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Warp Drive: Physicists give you a chance to boost fast-than-light space travel

Faster than light movement is the only way humans can reach other stars in a reasonable amount of time. Les Bossinas / NASA / Wikimedia Commons The closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri. It is about 4.25 light-years, or about 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km) away. Parker Solar Probe, now in space, the fastest spacecraft in history, reaches a top speed of 450,000mph. It takes only 20 seconds to travel from Los Angeles to New York City at that speed, but Solar Probe takes about 6,633 years to reach the nearest solar system closest to Earth. If humans want to move easily between stars, people need to move faster than light. But so far, faster-than-light navigation is only possible in science fiction. In Isaac Asimov’s foundation series, humans can use Jump Drive to move from planet to planet, from star to star, or across space. As a kid, I read as many of those stories as I could get. I’m currently a theoretical physicist studying nanotechnology, but I’m still fascinated by how the humanities one day travels in space. Some characters, like the astronauts in the movies Interstellar and Thor, use wormholes to move between solar systems in seconds. Another approach familiar to Star Trek fans is warp drive technology. Warp drive is theoretically possible if the technology is still widespread. Two recent treatises came up in March when researchers claimed to have overcome one of the many challenges between warp drive theory and reality. But how do these theoretical warp drives actually work? And will humans quickly jump to warp speed? This two-dimensional representation is a flat, unwarped space-time bubble in the center where the warp drive sits surrounded by a space-time compressed to the right (downward curve) and an extended space-time to the left (upward curve). is showing. AllenMcC / Wikimedia Commons The current understanding of compression and extension physicists about space-time comes from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The general theory of relativity states that space and time are fused and that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. General relativity also explains how mass and energy distort space-time – heavy objects such as stars and black holes bend the space-time around them. This curvature is what you feel as gravity, which is why many spaceflight heroes worry about “getting caught” or “falling” in gravity. Early science fiction writers John Campbell and Asimov saw this warp as a way to avoid the speed limit. What if the spacecraft could compress the space in front of it while expanding the space-time behind it? “Star Trek” took this idea and named it Warp Drive. In 1994, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Arcbiere was mathematically capable of compressing space-time in front of a space-time and expanding space-time behind it, within the laws of general relativity. I showed that. So what does that mean? Imagine the distance between two points is 10 meters (33 feet). If you are standing at point A and can move 1 meter per second, it will take 10 seconds to reach point B. However, suppose you can somehow compress the space between point B so that the distance is 1 meter. .. Then move through space-time at a top speed of 1 meter per second and you’ll reach point B in about 1 second. Theoretically, this approach is consistent with the theory of relativity. Because you are not moving faster than light in the space around you. Alcubierre has shown that warp drive from “Star Trek” is actually theoretically possible. Proxima Centauri You’re here, right? Unfortunately, there was one problem with Alcubierre’s method of compressing space-time. It requires negative energy or negative mass. This two-dimensional representation shows how a positive mass curves space-time (left side, blue earth) and a negative mass curves space-time in the opposite direction (right side, red earth). Tokamac / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA Negative Energy Issues Alcubierre’s warp drive works by creating flat space-time bubbles around the spacetime and bending the space-time around the bubbles to reduce the distance. Warp drives require either a negative mass (theoretical type of matter) or a ring of negative energy density. Physicists have never observed negative mass, so they leave negative energy as their only option. To generate negative energy, warp drives use large amounts of mass to create an imbalance between particles and antiparticles. For example, the appearance of electrons and anti-electrons near a warp drive causes one of the particles to be trapped in mass, creating an imbalance. This imbalance creates a negative energy density. Alcubierre’s warp drive uses this negative energy to create a space-time bubble. However, many problems are required for the warp drive to generate enough negative energy. Alcubierre estimated that a warp drive with 100 meters of air bubbles would require a visible mass of the entire universe. In 1999, physicist Chris Van Den Broeck showed that keeping the surface area constant while expanding the volume inside the bubble significantly reduces the energy required to the mass of the Sun. It’s a huge improvement, but it’s still far beyond all practical possibilities. The future of science fiction? Two recent treatises, one by Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire and the other by Erik Lentz, provide a solution that makes warp drive seem real. Bobrick and Martire have found that changing the space-time within a bubble in a particular way can eliminate the need to use negative energy. However, this solution does not generate a warp drive that can move faster than light. [Over 100,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.] Independently, Lenz also proposed a solution that does not require negative energy. He used a different geometric approach to solve the equations of general relativity, and by doing so he found that the warp drive did not need to use negative energy. Lenz’s solution allows bubbles to move faster than the speed of light. It is essential to point out that these exciting developments are mathematical models. As a physicist, I don’t completely trust the model until experimental evidence is available. Still, the science of warp drive is emerging. As a fan of science fiction, I welcome all this innovative thinking. In the words of Captain Picard, things are otherwise impossible. This article has been republished by The Conversation, a non-profit news site aimed at sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by Mario Bornda of Oklahoma State University. Read more: The scariest thing in space is the black hole – and here are three reasons: If the Earth falls, will interstellar space travel help us? Mario Borunda does not work, consult, own shares, or receive funding for any company or organization that would benefit from this article.