(ORDO NEWS) — For decades, we have dreamed of visiting other star systems. There’s just one problem – they’re so far away that it would take tens of thousands of years for normal spaceflight to get to even the closest one.
However, physicists are not the kind of people who give up easily. Give them an impossible dream and they will give you an incredible, hypothetical way to make it come true. Maybe.
In a 2021 study by physicist Eric Lenz at the University of Göttingen in Germany, we may find an acceptable solution to this dilemma, and it may prove to be more feasible than other potential warp drives.
The field is attracting many bright ideas, each offering a different approach to solving the riddle of faster-than-light travel: achieving the means to send anything through space at superluminal speeds.
However, there are some problems with this representation. Within conventional physics, according to Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, there is no real way to reach or exceed the speed of light, which is necessary for any travel measured in light years.
However, this has not stopped physicists from trying to break this universal speed limit.
If for matter exceeding the speed of light will always be a great prohibition, then there is no such rule for space-time itself. In fact, the far reaches of the universe are already expanding faster than light can ever hope to match.
To bend a small bubble of space in this manner for transportation purposes, we need to solve the equations of relativity to create an energy density that is lower than the void of space. While this kind of negative energy does exist on a quantum scale, accumulating enough “negative mass” is still the realm of exotic physics.
In addition to facilitating other kinds of abstract possibilities, such as wormholes and time travel, negative energy can help create what is known as the Alcubierre warp drive.
This speculative concept uses negative energy principles to warp space around a hypothetical spacecraft, allowing it to efficiently travel faster than light without defying conventional physical laws, but for the reasons outlined above, we cannot hope to provide such a fantastic fuel source.
But what if you could somehow achieve faster-than-light travel that didn’t contradict Einstein’s theory of relativity and didn’t require exotic physics that physicists had never seen before?
In his latest work, Lenz proposes one such way, thanks to what he calls a new class of ultrafast solitons – a kind of wave that retains its shape and energy while moving at a constant speed (in this case faster than the speed of light).
According to Lenz’s theoretical calculations, these ultrafast soliton solutions can exist within the framework of general relativity, and their source is exclusively positive energy density, that is, there is no need to consider exotic sources of negative energy density that have not yet been verified.
With enough energy, configurations of these solitons can function as “warp bubbles” capable of superluminal motion and theoretically allow an object to pass through space-time while being shielded from extreme tidal forces.
This is an impressive feat of theoretical gymnastics, although the amount of energy required means that such a warp drive is still only a hypothetical possibility.
“The energy required for such a drive, moving at the speed of light and enveloping a spacecraft with a radius of 100 meters, is hundreds of times the mass of the planet Jupiter,” Lenz said last March.
“The energy savings would have to be significant, by about 30 orders of magnitude, to be in the range of today’s nuclear fission reactors.”
Although Lenz’s study claimed to be the first known solution of its kind, his work came almost simultaneously with another recent analysis, also published in March 2021, which proposed an alternative model for a physically possible warp drive that does not require negative energy to function.
Both teams have made contact, Lenz said at the time, and the researcher intends to share his data so that other scientists can study his data. Lentz also presented his findings to the general public in a live stream on YouTube.
We still have many puzzles to solve, but the free flow of such ideas remains our best hope that we will ever get a chance to visit these distant twinkling stars.
“This work has moved the problem of faster-than-light travel one step away from theoretical research in fundamental physics and closer to engineering,” Lenz said.
“The next step is to figure out how to bring the astronomical amount of energy needed down to the level available for modern technology, such as a large modern nuclear fission power plant. Then we can talk about building the first prototypes.”
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