Friday, January 27, 2023

Traveling through space faster than light is not a science fiction story: Physicists are seriously working on it

The theory of general relativity, published by Albert Einstein in 1915, established, among many other ideas that were revolutionary at the time, that nothing with mass could move through the space-time continuum. Is. faster than the speed of light, To achieve this, roughly speaking, would require an infinite amount of energy, which is clearly not possible.

But that’s not all. Furthermore, during acceleration, it will experience an increase in mass and a distortion resulting from the compression of space that is ineffective, among other effects that are not easy to understand (we explain this process in more detail in the article I link to). do here). Nevertheless, the constraints imposed by the laws of physics have not, fortunately, been an obstacle for writers of science fiction novels. Nor for some filmmakers.

And it is that in many of his works he describes a world in which space travel is possible at hyperluminal speeds, which gives humans the possibility to move from one star system to another and even from one galaxy to another , in a completely manageable period of time by man Science fiction fans have enjoyed this resource on many occasions in both cinema and literature.

Science fiction is often inspired by formal science, taking it as a starting point and going a step (or several) further, but this formula also works in the opposite direction. And it is that some scientists openly admit that science fiction thinkers sometimes throw their ideas at them for the purpose of flirting with the possibility of them being put into practice. Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre is one of them, and his proposal is exciting. Fiance

Alcubierre’s proposition: propulsion by distortion of the space-time continuum

Before we go any further, we should put the rules on the table. we are entering purely speculative and ideological territory in which the most important respect the laws of physics And don’t break them. From there, the next challenge is to identify whether our current technological advances allow us to put into practice the theoretical proposal that we have formulated as a starting point. That’s exactly the path Miguel Alcubierre took in 1994.

He currently directs the Institute of Nuclear Sciences and the Department of Gravitational and Field Theory of the Faculty of Science of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His specialties are black holes, gravitational waves, dark matter, and the theory of gravity. And, on top of all that, he admits to being obsessed with science fiction. In fact, the ‘Alcubierre metric’, which is the mathematical model he developed to propose a way to travel through the space-time continuum faster than light, appears while watching an episode of ‘Star Trek’. It happened to them.

The reason this physicist’s proposal is often cited by other researchers is that it does not violate Einstein’s general relativity. So how do you increase your chances of traveling faster than light, which as we’ve seen, something with no mass can do? The solution proposed by Alcubierre is very simple: distort the space-time continuum. In fact, as he himself says, “the idea is not to travel through space; travel with space,

Miguel Alcubierreretrato

Somehow his proposal describes what might be the effect of a warp drive capable of propelling a spacecraft through the space-time continuum at hyperluminal speeds. Of course, the concept of the ‘curvature motor’ was not invented by Alcubierre; He has borrowed it from science fiction, which he honestly admits.

In any case, what does he raise distortion driveWhat he himself calls his simple idea is the possibility of expanding the space behind us, and at the same time shrinking the space ahead.

A spacecraft incorporating the necessary technology to make this manipulation of space-time possible would indeed be capable of traveling vast distances at speeds greater than the speed of light.

And, moreover, it would do so without breaking the laws of physics because, in fact, it would not be traveling faster than light; would be taking advantage of the same property of the space-time continuum to explain without going into intricate details what caused the universe to expand making space between galaxiesAnd not because some are actively moving away from others.

The premise proposed by Alcubierre is very simple: «The idea of ​​traveling through space is not; Travel with Space »

As you can see, this proposal sounds good. And this happens because there is no law of physics that prevents space from expanding faster than light. In fact, space can expand at an arbitrary rate. However, putting this into practice poses several challenges that are currently beyond our reach.

By developing Alcubierre’s postulate using the equations of general relativity, what we would obtain is that the distortion we need to introduce into space in order to stretch it behind us and compress it in front huge amount of energy, As much as that which has a star. Or maybe more than one.

And, moreover, it is not just any energy; We would need negative energy to bend space, and this form of energy is closely linked, again according to general relativity, to negative mass. The problem is that at the moment we have no indication that such a mass actually exists.

Of course, this is not forbidden by the laws of physics, so, as Alcubierre defended, “we have a small glimmer of hope left.” Before moving on to the next part of the article, I leave you with an 18 minute video in which this physicist explains his proposal in a very didactic and entertaining way. it’s worth seeing.

YouTube video

Harold ‘Sonny’ White’s trick lives up to the ‘Casimir Effect’

Space-time continuum warp propulsion, proposed by Miguel Alcubierre in the mid-1990s, has inspired many scientists. for serious scientists who have taken this as an incentive to feed refine original ideas, One of them is Harold ‘Sonny’ White, an American physicist and mechanical and aerospace engineer whose professional career has been largely spent at NASA.

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In 2011 the scientist published an article titled ‘Warp field mechanics 101’, which takes Alcubierre’s ideas as a starting point and in which he explains, among other interesting concepts, the energy required to overcome the distortion of space. proposes a strategy to reduce It is possible to travel faster than light.

According to White, if the bubble that confines the spacecraft and induces deformation does not have a spherical shape and there was a bull (It is a doughnut shaped geometric figure) The energy required to perform this operation would be very less.

In late July, Harold White published an article in which he claimed to have identified a nanostructure that predicts the existence of negative energy.

Obviously, even assuming that White is correct, there are still many other priority problems, such as the need to use negative energy. Still, this technician hasn’t given up and continues to investigate.

His most ambitious project is the interferometer he is working on to test at the Advanced Propulsion Laboratory at the NASA Johnson Space Center. detect space-time distortion Introduced with a conventional propulsion system by a theoretical camber motor (this is all developed in the article I linked to in the previous paragraph).

One of the most interesting discoveries White has made, however, came this year. And it is that at the end of last July he together with other researchers published an article in which he claims to have identified a nanostructure that predicts the existence of negative energy. On this occasion his experiment has been supported by DARPA, the United States Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (the same organization that funded the creation of ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, in 1969).

YouTube video

Initially, the purpose of White’s experiment was to analyze Energy Density Structure There exists a cavity inside which resides two parallel metal plates separated by a very small distance (much smaller than any dimension of the sheets).

What is surprising is that under these conditions an attractive force appears between the plates, which is predicted by quantum field theory and derived from the properties of the quantum vacuum (examining this would make this article overly complex, but We explore this in some depth in the article I linked right here).

The attractive force between the plates due to the ‘Casimir effect’ is due to the fluctuations of the quantum vacuum.

This event is known as casimir effect, and the attractive force generated between the plates is due to the quantum vacuum fluctuations; It is not a result of electromagnetic or gravitational interaction.

When White began working on this experiment, he probably did not expect that his measurements would predict the existence of a negative energy distribution. And this brings us once again to Miguel Alcubierre’s proposal: propulsion by distortion of the space-time continuum and its dependence on negative energy and mass.

This discovery has yet to be reproduced, tested and developed; In fact, it is only a small thread in a large and complex tapestry. Harold White, who is involved in the DARPA project I mentioned above, has encouraged other scientists to keep working In the line of research that has begun.

Perhaps no one knows better than him what kind of colossal effort is needed for this little spark to blossom. Still, there’s no doubt that the work of Miguel Alcubierre, Harold White, and many other scientists is exciting. and hopeful. A real breath of fresh air for people who love both science and science fiction.

cover image: NASA

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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