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Ear to the Ground

Warp Speed Ahead?

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Posted on Jan 2, 2013
Craigyc (CC BY 2.0)

In case you missed it, in November, io9 reported that physicist Harold White was working on the concept for an engine that could transport a ship through space at warp speeds without violating Einstein’s law of relativity.

The idea is based on a hypothetical concept known as the Alcubierre Drive, which holds that if an engine could cause the space in front of a ship to contract while the space behind it expands—effectively moving the ship by moving space itself—then it could traverse distances at a speed in excess of the speed of light.

“White speculates that such a drive could result in ‘speeds’ that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks,” io9 reports, “even though the system is 4.3 light-years away.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

George Dvorsky at io9:

“Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed,” White told io9. “However, space-time is really stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy.”

And indeed, early assessments published in the ensuing scientific literature suggested horrific amounts of energy — basically equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter (what is 1.9 × 1027 kilograms or 317 Earth masses). As a result, the idea was brushed aside as being far too impractical. Even though nature allowed for a warp drive, it looked like we would never be able to build one ourselves.

“However,” said White, “based on the analysis I did the last 18 months, there may be hope.” The key, says White, may be in altering the geometry of the warp drive itself.

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