Alcubierre Warp Drive Almost A Reality

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By Kevin Roeten:

Warp Drive Almost Here

Theoretically, an Alcubierre Warp Drive moves space-time in a wave, and causes space ahead of a moving spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship can ride the wave to accelerate to high speeds and time travel. Star Trek vernacular, acceleration to “Warp 1” would simply require a wave of space-time, and “Warp 10” would require push by space-time at least 100x faster.

In 1994, the Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed stretching space in a wave which would cause the fabric of space ahead of a spacecraft to contract, and the space behind it to expand. This is a Lorentzian manifold, and per relativity, exhibits abilities of the warp drive from Star Trek. A warp bubble would appear in previously flat space-time and move off at effectively superluminal (faster-than-light) speed. Inhabitants of the bubble feel no inertial effects. The object(s) within the bubble are not moving (locally) faster than light, instead, the space around them shifts so the object arrives at its destination faster than light would in normal space.

Because of the contraction of space in front of it, the ship would reach its destination faster than a light beam restricted to travelling outside the warp-bubble. Thus, the Alcubierre drive does not contradict the conventional claim relativity forbids a slower-than-light object to accelerate to faster-than-light speeds.

Does Negative Energy Really Exist?

In this huge ‘differential’ equation, the energy density is actually negative. Therefore, one would need exotic matter to travel faster than the speed of light. The Casimir effect and the accelerating universe both lend support to the proposed existence of such matter. Some scientists have argued that within general relativity, it is impossible to construct a warp drive in the absence of exotic matter. It is generally believed a consistent theory of quantum gravity will resolve issues for any Alcubierre warp drive dificulties.

Thus, as the energy density is negative, one needs exotic matter to travel faster than the speed of light. However, existence of exotic matter does possibly exist. The Casimir effect and the accelerating universe both lending support to the existence of exotic this matter.

Special Space Time Geometry

The Alcubierre Warp Drive has special space-time geometry. As a result, time travel to the future is possible. It can accomplish matter and information transport at superluminal speeds. It is technically viable,  and is possible without exotic materials. As mentioned, it’s the exotic materials that would propel a warp drive. Without any exotic materials, only subliminal, or slower-than-light speed is possible. Still, with subliminal speed from the Alcubierre Drive, it would still exceed present-day velocities by 100x.

In over Warp-1 superluminal speeds, a warp-bubble appears in previously flat space-time, and travels at superluminal speed. Astronauts in the warp-bubble would feel no inertial effects. Any object(s) within the warp bubble would not move (locally) faster than light. Rather the space around them shifts so the object(s) arrive at its destination faster than light would in normal space.

With Special Relativity, such as Lorentz contraction and time dilation, the Alcubierre metric has some very strange aspects. Specifically, Alcubierre has shown even when the ship is accelerating, it travels on a free-fall geodesic. In other words, a ship using the warp to accelerate and decelerate is always in free fall, and the crew would experience no ‘accelerational’ g-forces. The pilot inside the warp-bubble is actually disconnected with its walls, and cannot perform any action outside the warp-bubble.

Alcubierre published a remarkable paper in general relativity–the current “standard model” for space-time and gravitation. This paper describes a very unusual solution to Einstein’s equations of general relativity, called a “warp drive”, and “a modification of space-time in a way that allows a space ship to travel at an arbitrarily large speed”.

Possibility Of Tachyon Existence

In special relativity, the speed of light [c], is the absolute speed limit of the universe for any object having a real mass (i.e., everything but the semi-mythical tachyon). General relativity treats special relativity as a restricted sub-theory, applying locally to any region of space sufficiently small, neglecting its curvature. General relativity does not forbid faster-than-light travel or communication, but it does require special relativity restrictions. Put simply, light-speed is the local speed limit, but general relativity provides an end-run to this rule. One end-run is a wormhole [connecting two widely separated locations in space]. An object might take a few minutes to move with at low speed through the neck of a wormhole,. However, by transiting the wormhole the object could have traveled five light-years in a few minutes, producing a real speed of a million times the velocity of light.

Wormholes Fill The Pot 

In summation, Special Relativity will not allow objects to move faster than light within space-time, but it is known space-time itself can be warped and distorted. Shockingly, wormholes do invite the old time travel paradox problems again. Special Relativity forbids objects to move faster than light within space-time, but it is unknown how fast space-time itself can move.

If one uses the “Inflationary Universe” perspective, for example, it is thought that space-time expanded faster than the speed of light during the early moments of the Big Bang. So if space-time can expand faster than the speed of light during the Big Bang, why not for our warp drive?

First, to create this effect, you’ll need a huge ring of negative energy wrapped around the ship. Physics still debates the presence of negative energy. Classical physics tends toward a “no,” while quantum physics leans to a “maybe, yes.” Second, one must now how to turn this effect on and off at will. And, it must be remembered this warp effect is a completely separate effect from the ship. Third, and most importantly, the assumptions is the whole “warp” would indeed move faster than the speed of light. We’re talking major unknowns in #3.

To muddle the pot, it has been shown is theoretically possible to create a continuously propulsive effect by the juxtaposition of negative and positive mass, and it won’t violate conservation of momentum or energy. For negative mass, does it exist, or is even theoretically allowed. Evidently one can search for negative mass in the context of searching for astronomical evidence of wormholes.

© Copyright by Kevin Roeten, 2015. All rights reserved.

Kevin Roeten
About Kevin Roeten 168 Articles
CHO's science editor Kevin Roeten is a former Chemical Engineer. He enjoys riding the third rail of journalism: politics and religion. As an orthodox Catholic, Roeten appreciates the juxtaposition of the two supposedly incompatible subjects.   Kevin is a Guest Columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and the Independent (Ohio), and writes for numerous blogs (Nolan Chart, Allvoices) and newspapers, including USA Today.   A collaborator in the book Americans on Politics, Policy, and Pop Culture (Jason Wright and Aaron Lee), he is also an amateur astronomer, and delves into scientific topics.   Kevin Roeten can be reached at roetenks@charter.net.

1 Comment

  1. Mr. Kevin Roeten: First off, the partial Alcubierre and Natario warp equations do NOT make a real warp drive star ship “almost a reality” as your articles title unless you consider 2,000 to 10,000 years “a blink of the eye” 10,000 years…a very, very, VERY short time (as Dr. Michio Kaku does). Star Trek Warp drive at 1000’s of times light speed will STILL be science fiction 400 years from now. Your Great, great, great, great (plus add on 10 more generations) Grand children will NOT see warp speed through interstellar space. We will be colonizing the solar system for several hundred years BEFORE ever going to another star system (and at first it will be at sub-light speeds). By the way, warp 2 is 8 times light speed, not 10 times light speed. Additionally, (and many younger folks need to be made aware of this): Some younger bloggers think “Look at the advancement in integrated circuits, computers, smartphones, the telecommunicaitons and computing industry”. O.K. The truth: Too Bad, SOO Sad, MOORE’s Law, the quadrupling of computer power/memory every 20 months or so, does NOT apply… (to warp drive development)…. UNFORTUANATE, because I wish Moore’s law did apply. It does NOT. Transportation Tech, Power Generation methods, ultra-exotic materials technology, and high power field generation tech, high energy physics and its related heavy equipment and much more “heavy industrial” and mechanical technologies are NOT affected much by Moore’s Law and ALL are needed for Warp drive and these advance Much, Much, MUCH slower than does micro-electronics via Moore’s law. Examples : A 707 Jet liner in 1958 is JUST AS FAST as a Boeing 777 Jet liner is now… Cars are only marginally faster than 50 years ago. Actually, commute times today are SLOWER than 50 years ago over the same distances. (Today’s Bugatti Veyon Super Sport is only about 40 % faster than the fastest cars of the 1960s…. that’s pathetic). Today’s rockets… compared to the 50 year old Saturn 5 …(actaully we have nothing today that can match the Saturn 5). The highly touted (and exagerated) EM drive, and VASMIR electric drives are slow to advance, and at best, will only allow exploration of our solar system… (our back yard), NOT for interstellar use. Another example: Nuclear Fusion for power generation. Still a pipe dream (but we were “supposed” to have it by now, from a 1960’s perspective). Perhaps towards the end of this century, we may finally get it figured out, however, nuclear fusion power generation is very primative, when compared to warp tech… not capable of supporting warp drive technology. Not even close.
    Warping of space time to FTL levels is NOT “seemingly possible for the foreseeable future”. However, looking far , far ahead, we cannot say it is impossible, like we thought before the mid 1990’s.. We have NO realistic idea how to travel FTL. We do know ludicrously huge gravity wells and levels would be required. Warp speed and Worm holes are speculative and barley one step above fantasy at this point and for generations to come. Miniscule testing from Dr. White’s Juday- Moorley Interferometer has been done with negative or inconclusive results. Further testing in 2015 of an EM chamber and laser showed a possible very miniscule shortening effect even in a vacuum. Results are VERY tiny, but show a possibility of nano-scale warping, beyond heating effects, near the limit of instrument sensitivity. This still falls well short of any conclusive peer reviewed testing of a warp or worm hole test. We still lack the basic knowledge to even know how to adequately test. We do see astronomical observations of pulsars, black holes which bend/warp space, but not to FTL, and we cannot observe the unobservable portion of a black hole (singularity…Swartschild radius) where the truly bizarre and interesting stuff is going on. There are too many unkowns in the laws of physics and even Alcubierre’s warp equations and Dr Whites associated Reducing energy equations only give us mathematical clues which are borderline speculative at best. Some fringe scientist think the laws governing the “conservation of momentum need new loopholes”; except we do not know what or how that loop holes could work. We lack a complete picture of even the basic baby steps in the physics involved. So there is a lot of unknown physics. The only thing we learned from Alcubierrre is that the energies involved in warping space to FTL levels… even with Dr Whites energy reduction math (which has other serious dimension problems) make nuclear fusion and even anti-matter look very, very, weak and inadequate by comparison. Anti-matter is the most powerful thing we know (which we are FAR from harnessing) and warping space to FTL with anti-matter, even that falls far, far, short of the energy density levels needed to warp space to FTL levels… without compressing it (somehow) to ridiculous densities (which we also have no idea how to do). The energy density of a stream of matter/antimatter falls short of the required energy density by OVER 10 orders of magnidude, for FTL warp. If possible, FTL is thousands of year off. Unless we get help from ET; which is not high on the probability list. However, I think a few thousand years is not that long, and that’s how long it will take, and we humans will eventually achieve it. God gave us the intelligence and means to do it. What’s a few thousand years in the grand scheme of things… a short time !

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