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Anyone who has taken 5 minutes to get to know me knows that I’m a major Star Trek buff.
It’s not all the pew pew pewing and playing starship that fascinates me, it’s the technology used in the show and how much of that technology has actually been invented (e.g. data teleportation, light to matter conversion and transparent aluminium) or is being used in our society (e.g. cellphones, tablet computers and microscopic tractor beams) It raises the question which technology will make it into our world next. The most interesting one being warp drive.
So what is a warp drive?
A warp drive is an engine that allows faster than light (FTL) travel. I’m sure the Einstein fans among you are already looking for pitchforks and torches, but hear me out for a second. A warp drive bypasses Einstein’s special relativity theory (nothing can travel faster than light within spacetime) because the vehicle isn’t actually moving. A warp drive ‘warps’ spacetime by expanding it behind the vehicle and contracting it in front, while the vehicle rests in a bubble of normal spacetime, as pictured below.
The idea of creating such a thing any time soon seems rather far-fetched, right? Well we’re closer than you’d think. The mathematical wizardry has already been done by a Mexican theoretical physicist called Miguel Alcubierre (officially the warp drive is called the Alcubierre drive, but let’s face it, no one is going to call it that) two difficulties remain however. To power the warp drive you need an extremely powerful energy source. The only feasible one would be a matter-antimatter reactor, but so far we can’t produce or collect antimatter. The other problem is that you need negative energy to create the warp field. We don’t even know for certain if negative energy exists.
Nonetheless NASA does all it can with the little funding it gets. They recently even released an official design for their future warp ship. Which of course they named the Enterprise.
A lot of scientists remain sceptical, but look at how far technology has come since Yuri Gagarin first shot himself into space. With the rate of new technology growing almost exponentially, we might even hope for a PR meet on Pluto.