Science Fiction, Without the Fiction: Warp Drive


Today’s Music: Delta Spirit – People C’mon

“Engage, warp factor 9.”
“Jump to lightspeed.”
“Prepare the hyperdrive.”

If you read or watch science fiction, all of those phrases are familiar to you. In fact, variations on that theme are so well known, that we are complicit in ignoring the fact that it can’t be done.
We let ourselves be fooled by mystical explanations of “anti-matter” and “holes in the space-time continuum”.

Until now.

Harold White
Follow me! I know the way!

White’s work is based on the math and ideas of Miguel Alcubierre, who came up with the equations for warp drive. But he thought it would take an energy source the size of Jupiter to do it.
While working on the equations one day, White realized that if the shape of the field generator was changed, it could be done with an energy mass of about 1600 pounds.
That’s less than the weight of the bookbag I used to carry!

Here’s the oversimplified version of how it works:
The engine (referred to as an Alcubierre Drive) would warp the space around it. The space behind would be expanded, pushing the craft forward. The space in front would be contracted.

That’s it.
Now here’s the kicker: The speed of light is an absolute. Nothing can go faster than it.
But because of loopholes in Einsteins theory of relativity, the light barrier isn’t broken relative to the changed shape of space.

The practical upshot is that a trip to Alpha Centauri (4.3 light years away (that’s 4.3 years of constant travel at the speed of light!) could be done in…wait for it…two weeks.

I’ve waited on line at the DMV for longer than that.

So practically, what does that mean? Well, nothing really. It’s all still theoretical.
White is in a lab right now, trying to generate micro disturbances in space to see if they are measurable.
The math holds up, but it remains to be seen if (and how well) it can be applied in real life.

It’s so obvious…maybe…


I hope it can. I bet there’s great skiing on Pluto
But I only have a few days off…

The first article I saw, from io9, The article from Time.
And an abstract of White’s paper, with a link to the pdf of the whole thing.

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78 responses to “Science Fiction, Without the Fiction: Warp Drive

  1. Yeah, but is there chocolate in space? That’s all I’m worried about…chocolate..and wine. Yeah. wine.

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  2. Nice work! Nice also to see you here on a day that doesn’t end in Friday.

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    • Thanks, Cheeky Diva.
      I pop in during the week or weekend every so often…

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      • Being a fan of many sci-fi things, and being a big fan also of “suspending my disbelief” I really enjoyed this thoughtful and informative post. It would be great to see something like this in our lifetime, wouldn’t it?

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        • It really would. Miguel Alcubierre’s equations were done in 94. White started his train of thought just recently and he’s already in the lab trying to prove the concept. (He’s also on the 100 Year Starship team.)

          Hopefully there will be some sort of prototype design within the next 10 years, which would be ridiculously fast. I won’t hold my breath, but still….

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          • Crap! I just checked my expiration date. 10 years is way too far away for me. I only have about 3 and a half years of good solid shelf life left before I start to get gamey. Oh well, hopefully Mr. TheCheekyDiva will have me cryogenically frozen so I can be re-constituted when this mode of travel has become a reality.

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  3. Oh my my … this is a side of Guapo I didn’t realize!

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  4. That sounds like it would mess up my hair.

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  5. Will there be wookies coming along for the ride too? Otherwise, I’m staying put…

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  6. Fascinating stuff, even if I was lost by the time I reached “Alpha Centauri.” Perhaps a beer would make it more clear…

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  7. Nerdy stuff makes me hot. Really, I love science.

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  8. Interesting Guapo, I read about this a while back and some of White’s work at JSC. I have a LOT more reading to do. While I don’t pretend to understand it all, it’s certainly not an entirely new concept and I would have to think that Space X as well as others in the private sector are also working in the lab. I wouldn’t start packing just yet though, at least until they figure out exactly what type of exotic matter would impart enough energy to do the job. It’s exciting in theory though.

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    • Perfectly said, Alex.
      One of the things that caught my eye was that he is already in the lab testing micro warping of space.
      Definitely going to have to follow this guy to see what happens!

      And his paper is fascinating. Makes me wish I paid more attention in math.

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  9. I must admit…I have always been a Science Geek too….Loved this…
    xx
    Sooz

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  10. Science scares me. Math even more (shhh…don’t tell my boss). So if you plan any further deep, intriguing blogs, please warn readers in advance. I think I hurt myself reading this & now must lie down.

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  11. Is this like blowing a bubble with bubble-gum and then inhaling the air back into your mouth real fast???

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    • Perfect analogy, zannyro! Up to the part where you start chioking on the gum too from sucking the air in too fast, and as a result cough it into someones hair.

      Although that would make a more interesting space trip.
      Do aliens have hair?

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      • I’m still laughing…….oooohhh,,coughing it into someone’s hair…I know just the someone I’d like to do that to….It is my learned belief that Aliens do not have hair….I believe they have gummy heads.

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  12. Seriously cool, Guap. I love science. Even when I don’t understand it.

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  13. This calls for (begs for, screams for) Douglas Adams quotes
    “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
    “In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.”
    “There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
    “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.”
    “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

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  14. As soon as warp speed is a reality (*fingers crossed it’s in our lifetime!*) I am SO joining Star Fleet Academy!!

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  15. Guap? Can you please explain this to me in a way I can understand? Unfortunately, I was the cheerleader who didn’t pursue science or math because I was too artsy & couldn’t understand the concepts. I was great at biology which to me is as real as it gets. I can dissect an animal but not understand a periodic table or any kind of algebra. It doesn’t help I had the worst Grade 10 math teacher in the world & I never understood anything from that moment on.

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    • I think I made a mess of this post, Benze.
      Imagine crumpling up space in front so there is less distance between you and your goal, and stretching space behind so that it’s farther to your starting point.
      The third image is a pretty good visual of it.

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      • Okay, let me see if I get this – this would be like a paper fan, where the folds are very close together at the bottom which is the space in front of where you are travelling & the folds at the top which are very wide apart would be the space behind your ship. The space starts out all the same size (like a sheet of paper) but depending on where you are on the folds, makes a difference on how fast you travel.

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  16. whiteladyinthehood

    Cool!

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  17. “I’ve waited on line at the DMV for longer than that.” hahahahaha! This is really neat, going to check out those links now.

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  18. Science rocks because it is math in motion. I cannot wait until we can warp space to make time accelerate for the making of Kayjai’s wine.

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  19. I wish I could read this. But I saw numbers, something that resembled higher math, and big, science-y words. words. Brain shut down. See what I mean? I need to go make something now.

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  20. I don’t pretend to truly comprehend these types of concepts, but, dammit, it is pretty damn cool.

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  21. Just what I thought…..

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  22. Who knew you were such a nerd? I am impressed!

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  23. Gosh, for a second I thought I was reading on of my other fave blogs – It’s Okay to Be Smart. I had to pinch myself!

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  24. You lost me at White. But, that’s okay. I pretended to understand, adn found myself nodding in a knowing way even as my brain went to that safe place where it doesn’t have to think.

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  25. I just know the spacelines would never include Pluto for Frequent Spacer Miles, as it’s a planetOID.

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  26. It looks so complicated to me awwww xox

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  27. wow! that was educational.. I haven’t seen the likes of that since… you did the one about the theory of something totally cool ;-)

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    • Thanks Lizzie!
      But I think I should sick to stories of jumping off stuff…

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      • I think its cool to rev up the brain power every once in awhile in a completely academic and confusing post – ( I dont need to make all the necessary qualifying remarks for this, i.e. you are always academic… brain power in all your posts..i am almost always confused
        etc etc… thats a given that you knw that i know that right?

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  28. Sic-fi rules, doesn’t it?

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  29. Okay, this is all a little over my head, honestly. I have a basic grasp of the concept of folding space, but that’s as far as it goes. However, the idea that “it’s impossible” to exceed the speed of light seems to me one of those things that humanity will laugh about in fifty years or so.

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  30. Pingback: Surfing Foolishness | The M3 Blog

Ahem *best Ricky Ricardo voice* Babble-OOOoooo!!!

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