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NASA artist conception of warp drive travel

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 9:39 AM

inside gcn

Reader Comments

Thu, Apr 25, 2013

the author makes a number of silly mistakes. Einsteins's speed limit would NOT be broken, that is the point of why this is possible. By warping space, the ship does not travel faster than light. Another error here is to say that the ship travels through a wormhole. This has nothing to do with wormholes. The author obviously did not go to the trouble to do some simple research. FAIL.

Wed, Apr 24, 2013

Dr. Harold "Sonny" White is a charming fellow whose comments about what he and his colleagues at NASA hope to observe in their limited la experiments re: "warp drive". Actually, I suspect that warp drives, wormholes, and FTL are like alchemy and the tooth fairy - not going to happen. Interstellar travel will happen for our species - albeit more gradually/slowly than morst space advocates would want. Do't sign your grandchildren up for Starfleet Academy just yet. If this stuff was so doable,we would have seen some sign of starfaring civilizations by now. Where are they?

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 Jose

The point of Doctor Whites work is that it attempts to mitigate the need for negative energy: From the introduction to his paper on the subject: Introduction •The objective of this presentation is to discuss theimplications of expanding an inflation-based metric(Alcubierremetric) into a higher dimensional manifold(Chung-Freesemetric). –Although initial objective was to explore mathematical behavior,findings may mitigate negative energy requirement.

Tue, Dec 11, 2012


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 Chip 20 Minutes into the Future

Forget travelling to the stars.... we as a species no longer have the patience for that kind of stuff. Think instead of how fast we could get to the Moon. Or Mars. Or even the rings of Saturn. Even at speeds near, but still under, the Speed of Light, Mars is only a few minutes away, Jupiter is a bit under 2 hours away. Add a Space Elevator to get out of the gravity well and you are going to have some real excitement in travel.

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