A breakthrough in the quest for faster-than-light travel?

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Roxas_XIII
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27 Dec 2012, 4:04 am

http://io9.com/5963263/how-nasa-will-bu ... warp-drive

We've always though of FTL travel as being achieved hundreds, maybe thousands of years into the future, but looking at this it hits me that the possibility of having at least one functional hyperdrive prototype before my life is over is... well, a lot larger than it was, that's for sure.

Apparently the idea has actually been around since the 1990's, in the form of the Alcubierre Drive. It basically creates a "bubble" of spacetime around the craft, preserving the craft's spatial-temporal state relative to the rest of the universe. It then creates two regions of warped space time off the bow and stern - the frontmost area of space is compressed, while the space at the rear is expanded, much like how an ocean wave will go into a trough and then up into a crest, this allowing the spacetime bubble - with the ship inside - to "surf" the resulting space-time "wave" at speeds that could well exceed the speed of light, without violating the laws of relativity. The space around the ship relative to the ship itself is normal, but the ship is still moving because that area of space is moving with it, kind of like sitting in a moving vehicle - you're stationary relative to the vehicle, but relative to everything else you're moving.

Of course, the original design was deemed highly impractical because of the massive amount of energy needed to maintain the warp field - basically roughly the amount you would get if you took the mass of the planet Jupiter and converted it to energy. However, this new hypothesis makes some fundamental changes in the shape of the drive itself as well as creating an oscillating bubble rather than a static one. According to the theory, a functional hyperdrive utilizing this improved version of the Alcubierre method would only require energy equal to the mass-energy conversion of the Voyager I spacecraft, or roughly 1600 pounds.

Of course, this is all still strictly theory, and we're not going to see any practical application until we get a "Chicago Pile"-esque proof to fortify said theory. But the fact is, if the theory does hold weight under the scrutiny of the astrophysics community, it basically means the prospect of FTL travel just got a hell of a lot more technologically and financially feasible. It's convinced NASA enough to fund the research for the project, so we may be looking at the biggest scientific breakthrough in humanity's history... EVER!


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answeraspergers
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27 Dec 2012, 4:06 am

cool.

interesting read



Declension
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27 Dec 2012, 4:08 am

Exciting stuff! If humanity is going to survive in the long term, I reckon we will need FTL travel.



auntblabby
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27 Dec 2012, 5:21 am

how would we space-travellers avoid collisions with spacejunk?



redrobin62
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27 Dec 2012, 5:43 am

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Aharon
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27 Dec 2012, 6:06 am

auntblabby wrote:
how would we space-travellers avoid collisions with spacejunk?


I've wondered that, and guess the answer is that we're technically not moving; the bubble is, so there is no inertia, no "speed"; we slide along in a little piece of the universe we've quilted around us; everything in our path would get warped around us, or something like that.


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27 Dec 2012, 6:40 am

^^^
aha :idea: i shoulda thunk of it. :oops:



ruveyn
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27 Dec 2012, 8:12 am

Alcubre's ideas are interesting. Unfortunately there has been no empirical corroboration of his hypothesis and there is not even a hint of a whiff of technology which could warp space in the way Alcubre suggests. It is an interesting -speculative- idea.

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Roxas_XIII
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02 Jan 2013, 9:14 pm

ruveyn wrote:
Alcubre's ideas are interesting. Unfortunately there has been no empirical corroboration of his hypothesis and there is not even a hint of a whiff of technology which could warp space in the way Alcubre suggests. It is an interesting -speculative- idea.

ruveyn


True, but the reason for that has been the amount of energy required to operate an Alcubierre drive on a functional scale, it was too much to even try and systematically prove the theory. However, the method mentioned here has been improved so as to not require that "WTF Seriously?"* amount of energy the original drive required. Also, they'll probably be starting on the microscopic scale first, even if it's creating the field around a single atom if they can do it with todays technology and a reasonable amount of energy it will prove the theory and then they can work on ramping up the scale with their research thus far.

*According to the article, the energy required for a theoretical jump to Alpha Centauri using the original Alcubierre drive would have been the rough equivalent of the mass of the planet Jupiter converted to energy with a near 100% efficiency rate. However, the improved drive would only require about 1500 kilograms worth of mass-converted energy to perform the same feat.


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04 Jan 2013, 10:55 pm

Roxas_XIII wrote:

*According to the article, the energy required for a theoretical jump to Alpha Centauri using the original Alcubierre drive would have been the rough equivalent of the mass of the planet Jupiter converted to energy with a near 100% efficiency rate. However, the improved drive would only require about 1500 kilograms worth of mass-converted energy to perform the same feat.


First we need the unimproved drive to give us a hint on how to improve it. I do not plan to hold my breath until that happens.

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04 Jan 2013, 11:29 pm

Actually, the improvement has already been worked out - it involves altering the shape of the bubble and, for lack of a better term, oscillating it. That's why NASA is building a testbed; if they can detect an alteration of space consistent with Alcubierre's theory, we'll have what one researcher terms "the Chicago Pile moment" (when the first atomic power plant was constructed at the University of Chicago in 1942, it was only to prove that such a thing was possible; it produced about half a watt of power. Within a year, the first 4 megawatt plant came online).


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Roxas_XIII
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05 Jan 2013, 4:05 am

DeaconBlues wrote:
Actually, the improvement has already been worked out - it involves altering the shape of the bubble and, for lack of a better term, oscillating it. That's why NASA is building a testbed; if they can detect an alteration of space consistent with Alcubierre's theory, we'll have what one researcher terms "the Chicago Pile moment" (when the first atomic power plant was constructed at the University of Chicago in 1942, it was only to prove that such a thing was possible; it produced about half a watt of power. Within a year, the first 4 megawatt plant came online).


Exactly, couldn't have said it better myself. No really, actually I probably couldn't so thanks for explaining it so that everyone could understand.


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05 Jan 2013, 4:36 am

I've also been following this news with extreme curiosity, I can't wait to see how their tests pan out.



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05 Jan 2013, 12:43 pm

It is only an idea, albeit an interesting one - it is not an hypothesis.

Is it testable? I mean, can we use today's technology to construct a device that will produce a warp bubble and thus demonstrate the idea's feasibility? If not, then it remains only an idea, and not an hypothesis (which must be testable to be called an hypothesis).

Once an hypothesis is tested, it then becomes a theory.

Once the theory has been re-tested, re-examined, and generally accepted as valid in all known cases, then it becomes a principle.

The "Warp Bubble" is still only in the conceptual stage - it is only an idea, nothing more.

Anyone who believes otherwise is invited to produce a repeatable demonstration of a real, working warp bubble, and thus prove me wrong.


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06 Jan 2013, 10:27 am

Stargazer43 wrote:
I've also been following this news with extreme curiosity, I can't wait to see how their tests pan out.


I can't wait, either. If they actually get to "Chicago pile" and manage to warp space, even a tiny bit, it would absolutely amazing. Like Declension said, our race probably won't live very long without interstellar travel. If we manage to close the rift between us and the stars, then perhaps global warming can actually be avoided (or nuclear war, or a deadly asteroid collision, etc). A wise man (I forget who--maybe it was Carl Sagan) once said that it was best to have the human race spread out over many planets, so that the human race wouldn't go extinct unless we somehow managed to get destroyed on each planet (which is possible but less likely with each planet--but perhaps not, as people might care less for their individual planet and pollute excessively if they know that there were other planets they could go to once theirs got ruined).


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06 Jan 2013, 11:21 am

DeaconBlues wrote:
Actually, the improvement has already been worked out - it involves altering the shape of the bubble and, for lack of a better term, oscillating it. That's why NASA is building a testbed; if they can detect an alteration of space consistent with Alcubierre's theory, we'll have what one researcher terms "the Chicago Pile moment" (when the first atomic power plant was constructed at the University of Chicago in 1942, it was only to prove that such a thing was possible; it produced about half a watt of power. Within a year, the first 4 megawatt plant came online).


There is at this time no working example of a genuine warp bubble in the physical world. It is a speculation, albeit an interesting one. Improving the shape of a non-existent bubble is, in practical terms, vapor ware. To see if that improvement will work we must first have something to improve.

ruveyn