Physicists give chances of faster-than-light space travel a boost

Travel faster than the speed of light is possible

Moving through other star systems has long been a dream. Now, it seems that we are a little closer to achieving it.

If we want to travel to distant stars and planets, it is a sine qua non that we find a faster-than-light means of propulsion. To date, even research based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity is based on using huge numbers of hypothetical particles and states of matter with equally exotic physical properties, such as negative energy density; some particles that we cannot currently find. Then?

Curvature scrolling is well known in the science fiction world; the most famous is the one used in the Star Trek movies and series, whose propulsion is based on curving or distorting space-time, in such a way that it makes it easier for the ship to approach the destination point with a speed equal to or greater than the speed of light. The space and time behind the spacecraft would expand while the space and time ahead of the object would compress. But what if the Star Trek Enterprise’s warp drive could become a real thing?

The first to think about it and turn to fiction for inspiration was the Mexican scientist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994. But he ran into an obstacle: the laws of physics leave no room for negative energy. In the theoretical framework devised by Alcubierre, he imagined how the ship would be catapulted thanks to a bubble of negative energy that would expand space and time behind, while space-time would be compressed in front of it. Just like in Star Trek.
Now, the new study carried out by the physicist Erik Lentz and published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity suggests that we may have a viable solution to the dilemma. The work, developed by scientists from the University of Göttingen (Germany) has found a solution to this problem by building a new class of hyperfast “solitons” using sources with positive energies that would allow traveling at any speed and, therefore, achieve , superluminal speeds. Solitons represent a type of wave that maintain their shape and energy while moving at a constant speed, and according to Lentz’s theoretical calculations, these hyperfast solitons can exist within general relativity and are obtained purely from positive energy densities, for what would not have to consider exotic sources of negative energy density with which we still do not have it completely clear. No “exotic” negative energy densities would be needed.

With enough energy we could make these ‘warp bubbles’ capable of superluminal motion and theoretically allow an object to pass through space-time while being protected from extreme tidal forces.

“The energy required for this pulse traveling at the speed of light and spanning a 100-meter-radius spacecraft is on the order of hundreds of times the mass of the planet Jupiter,” explains Lentz. “The energy savings would have to be drastic, about 30 orders of magnitude to be within the reach of modern nuclear fission reactors.”

If we can generate enough energy, the equations used in this research would allow us to travel through space to, say, Proxima Centauri, our closest star, and return to Earth in years rather than decades or millennia.

“The next step is to figure out how to reduce the astronomical amount of energy needed within the range of current technologies, such as a large modern nuclear fission power plant. Then we can talk about building the first prototypes,” Lentz concludes.

This is not a small matter, because for the impulse to travel at the speed of light for a spacecraft of, say, 100 meters in radius, it would need a few hundred times the mass of Jupiter. So, for now, warp drives will remain in the theoretical realm, but this study gives us a new perspective on how we might achieve this.