At last year's 100 Year Starship Symposium, NASA scientist Harold White suggested that warp drives could be completely possible and even went so far as to discuss the actual making of such a thing, stating that it could work with less energy than previously believed. Well, that wasn't just crazy talk, because White recently spoke about it again in a recent interview about taking his concepts of warp speed and turning them into a reality.
To travel at warp speed, we would need to exceed the speed of light, which is impossible (or highly improbable) according to Einstein's theory of relativity. However, White believes that there are loopholes in that theory that could create faster than light travel, one of those being space warps. He referred to an airport's moving walkway as an example — someone who is on the walkway can cover the same distance faster than someone who is not. Warp drive would work in a similar way. A spacecraft with a warp drive would contract space in front of it and then expand space behind it, allowing for the travel between two points faster.
So what would White's warp drive look like?
"Imagine an American football, for simplicity, that has a toroidal ring around it attached with pylons," he said. "The football is where the crew and robotic systems would be, while the ring would contain exotic matter called negative vacuum energy, a consequence of quantum mechanics. The presence of this toroidal ring of negative vacuum energy is what's required from the math and physics to be able to use the warp trick."
It has long been believed that a great amount of energy would be needed to make warp drive occur. During the symposium last year, though, White discovered it wouldn't. According to his own theories and research, he believes the amount of energy needed could be greatly reduced. This would suggest that scientists are ready to get started on building a spacecraft that can sustain a warp drive.
Unfortunately, that isn't the case. At present, these ideas are merely just that, but at some point, there are plans to start applying what they've learned. NASA eventually hopes to create a tiny warp bubble in a lab and start figuring out how to turn the science fiction of warp drive into science fact.
According to White:
"We don't just go from the lab to an interstellar mission. There will be intermediate steps, other things we would do with this long before we get to some of the romantic pictures of a captain on the bridge telling the helmsman to engage warp drive."
Full speed ahead, Mr. Sulu.
Via New Scientist