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Monday, May 18, 2009

Science in Fiction: Warp Drive

What: Warp Drive

Created By:
Gene Rodenberry

Other works of fiction that use this:
Red Dwarf and Starship Troopers

Special Note for Authors:
Warp drive is NOT the same thing as faster-than-light or hyperspace. Some authors try to use the terms interchangeably. This is wrong. And I will devote a whole post on the three forms of hyper-light travel at some point.

What Warp Drive Is: Rather than making a ship speed up to the point where it's going faster than the speed of light (299 792 458 m / s) a warp drive creates a pocket of the space/time continuum in a bubble around the ship. The space around the ship moves while the ship stays still. Thus avoiding some nasty issues with weight increasing along with speed (remember mass is tied to momentum by velocity .... mass x velocity = momentum )
How It Works: Theoretically there's a nice equation for warp drive-

The following formula (Einstein field equation), based on general relativity, theoretically permits the travel of an object at a greater velocity than that of light, provided that space-time is curved:[6]

G_{\mu \nu}=\frac{8\pi}{c^4} G T_{\mu \nu}

Gμν is the Einstein curvature tensor, which describes the curvature in space, while the constant G without indices is Newton's gravitational constant. Hypothetically, if space-time is warped properly, the velocity of the traveling object does not technically exceed the speed of light, even though they appear to be moving faster than light to observers in normal space-time.

In 2007, physicist Richard Obousy proposed that a warp drive could be created by directly manipulating the extra dimensions of string theory.[7] His idea suggests the expansion of space-time is a consequence of the vacuum ground-state of higher dimensional graviton fluctuations. The vacuum energy equations can be expressed as:

 \langle E_{vac}\rangle=-\frac{\pi^2}{R^4} \left[ \frac{(2+n)(3+n)}{2}-1   \right] \left[ \zeta(0) \right] ^{n-1} \zeta'(4)

Once you get past the equations what you need is the actual drive which usually involves antimatter of some kind.

In other words, expect early attempts to go BOOM!

Do We Have This in Real Life: No

Will We Ever Have One? Someone actually sat down and calculated the chances of us having warp drive based on the events of history. The year 2180 is considered the soonest if you want to use his equations.

Right now we have some running theories about warp drives. But, right now, we don't have the technology to prove it. The amount of time and physical resources needed to create something like this currently exceeds our grasp. But it is not considered impossible.
The Big Question: How are the currently squabbling governments on Earth going to manage to divvy up the solar system let alone an entire universe when we can travel to Neptune and back in six minutes?

We like to picture the future world better able to function as a species specific unit. Many futuristic works suggest a universe where one government per planet is the norm. But how are we getting from our current petty international relations issues where we fight over things like beliefs and clothing to the point where we could colonize the solar system?

Will a major war be necessary? Will only the governments who have the technology advance? Will we see a major cultural dynamic shift away from national identity or religious identity? Or will we manage to send our species to extinction before we finish making the first warp drive?

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