Alcubierre's calculations over a decade ago appeared to show that such a thing was at least theoretically feasible: using a ring of exotic matter, a bubble of unwarped, flat space with a starship in it would be transported through normal space at effective speeds perhaps 10 times lightspeed by warping the space around it.
May not even need 17,000 megaton superbomb for power
Nothing would actually travel through any space faster than light, and the laws of physics would be unviolated. Unfortunately, subsequent investigation appeared to show that while the warp drive might work it would be unfeasibly power hungry: it would require a minimum amount of energy equivalent to completely annihilating the mass of the planet Jupiter.
However White and his NASA Eagleworks colleagues say that's not necessarily so: it's all down to the shape of the ring. An improved doughnut design, as opposed to a flat ring, would get the requirement down to something more like just annihilating the Voyager One probe craft. Voyager masses in the region of kg, so by our calculations one would still need a lump of antimatter or other reasonably compact super power source which - if it were mishandled - would explode with a force of some 17, megatons, equivalent to several global nuclear wars all in one or odd Tunguska meteor strikes etc.
This would inconveniently take humanity's current atom labs billions of years to make, and there would be other practical issues see our previous antimatter-bomb analysis here , and then there'd be the exoto-doughnut to fabricate etc. The NASA brainbox calculates that cunningly oscillating the warped region around the spacecraft could cut power requirements by another big margin. It's all pretty crazy stuff: but as various conference attendees correctly pointed out, if human beings are ever going to have anything much to do with the universe around us - as opposed to remaining confined almost totally to our own planet or at best the immediate neighbourhood around our tiny, insignificant pinprick home star - crazy stuff will be essential.
If you stick strictly to regular physics, it's very difficult to think of practical star travel methods at all.
Faster-than-light - Wikipedia
Perhaps the most powerful technology one can imagine under regular physics is fusion power: but fusion rockets applied to interstellar voyages are much like today's chemical rockets applied to orbital launch. They are so hard up against their practical limits that you have to use stages and throw most of your spacecraft away in order to reach your destination, even to get to nearby stars over multidecade time spans.
We here on The Reg space desk will be wishing more power to White and his colleagues' mental elbows, even as we'd doubt that they'll get very far any time soon. Obviously "Warp Ten" - generally thought to mean 10 times lightspeed - is still really a bit slow. At Warp Ten a ship would still take several months to reach nearby systems like Alpha Centauri or Barnard's Star, and years for anything further off.
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But in , a Mexican physicist, Miguel Alcubierre , theorized that faster-than-light speeds were possible in a way that did not contradict Einstein, though Dr. Alcubierre did not suggest anyone could actually construct the engine that could accomplish that. His theory involved harnessing the expansion and contraction of space itself.
Under Dr. Alcubierre wrote. White has likened it to stepping onto a moving walkway at an airport. But Dr.
Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say
White believes that advances he and others have made render warp speed less implausible. Among other things, he has redesigned the theoretical warp-traveling spacecraft — and in particular a ring around it that is key to its propulsion system — in a way that he believes will greatly reduce the energy requirements.
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He is quick to offer up his own caveats, however, saying his warp research is akin to a university science project that is just trying to prove that a microscopic warp bubble can be detected in a lab. White was an engineer with a background in the aerospace industry when he came to NASA in , starting his career at the agency by operating the arms of space shuttles.
Warp Speed: The Hype of Hyperspace
He got his doctorate in physics from Rice University in , and now works on a range of projects aimed at taking NASA beyond the fiery rockets that have long characterized space travel. The agency is far more focused on more achievable projects — building the next generation Orion series spacecraft , working on the International Space Station and preparing for a planned future mission to capture an asteroid. But it has made internal resources available for the project and freed up other engineers to assist Dr. It has also restored the pneumatic system in the laboratory Dr.
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White is using, to allow it to float. The lab was once used to test equipment for Apollo missions and has control panels underneath it that look like they belong in a fallout shelter that time forgot. Theoretically, a warp drive could cut the travel time between stars from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months.
But we should probably not book reservations anytime soon.