Astrophysicist Claims a Star Trek-Style Warp Drive Is Theoretically Possible

Wednesday, 19 August 2015 - 3:24PM
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Science of Sci-Fi
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 - 3:24PM
Astrophysicist Claims a Star Trek-Style Warp Drive Is Theoretically Possible
This year marks the centenary of Einstein's theory of relativity, and in that time we've used that foundational theory for all manner of scientific advancement and insight into the nature of our universe. Now, Professor Geraint Lewis, an astrophysicist from the University of Sydney, claims that we may be able to extrapolate a real-life version of a sci-fi staple from general relativity: a faster-than-light warp drive a la Star Trek.

Speaking to ABC News (via Yahoo!), Lewis emphasized the importance of realizing faster-than-light travel technology in some form, as without it, it will likely be impossible to find and colonize habitable planets:

Opening quote
"The big problem we have, the speed of light, while fast - 300,000 kilometers per second - the distances involved are immense, so even traveling at the speed of light, it would take four years to go to the nearest star and two million years to go to the nearest large galaxy," said Lewis. "These distances would stop you colonizing the universe ... so you would need some sort of way to beat that speed limit, and Einstein's theory of relativity gives it to you."
Closing quote


He claimed that the theory of relativity predicts the ability to create a warp drive, as it quite literally demonstrates that space can be warped. As a result, the theory technically allows for sci-fi phenomena like wormholes, time travel, and "rips" in spacetime, although we've never observed any of those phenomena actually occurring in real life.

Opening quote
"If you look at the equation that Einstein gave us, it shows you can bend and warp space so you can travel at any speed you like in the universe. It's theoretically possible, but can we ever build a warp drive?"
Closing quote


Even if it's physically possible, there are practical limitations to building a warp drive in real life; according to the prevailing equations, a conventional rocket thruster would not suffice, and an engine that uses negative density energy would be needed. Scientists have never been able to discover material with negative density energy, but Lewis insists that it's possible they will in the relatively near future:

Opening quote
"We have hints that the kind of materials that we would need exist in the universe, but whether or not we could get them together and build a warp drive, we still don't know. It is not a material that we actually have in our hands, but there are signs that there are aspects of the universe that actually have this kind of property. Empty space itself has a negative energy density."
Closing quote


Overall, Lewis states that allowing for the theoretical possibility is the first step to any scientific advancement, and that most significant discoveries in this field seemed like "dreams" in the not-too-distant past:

Opening quote
"You just have to look at the work of Newton 400 years ago, and even people who work in quantum physics 100 years ago, and those things are real today and they started off as dreams essentially. Einstein's theory is already a hundred years old, but we have only started to scratch the surface. I think in the next 100 or 1,000 years we will reveal a lot more about the universe and maybe this hyper-fast travel will be realizable."
Closing quote


Granted, "100 or 1,000" years is fairly vague, but even a thousand years is small potatoes when you consider the implications of building a warp drive. If we were able to freely rip a hole in spacetime, we would be able to explore (and colonize) the entire universe, very much living out a real-life version of Star Trek.

Lewis claims that for now, it's a pipe dream, but it's not necessarily a lost cause:

Opening quote
"Science fiction writers have given us many images of interstellar travel, but traveling at the speed of light is simply imaginary at present... There are many 'absurd' theories that have become reality over the years of scientific research. But for the near future, warp drive remains a dream."
Closing quote
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