NASA thinks warp-drive travel might be possible
Last year I got a bit excited about a report that the light speed barrier had been seemingly broken by scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider. Dreams of building a Millennium Falcon and traveling to the stars, the goal of space nerds everywhere, seemed plausible. Einstein's light speed barrier, the chain that keeps us anchored to Earth, could be broken, or so it seemed.
But then, the European Organization for Nuclear Research discovered problems with their experiment that meant that neutrinos probably didn't break the speed of light. Suddenly, we were Earth-bound again.
However, NASA isn't giving up on faster-than-light travel just yet. While admitting that its mostly speculation at this point, NASA believes that one day faster-than-light travel through the use of warp drives might be possible. For those non-nerds among us, this is more the "Star Trek" version of space travel than the "Star Wars" one, though they are similar.
According to NASA scientists, it might be possible to break the laws of special relativity with a ship shaped like a sphere that could be placed between two regions of space-time, with one expanding and one contracting. This requires matter with special properties and could break Einstein's law because the ship isn't actually moving faster than light; space itself is being moved, and the ship is simply falling through the hole — called a wormhole — it created.
That much had been worked out as early as 1994 by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. However, in addition to the special matter, his plan also required energy equivalent to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.
But NASA thinks it might not need a planet-sized ship after all. NASA physicist Harold White recently presented a paper showing that by simply tweaking the geography of the Alcubierre warp drive, it could achieve the same results in a ship about the size of NASA's Voyager 1 probe. White is pushing out of the realm of the theoretical too, vowing to use lasers in his lab to demonstrate how the modified drive could in fact perturb space-time by one part in 10 million.
We may not be firing up the Falcon anytime soon, but at least the dream of space travel is alive once again. While some folks might be thinking of booking flights to AlphaCentauri, I think I'll beat the rush and buy a ticket to the planet GJ 667c. With three visible suns, possibly lots of water and an untapped real estate market, it looks like a nice place for a vacation home.
Posted by John Breeden II on Dec 05, 2012 at 9:05 AM