Thursday, September 18, 2008

Warp 9! Star Trek's totally for real!

Yes, we live in strange and wonderful times. Cats and dogs living together, soccer mom's for veep in the US and eclipses of the sun and moon. And warp drive! Got to love it. I'm a huge Star Trek TNG fan and have often wished I really lived in that society rather than our current one. Hanging out with Captain Picard would be a bonus, but it's just the general joy and scope and spaciness of it all that really gets me.

Anyway, it looks like warp drive is now not only for trekkies, but may one day be something for everyone:

In their scheme, in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, a starship could "warp" space so that it shrinks ahead of the vessel and expands behind it.

By pushing the departure point many light years backwards while simultaneously bringing distant stars and other destinations closer, the warp drive effectively transports the starship from place to place at faster-than-light speeds.

All this extraordinary feat requires, says the new study, is for scientists to harness a mysterious and poorly understood cosmic antigravity force, called dark energy.

Dark energy is thought responsible for speeding up the expansion rate of our universe as time moves on, just like it did after the Big Bang, when the universe expanded much faster than the speed of light for a very brief time.

This may come as a surprise since, according to relativity theory, matter cannot move through space faster than the speed of light, which is almost 300,000,000 metres per second. But that theory applies only to unwarped 'flat' space.

And there is no limit on the speed with which space itself can move: the spaceship can sit at rest in a small bubble of space that flows at "superluminal" - faster than light - velocities through normal space because the fabric of space and time itself (scientists refer to spacetime) is stretching.

In the scheme outlined by Dr Cleaver dark energy would be used to create the bubble: if dark energy can be made negative in front of the ship, then that patch of space would contract in response.

"Think of it like a surfer riding a wave," said Dr Cleaver. "The ship would be pushed by the spatial bubble and the bubble would be travelling faster than the speed of light."

The new warp drive work also draws on "string theory", which suggests the universe is made up of multiple dimensions. We are used to four dimensions - height, width, length and time but string theorists believe that there are a total of 10 dimensions and it is by changing the size of this 10th spatial dimension in front of the space ship that the Baylor researchers believe could alter the strength of the dark energy in such a manner to propel the ship faster than the speed of light.

They conclude by recommending that it would be "prudent to research this area further."

So ok, it won't happen soon. But just the thought of it makes me excited. Now I just need a holodeck and I'll be all happy!

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