Tuesday, July 16, 2013

NASA is working on a Warp Drive. Let's build The Enterprise. Make it so.

     The portion of Sci Fi that always annoyed scientists was superluminal travel. They recognized it as a necessary plot device to set fiction somewhere other than our local piece of celestial real estate. An impossible plot device since matter can not exceed the speed of light according to the General Theory of Relativity. FTL, Warp Drive, and other iconic modes of transportation were seen as charming, entertaining flights of fantasy.
Star Trek however has made a habit of prescience. Computer technology such as memory size, speed, a voice or touch interface and high powered portable hand held devices. Communications technology like cell phones. Automation. An ion drive(Impulse)engine for solar exploration.
The reason behind this is Trek inspiring some of it's smart fanbase to go into science.These fans are doing R & D or cutting edge theoretical work. They look at Kirk's Communicator and think how can we do that? Computers, the same. Hand held devices for remote access to a data base. Yeah, we can figure that out also. Even non fans are pushing the envelope due to the environment of creative thought they find themselves in.
Seemingly The Theory of Relativity has loopholes like any law
Matter can not exceed the speed of light. This is at times referred to as a cosmic speed limit when explaining it to us laymen. The loophole? Spacetime has no speed limit. It can expand and contract at any speed.
After the Big Bang the minimum speed of spacetime expansion has been postulated at 30 million, billion times the speed of light. Makes The Enterprise-E look like an ox cart.
The idea is that if you cause spacetime behind a ship to contract and spacetime in front of the ship to expand the ship, on flat spacetime, inside a warp bubble(How Star Trek)will ride along at faster than light. SInce this isn't true propulsion there is 0 g's. Humans would see the result as motion. Projected speeds put a ship in the Alpha Centauri star system in two weeks. That system is a little over four light years away. Ahead warp factor 7 Mr. Sulu.
So, how does this work. magic. OK, not really. Let's take a peek at tomorrow.
So lets start with spacetime.
All right. The best example to show what spacetime is and how it works i've seen is to imagine a flat sheet of rubber suspended at it's corners so the sheet is in the air, not resting on anything. This is spacetime with no external forces applied to it. Flat.  Put a soccer ball in the center of the sheet. It will deform into a depression holding the ball. This is a decent example of madd and gravity warping spacetime. Anything with mass or gravity creates dimples. These need to be taken into account when plotting a course to any local celestial body.
So, if a ship were placed on the sheet and spacetime were expanded behind and contracted ahead spacetime would move around the ship. This enables the ship to surf spacetime from point A  to point B without it actually moving by being in a warp bubble of local spacetime.So the ship doesn't actually move, the space around it does. Weird stuff happens in physics.
The trick is it takes a lot of mass/energy to warp spacetime enough to do anything with it.
Miguel Alcubierre designed a warp engine. It was a flat circle which would enable the warping of spacetime. Unfortunately, it requires power equal to the mass of Jupiter. Thus it was filed away as  a cool but never able to be used idea.
Harold White took another look at the equations. He saw that if the sphere were made thicker and curvier, (think doughnut compared to hula hoop) and the bubble was oscillated the energy requirements plummeted to 1600 lbs. This warranted another look.
Now it's in the lab. Attempts are being made to cause little dimples in spacetime that can be measu red using lasers. The search for the exotic forms of matter proceeds.
It wasn't that FTL was fantasy. Now actual, serious research is being done. I truly feel my Daughter may vacation under an alien sun. Seeing new worlds could force us to put our stupid differences behind and explore this galaxy. Standing in awe before it's size and majesty. To actually boldly go where no one has before.

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