more bad news for warp drive technology

June 14, 2009

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Dr. Ian O’Neill about the current research into warp drive physics and asked whether putting out the energy equivalent of Jupiter’s mass could have some rather destructive side-effects. After doing some more research, I wrote a post about the possibility of warp drives releasing enough energy to create a wake with the power to destroy a planet or push it out of its orbit. And wouldn’t you know it, just four days later there’s a study by physicists who say that not only could warp drives affect everything around their space-time bubbles, they could also trigger the formation of black holes as these bubbles collapse.

warp bubble collapse

The bad news for sci-fi fans were broken by Stefano Finazzi who just happens to be the lead researcher of an earlier study which also cast a doubt on the stability of asymmetric warp bubbles that should theoretically be able to move whatever’s inside them faster than light. According to his calculations, the problem isn’t so much releasing the energy as it is containing the raw power necessary to keep space and time warped. Most warp drive concepts include the use of dark energy which is supposed to act as gravity’s evil twin. In order for all the dark energy to keep the warp bubble stable, you need to keep putting out more and more power. While you’re streaming out absolutely phenomenal amounts of energy, you’re fine. But when the energy runs out, the entire structure collapses violently and depending on a wide variety of factors, it either explodes with incredible force or implodes so quickly, it forms a singularity. Either way, things don’t end well.

Like a wise scientist once said, nature lets you take shortcuts but it makes you pay for every one of them in the end. When we try to bend space and time with immense energy, we bump up against the kind of high energy physics that pretty much no technology would be able to sustain without either violating the laws of space and time or requiring us to bottle up a massive star and learn how to wield its power. However, even that might not be a death knell to future warp drives after all. Many physicists seem to agree with Finazzi’s numbers, but like the Mythbusters after an experiment with somewhat muddled results, they’re not ready to call faster than light travel a dead end just yet. The universe works in strange ways and the semi-classical physics used to make the predictions don’t present the whole picture. There might be other ways to make warp drives and break the speed of light through a shortcut in the complex fabric of space and time. Then again, I suppose that’s just a nice way of saying that maybe, someday, somehow we’ll make it work.

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  • Einsteinian seems to be the champ still, but it’s taken some knocks and changes lately with these warp drive studies.

    I’m not a physicist, so I can’t ever say for sure that another physics will build on Einstein like he did Newton, but I can almost bet that when it comes time to explore the cosmos with faster-than-light tech, it will be something totally unthought of!

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  • matt evans

    in a plane u can go futher that u can in car bec u are higer i think when u enter the wrap u enter the hihgh space a parllel universe this talk of moving plante ripping space is rubbish u only need a small ammonut of enroy to start a rection in the coils they supperconnetiv hecne they retion the nery of short bust of high enery

    a bolt of eletocity a kick start. cappciter tec can u be usied a flash in a kam is powfull anourth to light a room only on 2 aa batterys usin a large cappiter if u had a cappitcer big anotuth and quik anouth to charnge to resle a short bust of to fire a rection

    u should enter warped space

  • cturtle

    warp drive? By that, you mean that someone (plural) imagination has wrapped scientific thinking into some theoritical bubble (thought)?

  • Stephen

    Gee whiz, warp drive is not even in the engineering stage yet and the idea is already being declared dead!

  • Liam

    well we should at least keep working at this. ftl is one of the only realistic ways to reach the nearby stars.
    also i have a question: assume an alcubierre drive star ship which uses warped spacetime like a train track and arrives at say alpha centauri, but find alpha centauri has become a black hole. since something would have to go faster than light to escape the singularity, would the A-drive be able to escape? Or would the gravitational power of the singularity outweigh the warp tunnel and the ship inside would be consumed. I apologize if this doesnt make sense but i just wanted to get the idea off my chest :)

  • Joe

    I feel that we can make practical FTL technology. I’m only a kid, but i’m fascinated with space exploration,and I want to make the warp drive a reality. sure we may not have the technology, but way back in1551, the idea of a steam engine was science fiction, then in1698, the first practical steam engine came about. That maybe a 147 year gap from idea to function, but technology can shorten research times like that, down to a few decades. just look at the evolution of planes. the first flight was 12 seconds by the wright brothers in1903, then in the 1950’s we had jets that could go for hours at speeds of over 500 mph. thats only 37 years. with current technology, and the idea of warp drives having been around for almost 20 years, and the idea of FTL traveling since Star Trek in the 1960’s i think that with the efforts of scientist, and future scientists like myself, we can make FTL travel possible by 2030. i know it’s ambitious, but did impossible odds stop the great wall of china from being built, or keep Neil Armstrong from walking on the moon, i don’t think so.

  • CharlesB

    It looks like someone HAS figured out another way of making a warp drive –

  • Anonymous

    This isnthe exact opposite of horror for me, right now I could start writing a story about a space ship that turned. Into s black hole that evaporated. Awesome! Anyway I most certainly want to work on such problems.