Imagine a habitable planet with vast blue oceans and tens of thousands of square miles of vegetation which helps support an entire biosphere of complex life. Floating in its orbit is a giant spaceship built by a creative and intelligent species to explore nearby stars, and designed to travel faster than light with the use of a warp drive. As the ship’s crew fires the main engines, one question they should probably ask themselves is if their planet will be there if and when they get back. They might be accidentally turning on a very effective doomsday device which will either completely obliterate their world or knock it out of its stable, life-supporting orbit.
In a previous post about warp drive technology, we found out that the power output required to warp space and time into an asymmetric bubble, roughly equals the mass of Jupiter converted into raw energy. That’s like turning our world into heat, light and radiation some 318 times over. While physicists focus on what happens inside the warp bubble and how stable it would be, one question that doesn’t seem to appear very often in an astrophysical paper is what happens to the bubble’s surroundings when all that energy is released. Could it generate a powerful shockwave that would wreak havoc on a planetary scale? Would it send a wake through the very fabric of space and time, knocking planets out of orbit?
The closest thing we have to witnessing the effects of serious warping of space and time is black holes. They form after the core of a very heavy star collapses so quickly, it overcomes the degeneracy pressure of a heavy supernova remnant and distort the surrounding space-time plane. The black hole’s birth also creates a huge blast of gamma rays and generates powerful shockwaves as the energy of the collapse pushes some of the surrounding matter out. Of course warp drives aren’t going to be anywhere as powerful as that, but they would be putting out enough energy to harm multiple planets. Not only that, but they would have to release all of this energy quickly so it doesn’t simply dissipate before it can bend space. And what would happen if a warp drive misfires and essentially blows up with incredible force in all directions?