Theoretical Warp Drive a Practical Disaster

New research suggests that traveling faster than light-speed through space could annihilate your destination.
Theoretical Warp Drive a Practical Disaster
Artist's concept of NASA's Ares I crew launch vehicle. New research suggests that traveling faster than light-speed through space could annihilate your destination. (NASA)
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Traveling faster than light-speed through space could annihilate your destination, new research from Australia suggests.

According to the Alcubierre warp drive theory, this form of space travel is possible, but scientists at the University of Sydney have discovered a deadly quantum setback.

Back in 1994, Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed that a spaceship could travel faster than light inside a bubble of negative energy that deforms the space-time continuum, compressing it in front of the craft and expanding it behind.

The spacecraft would effectively ride the fabric of space-time much like a surfer riding a wave, and could exceed the speed of light.

“It sounds like it’s straight from science fiction, and in a way it is, as the Alcubierre warp drive is a theoretical solution to the problem of traveling the huge distances in space in a reasonable amount of time,” says research leader Geraint Lewis in a news release.

“But unlike science fiction, the Alcubierre warp drive completely obeys Einstein’s general theory of relativity.”

However, the interaction of the speedy bubble with surrounding particles of matter and light may be crucial to the drive’s success and safety.

“Our calculations show that particles that come into contact with the warp bubble can get caught up and congregate in front of the spacecraft, and some particles even enter the warp bubble,” Lewis explains.

Thus when the spacecraft decelerates in preparation to land, the gathered particles would exit the bubble system in energetic outbursts, destroying the surroundings upon arrival.

“Even for very short journeys, the energy released is so large that you would completely obliterate anything in front of you,” says Brendan McMonigal, an honors student working alongside Lewis, in the news release.

“Interestingly, the energy burst released upon arriving at the destination does not have an upper limit,” he says. “You can just keep on traveling for longer and longer distances and the energy that will be released will continue to increase—one of the odd effects of General Relativity.”

“It seems that human exploration of the universe will have to wait until we’ve worked out how to avoid the destructive deceleration of a spacecraft in an Alcubierre warp drive bubble.”

The findings were published in the American Physical Society, Physical Review D.

The full research paper can be downloaded here.

Read more about the Alcubierre warp drive here

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