NASA Scientist Thinks FTL Travel Possible in our LifetimesWe might just be able to visit Alpha Centauri within our lifetimes, after all. NASA scientist Harold White believes that a FTL drive not dissimilar to the type proposed in Star Trek might be easier to make than we thought. And he is working on proving it right now.
Dr. White's FTL machine relies on the very sci-fi warp bubbles. Warp bubbles are small distorted sections of space-time--quirks that arise from the mathematics describing our universe. Warp bubbles are merely pockets of space that are distorted more than they should be by gravitational forces alone. To make a FTL craft out of that, all one needs to do is compress the space ahead of the craft and stretch it behind. Presto, you can exceed the speed of light without ever moving faster than a walking pace.
Dr. White and his team are actively hunting for proof that these bubbles exist in nature. Using a device called a White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer, he scans for microscopic warp bubbles. As he explains:
Although this is just a tiny instance of the phenomena, it will be existence proof for the idea of perturbing space time-a "Chicago pile" moment, as it were. Recall that December of 1942 saw the first demonstration of a controlled nuclear reaction that generated a whopping half watt. This existence proof was followed by the activation of a ~ four megawatt reactor in November of 1943. Existence proof for the practical application of a scientific idea can be a tipping point for technology development.
This is not the first time that such a propulsion method has been proposed, but it had previously been deemed infeasible. Physicists previously argued that a warp bubble of any reasonable size would need a Jupiter-sized ball of exotic matter. Considering that we currently have no exotic matter, that's quite a lot.
But Dr. White's calculations show that we can harness warp bubbles with far less than previous calculations have shown. By optimizing the thickness of the warp bubble, and if they "oscillate its intensity to reduce the stiffness of space time," then the mass of exotic matter needed to create a 10 meter warp bubble drops to a mere 500 kilograms. And that warp bubble would be able to move at 10C, or 10 times the speed of light.
To put that in perspective, that means that we could go to Aplha Centauri, our closest neighbor, "in two weeks as measured by clocks here on Earth." That compares to at least a decade of travel using even the fastest proposed lightspeed-limited propulsion. Or, to put it another way, we can travel to Gliese 581g--a superearth that is remarkably earth-like--in two years. So a four year round trip.
This is really, really exciting. If Dr. White can find a warp bubble, we might see another Manhattan project. But rather than building a nuclear bomb, it would make a FTL spacecraft.
The future is here, folks, and it is exciting.