NASA scientists think it’s possible

Since the first episode of the science fiction television series Star Trek was broadcast, viewers have had countless unanswered questions. Over the years, science fiction has always been entwined with actual science, and it has influenced technologies that people use every day.

Warp drive was one of the many futuristic concepts that captured the interest of many individuals all around the globe among the many extraordinary occurrences shown in the series. It was the very first notion put forth in Star Trek, enabling it to span the galaxy faster than light. However, anything that defies Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is prohibited from traveling at the speed of light.

According to this article, Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre first presented the Alcubierre drive as a potential propulsion technology in 1994. It is an idea for a spacecraft that might be able to exceed the speed of light without breaking any physical laws.

The idea behind the Alcubierre drive is that instead of moving the spaceship itself through space, the drive would contract the fabric of space in front of the ship and expand the fabric of space behind it, essentially creating a “warp bubble”. The spaceship would then ride the wave of space created by the expanding and contracting fabric, effectively moving through space without actually moving through space. This would allow the spaceship to travel faster than the speed of light, while still obeying the laws of relativity. Although most people believed that this made perfect sense in theory, it was not feasible in practice.

Alcubierre warp bubble
A properly constructed Alcubierre warp bubble. As space constricts in front of the vessel and expands behind, the ship is theoretically pushed forward at speeds faster than light. 
Image: LSI, White, et al.

Joseph Agnew, a student at the University of Alabama, intended to test the idea in order to disprove their claims. Joseph says, “Mathematically if you fulfill all the energy requirements, they can’t prove that it doesn’t work”. “Suppose you have a craft that’s in the bubble”, he continues. “What you would do is, you’d compress space-time ahead of the craft and expand space-time behind it”.

Objects tend to become heavier as they move more quickly. Moreover, acceleration becomes more challenging the heavier they become. To put it simply, it is utterly impossible to travel at the speed of light.

Warp drive is supposedly the ultimate goal of space travel. It is claimed to be capable of having a propulsion system that can travel at speeds greater than the speed of light.

The majority of science fiction authors have given us hope with several depictions of interstellar travel, yet moving at the speed of light is impossible.

As explained by Einstein’s theory, we are all aware that nothing could move faster than light. The cause is that accelerating any object of any mass to the speed of light requires an endless amount of energy. Only the absence of mass in photons, the light’s constituent particles, can explain why light is unaffected. So, it is very impossible for a spaceship to travel at the speed of light.

There are two gaps in this, though:

  • Finding the probability of going at the speed of light simply means that we are discussing the propulsion of objects.
  • There is no mention of the prohibition of approaching lightspeed.

However, it may be feasible to exceed the speed limit for all objects by breaking the rules of physics. The “Alcubierre warp drive” notion was put forth at this point. It might be conceivable for the Alcubierre warp drive to go around the speed of light by warping space-time, just like in the television series “Star Trek,” rather than exceeding it.

According to the hypothesis, the traveling spaceship is encircled by a ring of negative matter and is located inside the warp bubble. The ring of negative matter will aid in both the stretching and contracting of spacetime in front of and behind the spaceship. The spacecraft will be able to move at ten times the speed of light by doing this. Within the bubble, however, the spacecraft will continue to travel at the maximum speed permitted by general relativity.

The warp drive would need a significant quantity of mass-energy to work. You would require a mass equal to that of Jupiter to drive the spaceship at such a level.

Think about the Einstein equation E=mc2. You would require a tremendous quantity of energy, more than the cosmos will ever be able to supply.

NASA mechanical engineer Dr. Harold Sonny White and physicists are still looking for solutions to the problem of the necessary mass-energy. He thinks it is probably possible to reduce the mass-energy requirement indicated in the Alcubierre hypothesis by bending the rules of physics. He said that it might be possible to slightly alter the negative mass ring’s design to accommodate a mass requirement of roughly 700 kg.

The White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer is currently being built by a NASA team led by physicist White. It is a beam-splitting interferometer with an excellent ability to produce and detect the smallest warp bubble.

Though noteworthy, there is still a long way to go before warp drive and interstellar travel are practical. But, thanks to technological breakthroughs, the solutions we seek might be within reach.

Some TV series and movies have always tried to imagine the future and its technology. Sometimes they failed but other times they managed to suggest new ideas we saw in the next future. Therefore, it’s often hard to say if technology is evolving in the same way we envisioned or if we are the ones that are trying to replicate what we saw in a movie or TV series.