For decades, we have dreamed of visiting other star systems. There is only one problem that they are so faraway, with conventional spaceflight, it would take tens of thousands of years to reach even the closest one.
Physicists aren’t the type of people who give-up easily, though. Give them an impossible dream, and they will give you a fantastic, hypothetical way of making it a reality. Maybe.
In a new study led by physicist Erik Lentz from the Göttingen University in Germany, we may have a viable solution to the dilemma and it is one that could end-up to be more feasible than other would be warp drives.
This is an area that attract many bright ideas, each offering a different approach to solving the puzzle of faster than light travel: achieving a way of sending something across space at superluminal speeds.
There are several problems with this notion, however. Within conventional physics, in accordance with Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, there is no real way to reach or exceed the speed of light, which are some things we would need for any journey measured in light-years.
That has not stopped physicists from trying to break this universal speed-limit, though.
While pushing matter past the speed of light, will always be a big no-no, space-time itself has no such rule. In fact, the far reaches of the Universe are already stretching away faster than its light could ever hope to-match.
To bend a little bubble of space in a similar fashion for transport purposes, we would need to solve relativity’s equations to create a density of energy that is lower than the emptiness of space.
While this type of negative energy happens on a quantum scale, piling-up enough in the form of ‘negative mass‘ remains a realm for exotic physics.
In addition to facilitating other types of abstract possibilities like wormholes & time travel, negative energy could help power what is known as the Alcubierre warp drive.
This speculative concept would make use-of negative energy principles to warp space around a hypothetical spacecraft, enabling it to effectively travel faster-than-light without challenging traditional physical laws, except for reasons explained above, we cannot hope to provide such a fantastical fuel source to begin-with.
But, what if it were possible to somehow achieve faster than light travel that keeps faith with Einstein’s relativity without requiring any type of exotic physics that physicists haven’t seen?
In the new work, Lentz proposes one such way we’d be able to do this because of what he calls a new class of hyper-fast solitons, a sort of wave that maintains its shape & energy while moving at a constant velocity (in this case, a velocity faster than light).
According to Lentz’s theoretical calculations, these hyper-fast soliton solutions can exist within general relativity and are sourced purely from positive energy densities, meaning there is no need to consider exotic negative energy density sources that have not yet been verified.
With sufficient energy, configurations of these solitons could function as ‘warp bubbles‘, capable of super-luminal motion and theoretically enabling an object to pass through space-time, while shielded from extreme tidal forces.
It is a fantastic feat of theoretical gymnastics, although the amount of energy needed means this warp drive is just a hypothetical possibility for now.
“The energy required for this drive traveling at speed of light encompassing a spacecraft of 100 meters in radius is on the order of hundred times of the mass of Jupiter,” Lentz says.
“The energy savings would need–to be drastic of approximately 30 orders of magnitude to be in range of modern nuclear fission reactors.”
While Lentz’s study claims to be the first-known solution of its kind, his paper has arrived at almost the same time as another recent analysis, published only this month, which also proposes an alternate model for a physically possible warp drive that does not require negative energy to function.
Both teams are now in contact, Lentz says and the researcher intends to share his data further, so other scientists can explore his figures. Additionally, Lentz will be explaining his research in a week’s time in a live YouTube presentation on march 19.
There are still many puzzles to solve, but the free-flow of these sorts of ideas remains our greatest hope of ever getting a chance to visit those distant, twinkling stars.
“This work has moved the problem of faster than light travel one step away-from theoretical research in fundamental physics & closer to engineering,” Lentz says.
“The next step is to figure-out how to bring down the astronomical amount of energy needed to within the range of today’s technologies such as a large modern nuclear fission power plant. Then we can talk about–building the first prototypes.”
The findings are reported in Classical & Quantum Gravity.
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