on the problem on the Discovery Channel website. At the speed of light, an object would have infinite mass, clearly impossible. In any case, even at near light speed, the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, is about a 4 1/2-year voyage away.

[snip]

The implications of the proof of the concept of a warp bubble cannot be overstated. Space.com suggests that a football field-sized starship, surrounded by a ring that would generate the warp bubble, could travel an apparent speed of 10 times light speed. Gizmodo suggests that an Earthlike world about 20 light years away, Gliese 581g, would be a two year voyage away.


And Alpha Centauri? Two weeks, as reported by Jesus Diaz over at Gizmodo

By creating one of these warp bubbles, the spaceship's engine will compress the space ahead and expand the space behind, moving it to another place without actually moving, and carrying none of the adverse effects of other travel methods. According to Dr. White, "by harnessing the physics of cosmic inflation, future spaceships crafted to satisfy the laws of these mathematical equations may actually be able to get somewhere unthinkably fast—and without adverse effects."
He says that, if everything is confirmed in these practical experiments, we would be able to create an engine that will get us to Alpha Centauri "in two weeks as measured by clocks here on Earth."
[snip]
...the energy requirements are much lower than previously thought. If they optimize the warp bubble thickness and "oscillate its intensity to reduce the stiffness of space time," they would be able to reduce the amount of fuel to manageable amount: instead of a Jupiter-sized ball of exotic matter, you will only need 500 kilograms to "send a 10-meter bubble (32.8 feet) at an effective velocity of 10c."
Ten c! That's ten times the speed of light, people (remember, the ship itself would not go faster than the speed of light. But effectively it will seem like it does).
That means that we would be able to visit Gliese 581g—a planet similar to Earth 20 light years away from our planet—in two years. Two years is nothing. It took Magellan three years to circumnavigate around our home planet...

Nasa has been playing around with this idea for some time, previously concluding that a parade-dampeningly impossible amount of fuel would be required. What's new is that it appears there is a way to reduce this to a manageable size. From Space.com again (and thank them also for the video below):


The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.
But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.
Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.


And Gregory Mone at Popsci, besides an(other) illuminating explanation of how warp drive works, offers a few helpful to-do lists, including: 

The Warp Drive To-Do List

A few not-so-minor challenges you'll need to tackle before takeoff
  • Discover Negative Energy:
    There are no known particles with negative mass. The closest scientists have come is a phenomenon called the Casimir effect, wherein empty space between two conducting plates behaves as if it contains negative energy.
  • Devise a Way To Manipulate It:
    Even if scientists could transform matter into negative energy, they would still have to find a way to focus it and create an infinitesimally thin, yet extraordinarily stable, bubble of the stuff around the spaceship.
  • Harness Dark Energy:
    In recent years, cosmologists have been studying a mysterious force called dark energy that they think is accelerating the expansion of the universe. If scientists could generate it at the back of the bubble, it might move, or expand, space.
  • Build Bubble Brakes:
    Because the spacetime carrying the ship would be completely cut off from the outside of the bubble, there would be no way to send a signal to turn off the warp drive. The signal would never get there, and the ship would never stop.


Be seeing you.