Will we ever see each other? Credit: Gianni Martire (Applied Physics).
Hand on heart, who wouldn’t want to travel among the stars? Or at least send our ships there? It’s all in cosmic science fiction. But the distances in space are monstrous. Modern technologies cannot cope with them. For decades, people have admired the cosmic instincts of Start Trek, Star Wars, and similar stories that make heroes bounce between star systems as if nothing had happened.
Thanks to Star Trek, warp drive, or technology for traveling at “super-light speeds”, has become well-known. This drive is described in detail in an episode and story, including a “warp core,” a “warp reactor,” that draws energy from the destruction of antimatter, regulatory “dilithium crystals,” and extreme magnetic fields. From the warp core, warp plasma flows into the warp gondolas, which create a warp field. This bends the space-time around the spacecraft in question, which can move a great distance, as if flying at super-light speed, although the ship is actually moving at a fairly normal speed, but flying short.
So much science fiction. In 1994, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre Moya, an expert on Einstein’s relativity, bent Einstein’s equations during his doctoral studies to design a real warp drive with which the spacecraft would fly in a bubble of twisted space-time, de facto accelerate in superlight. And yes, he was inspired by Star Trek, which he loved from a young age. The creators of the fantasy stories have had and still have a huge impact, probably greater than they themselves think.
Miguel Alcubierre Moya (2013). Credit: Moisey / Wikimedia Commons Wall. CC BY-SA 3.0
Alcubierro’s instinct is not at odds with Einstein’s equations and could work very theoretically. But it has a significant hook. It would take a huge amount of negative energy to work, which is not even clear if it can exist at all. Not to mention where to get it. Negative energy is a lot of exotic physics. However, as it turns out, there are other options, a little less exotic and more practical, although it will probably take a long time before they become feasible.
American physicists Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire of New York’s Advanced Propulsion Laboratory took over Alcubierre’s propulsion and devised a new mechanism that could drive it. They suggest that instead of negative energy it would be possible to use massive gravity to bend space in a warp drive. Just to have an idea, I’d like to squeeze a planet-sized mass into the size of a spaceship. That, true, is not exactly within the reach of our technologies, but at least there is no exotic physics and matter that may not even exist. We probably won’t be flying into the galaxy in the foreseeable future, but it doesn’t seem absolutely hopeless. And that’s what’s happening here.
Video: Warp Drive news. Seriously!
Phys.org 4. 3. 2021.
Classical and quantum gravity on networks 25. 1. 2021.