We’ve all heard Jean Luc Picard command the USS Enterprise to proceed at “warp factor six,” or 216 times light speed. NASA scientists already have plans for a warp drive that would allow a spaceship to travel faster than light. Of course, it’s in the testing stage. When it becomes a reality, some of us might want to volunteer for the expedition.
The April 2013 edition of Popular Science reported on a meeting of the “100 Year Starship” that included a presentation by NASA scientist Harold “Sonny” White on the subject of “Warp Field Mechanics 102.”An agency of the United States Department of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has the goal of making travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years. Among NASA’s goals for facilitating travel via chemically propelled rockets, antimatter systems and nuclear engines include the possibility of using warp drive as a means of galloping faster than light.
Of course, the law of relativity decrees that matter cannot accelerate to a light speed or faster because mass would expand infinitely and require an infinite amount of energy to achieve.
White has not only developed the concept of warp drive but is also commencing physical tests in NASA laboratory.
White suggests that warp speed would reduce travel time to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, from 75,000 years to two weeks. A wagon train full of pioneers usually ambled along at about 2 miles per hour, if the mules were sufficiently motivated. A ship moving at the speed of light would get about 670 million miles in that period of time. (We can reach that sum by multiplying 60 seconds by 60 minutes by 186,000 miles per second.) Even a plane moving faster than the speed of sound would not affect the equation by much.
How warp drive would work is to reverse the attractive force of gravity by means of negative energy. Negative energy would not keep space and time together by mutual attraction but would pull them apart. Quantum mechanics has predicted that negative energy does indeed exist.
White could create negative energy in a NASA lab. While two conductive plates could be brought close enough to generate a small amount of negative energy, scientists are skeptical about the notion that a sufficient amount of negative energy could be generated to allow a ship to skip faster than light. They are of the opinion that warp drive would require such vast amounts of negative energy as to make propulsion by such means infeasible.
But White’s computer simulations have uncovered a “warp bubble” that would need millions of times less negative energy to carry a spaceship beyond our solar system.
Faster than light transportation has been in existence since the Big Bang, which expanded space and time such that matter within the “bang” could have been moving at warp plus speed.
Negative energy would mold space and time like clay, compressing and flattening it. Meanwhile it would wrap the spaceship in a field like a bubble. The ship could then ride along the distorted shapes of space and time.
The Popular Science article includes full-color portraits of warp drive in action.
It’s hardly news to physicists that, because of the inextricable bond of space and time as established by relativity principles, faster than light motion would tug the space pioneers not only through space but also through time. A ship wrapped in a negative energy bubble would become a time machine. Going by way of negative energy could involve sailing through negative time. Astronauts experiencing a two week trip to Alpha Centauri might also find themselves millions of years older, so to speak.
Of course, you could very well ask, how would they know the difference? We don’t even know what the planets circling Alpha Centauri look like now, much less how they appeared a few geological eras ago.
What we do know is that if you bring up the subject of warp drive to Sonny or other NASA scientists, they will tell you they’re working on it. And they will likely come up with a solution to long distance travel well before a century has passed.