Friday, July 25, 2008

Putting the "Warp" in Warp Drive

Paul Gilster over at Centauri Dreams calls attention to a scientific paper reported in Spaceflight (the journal of the British Interplanetary Society) back in April and now available on arXiv that highlights an updated take on Miguel Alcubierre's 1994 proposal for a warp drive.

It is impossible for any object in the universe to travel faster than the speed of light (according to Einstein's theory of relativity). But, it turns out, space-time itself is expanding, and has been doing so ever since the Big Bang. What Alcubierre realized was that a spacecraft does not have to be moving itself through space-time (and thus will not violate Einstein's theory) if it can cause space-time to contract in front of itself and expand behind itself. Basically, the hypothetical craft creates a bubble of space-time around itself and uses the expansion and contraction of that space time to move, while remaining stationary with respect to the space-time inside the bubble.

What the authors of the paper—Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver—did was to combine Alcubierre's warp bubble with supersymmetry. Their work shows a theoretical maximum speed of 1032 times the speed of light, although moving that fast would required more energy than exists in the universe.

Of course, Cleaver and Obousy's approach will be meaningless if supersymmetry is ever proven to be invalid. And even if supersymmetry is validated, there are a large number of challenges ahead for the Alcubierre drive. But, as Paul points out in his write-up, this theoretical foundation is a first step on a long road. Much more research is needed, but perhaps the Tau Zero Foundation will be able to fund some additional steps along this road in the future.

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