How to build a warp drive

 Alcubierre drive

Is faster than light travel allowed by the laws of physics? There’s no harm in speculating, right?

In 1994, Michael Alcubierre, a physicist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, put warp drive on a firm (-ish) theoretical footing for the first time. His thinking was that what relativity actually prevents is faster-than-light-travel relative to the fabric of spacetime. But it places no restrictions on the way in which spacetime itself can move and stretch.

The Alcubierre drive consists of a device that somehow contracts space in front of your spacecraft, bringing your destination effectively closer,  while expanding space behind it. The spacecraft sits in a bubble of flat space in the middle.  So while the bubble can travel at any speed across the universe, the spacecraft can be almost stationary relative to the space in which it sits.

Clever idea.  And today Gerald Cleaver and Richard Obousy from Baylor University in Texas, take it further by explaining how it might actually be possible to stretch spacetime into the Alcubierre bubble.

Their idea is based on the possible existence of extra dimensions that are curled up with a radius so small that we never experience them. They say:

“The basic idea is that by altering the radius of an extra dimension, it would be possible, in principle, to adjust the energy density of spacetime.”

And that would allow the kind of space-time stretching  that could create an Alcubierre drive.

There’s one drawback. Cleaver and Obousy calculate that the energy needed to distort the space around a spacecraft-sized object is about 10^45 Joules or the total energy of an object the size of Jupiter if all its mass were converted into energy.

Still, if you’re glass half-full  kind of physicist, you’ll take that as encouragement.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0807.1957: Putting the “Warp” into Warp Drive

15 Responses to “How to build a warp drive”

  1. [...] on motivating younger generations to learn more about space science was discussed. Then, I read the arXiv Blog to see a short review about some research into the sci-fi warp drive. Although it’s late, I [...]

  2. [...] warp drive, I could totally sleep until 5 minutes before class/work and still get there on time.

  3. Michael Costolo says:

    Anything that requires extra dimensions is suspect in my mind. How does a dimension become “small?”

    What does “a dimension so small you can’t see it” mean? That suggests there a “large” dimension that we can see. I can see things that occupy space in a dimension, but I’m not sure I can see the dimension myself. Perhaps I need new glasses.

    We seem to hear about these “extra” dimensions that are “small” frequently now in the days of string theory, though the physical implications of this mathematical convenience has never been explained to my satisfaction.

  4. R.Mirman says:

    Sorry to spoil your fantasies but a universe would be impossible in any dimension but 3+1. See proof in the OAIU book. See also the discussion of why it is not possible (no matter how space is warped) to go faster than the boundary speed.

    The proof that physics, a universe, would be impossible in any dimension but 3+1 (strangely agreeing with reality) is clear and unavoidable. Stunning is that a change of any number in any of the formulas by even 1 would make any dimension, thus any universe, impossible.

    That the universe allows, and has, galaxies, stars, planets, even life, thinking life, that all the conflicting conditions do not conflict and are met, is beyond stunning.

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  5. R.Mirman says:

    Extra dimensions are nonsense. See the comment I just submitted.

  6. Ben Wilhelm says:

    Four responses to R. Mirman:

    First, who are you and why are you an authority? (For those who haven’t noticed, the book he’s posted and is referring to is one he wrote.)

    Second, if universes can’t exist in other than 3+1, then you should probably tell string theorists about it since most string theory appears to work with 11 dimensions.

    Third, your book has 1.5 stars on Amazon, out of a whopping two reviews. While Amazon is hardly an authority on good scientific texts, I hesitate to describe your book as a “good scientific text” based on the evidence.

    And finally, when I search for “R Mirman” on Google, a stunning number of the results are you advertising your book. This is, likewise, not a good sign.

  7. ZEPHIR says:

    By Aether Wave Theory the space-time stretching can be achieved simply by introducing of gravitomagnetic or electromagnetic energy into vacuum foam (an analogy of shaking of normal foam), i.e. by rotation of heavy or charged object. The achieving of less dense vacuum is more tricky – by my opinion the centrifugation of vacuum (concept of Tipler cylinder) could be working, but I’m not quite sure about it.

    But how these effects can be used for superluminal propulsion? This doesn’t seem real at all for me. As a much more viable appears the concepts of Woodward’s, Shawyer’s or Heim’s drive, which are based on the way, by which the jellyfish is moving through watter.

  8. [...] on motivating younger generations to learn more about space science was discussed. Then, I read the arXiv Blog to see a short review about some research into the sci-fi warp drive. Although it’s late, I [...]

  9. eric swan says:

    Having seen a bright shiny silver disk shaped object hovering motionlessly about 10 feet above a field at around 11 on a sunny sunday morning I have doubts about the impossibility of faster than light travel. It was about 30 ft in diameter and 9 ft thick in the center. About 1/4 mile away in front of a tree line. There were other sittings in the area that day by multiple witnesses. Also I fundamentally object to universe that is set up in such a way that we cannot leave home and visit our neighbors.

  10. Han Solo says:

    Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?

  11. [...] on motivating younger generations to learn more about space science was discussed. Then, I read the arXiv Blog to see a short review about some research into the sci-fi warp drive. Although it’s late, I [...]

  12. E Adams says:

    Will someone please inform R. Mirman’s orderlies that he’s gotten out again?

  13. Jack Kosta says:

    What does seeing a disk hovering about 10 feet etc have to do with faster then light travel? You simply saw an unidentified flying object. Could have been a blimp, how can you tell?

  14. Jon Hanford says:

    Han Solo brings up an important point. Just how do you precisely navigate your vessel if your traveling at FTL speeds. General relativity says as you approach lightspeed, your view of the universe around you essentially shrinks to a singular point in front of your direction of travel. This is not a trivial matter. How do you determine EXACTLY your position & course at FTL speeds, since light must now catch up to your vessel? What if you encounter molecular clouds, dust, gas, nebulae & possible stars at FTL speeds? How do you know exactly where in the universe(or multiverse, for that matter) your vessel is located? FTL is an interesting thought experiment, but the devil is in the (navigational) details.

  15. David Bacon says:

    Two things I must point out to the creative thinkers out there:

    1. “Dimension” is a term that may refer to more than things you can see on a ruler. Remember that we accept time as a dimension, yet we can’t see it. So the difficulty in understanding a “dimension” that is to small to see may just be due to the word not being perfect. The growth of our vocabulary lags the growth of our knowledge. Also, creative thinking “leads” our knowledge, because it considers what “might be”, not “what is”. So there will be a large gap between creative thinking and the vocabulary that supports it.

    2. Please do not limit your thinking by applying our limited math to it. Our math is not nearly well developed enough to describe many things. This has been a problem throughout the growth of civilization, and number systems have evolved and expanded to accomodate the needs of the civilization. Imagine trying to do the math we do but using Roman numerals.
    The Japanese didn’t have “zero” until Western civilizations brought it to them, and they spent more time on art that on math, look at them now…
    Our number system is digital, and does not accurately describe things, such as length, without splitting a digit into smaller divisions, maybe again and again, giving us all those numbers below “1″, such as “0.075″ and things like that. Numbers less than one don’t work well with math, as the measuring standard division will distort things. Try doing the same math on an item that measures 0.080 inches, and then compare the results to the same thing done in Metric, using 2mm instead of 0.080 inches. The answers are completely different.
    For example let’s say we have a rule that a weld spot size should be “five root T” of the thickness of the metal. We mean that you find the square root of the thickness and multiply it by five, and that is the ideal weld spot diameter.
    So two pieces of metal 2mm which are to be welded… the root of 2mm is 1.41, and 5 times that is 7mm. That is our spot diameter.
    Now try it in SAE dimensions: root of 0.080 inches is 0.28 Times 5 is 1.4 inches…
    Way different results.
    Try square roots of negative numbers. Our system is so bad we have added the letter “i” to identify that the value came from a negative number.
    We also base everything on “10″, (radix), hmmm, we can count that on our fingers. What if we were a 3-toed sloth, would our radix be the same?

    So when space visitors arrive and we try to establish communications by spewing out prime numbers, try to look in the window of their ship and see how many fingers the radio operator is scratching his head with. If it isn’t ten, then you know why he is scratching his head…

    So keep an open mind, we aren’t ready to understand a lot of this, so don’t think that something that is not understandable is impossible.

    Thanks for listen.. oop, ..reading this.