A few months ago, physicist Harold White shocked the aeronautics industry when he announced that his team at NASA was in the process of developing a faster-than-light warp drive. His design could one day transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks.
The idea originally came to White while he was considering an equation formulated by physicist Miguel Alcubierre in his 1994 paper titled, “The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity. Alcubierre suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be “warped” and behind a spacecraft.
Michio Kaku dubbed Alcubierre’s theory a “passport to the universe,” which harnesses a quirk in the “cosmological code” that allows for the expansion and contraction of space-time. If proven true, it could allow for hyper-fast travel between interstellar destinations. In order to accomplish this, the starship would need able to expand the space behind it rapidly to push it forward. For passengers, it would look like a lack of acceleration.
White believes a drive like that could result in “speeds” that could take us to Alpha Centauri in just a matter of weeks, even though the system is only 4.3 light-years away. Essentially, a bubble would be created that moves space-time around the object, repositioning it.
“Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed,” White told reporters at io9. “However, space-time is really stiff to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy.”
However,” White added, “based on the analysis I did in the last 18 months, there may be hope.”
“My early results suggested I had discovered something that was in the math all along,” he recalled. “I suddenly realized that if you made the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring larger — like shifting from a belt shape to a donut shape — and oscillate the warp bubble, you can greatly reduce the energy required — perhaps making the idea plausible.”