Ever since I first encountered Miguel Alcubierre’s paper “The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity“(1994), or, more accurately, read the Alternate View article in the november 1996 issue of Analog magazine, I have been fascinated by the possibility of a real-life warp drive.
Since that time I’ve seen a lot of research that has tempered my enthusiasm. The original Alcubierre warp drive metric has some difficulties. A big one has been the requirement for exotic matter with negative mass. This is, to put it lightly, a pretty extreme form of unobtainium at present. At least antimatter is actually known to exist. Rather worse, an early estimate of the required quantity of exotic matter was on the order of -1064 kilograms, significantly greater than the positive mass of the observable universe. I wouldn’t want something like that chasing me around. A later analysis by Chris Van Den Broeck brought the negative mass requirement down a bit to “only” a few solar masses. Serguei Krasnikov, who also came up with the Krasnikov tube, reduced the negative energy requirement to a few milligrams(times c2). A significant reduction in only a few years. David Coule(no link:-( ), proposes a further problem that, essentially, as I understand it, in order to initiate a superluminal Alcubierre effect you’d have to have material moving at superluminal velocities. A bit of a catch-22 there. José Natário further suggests that, because no signal could actually reach the wave-front of a warp field, that it would be impossible for the ship to steer or stop. I can see that as being not necessarily a fatal problem assuming you could somehow arrange for the field to decay when initiating it(however you might do that); the result would be a sort of jump drive, once you start you stay for the ride. To make things worse, Carlos Barceló, Stefano Finazzi, and Stefano Liberati suggest that million degree Hawking radiation from the wall might make the environment within the warp bubble unlivable. All in all, not terribly promising.
Today, while doing some actual serious research on the internet(well, maybe… sort of), I came across mention of a paper by Harold “Sonny” White. Sometime around september, he published a paper, “Warp Field Mechanics 101,” which described a different warp field metric or at least a different way of looking at the metric. When it comes to high-level non-Euclidean geometries and topologies I’m a babe in the woods. I know how a donut and a coffee cup are similar, but that’s about my limit. But as far as I can tell he’s introducing a concept of “boost” that seems to involve riding the edge of the warp field’s event horizon as a means to accelerate(or “accelerate”) to potentially faster than light speeds. Yeah, I’m a little hazy here. This seems to be a way around David Coule’s objection, and he only claims a need for about 750 kg of negative mass. Combine this with Van Den Broeck’s little trick, if that’s possible, and you should be able to reduce the negative mass requirement still further. Don’t know if some of the other problems will also plague this concept. I did read some discussion about using a plasma sheath to protect a spacecraft from Hawking Radiation at least temporarily.
The more exciting part of this is that he is proposing an actual experimental procedure to test the ability to create such a warp field. Ideas are cool, actual experiments… that’s when it starts looking like science. According to some people on the Nasa Spaceflight forum, this Sonny White guy is reputable, so… I don’t know. But I’m excited to see how the White-Juday Interferometer experiment works out. And if it proves to be repeatable. I’m praying this isn’t cold-fusion.
EDIT: Some additional links I forgot to post.
How NASA might build its very first warp drive, the page that got me into this whole mess.
2012 NASA Roundup, check out page 8.