“News Flash! NASA may have created an actual warp drive, like the kind first shown on Star Trek.”
Or, at least, it certainly appeared that way at first…
Warp speed, as any good Trekker recalls, is the propulsion system that gave a wicked extra gear to the Starship Enterprise.
This allowed it to barrel along faster than the speed of light. On Star Trek, warp speed was most often used for evading hostile star craft.
Faster Than a Speeding Bubble
Some physicists now believe in the concept of a bubble of spacetime that could rocket along at speeds faster than light and which could hold a spaceship inside the bubble.
(The bubble would move ridiculously fast, but the spaceship inside the bubble wouldn’t move at all, and would be carried along like the universe’s fastest load of cargo.)
These physicists (led by Miguel Alcubierre) theorized that the warp drive that’s created would contract spacetime directly ahead of the ship and then expand the spacetime directly behind it.
Turning Concepts into Reality
The warp drive is no doubt a cool sci-fi idea, but how real is it?
Originally, it was thought that a warp drive would resemble a football inside a flat ring. But then a NASA physicist named Sonny White figured that the warp drive’s energy needs could be reduced by changing the ring into a donut shape.
As that concept change occurred, other scientists were developing a new type of thruster to make more propulsion possible. That thruster (or EmDrive) is an RF resonant cavity thruster pioneered by British aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer.
It uses a magnetron and produces microwaves that create thrust. Because of its radical design, the EmDrive has no moving parts and requires no fuel.
The “Eureka!” Moment
Taken together, these two developments – a refined concept that required less energy and a new thruster that can produce more thrust – seemed to have gotten us closer to making the impossible a practical reality.
And that’s when the “Eureka!” moment of discovery seemed to occur.
NASA engineers were testing the EmDrive’s resonance chamber, by firing lasers through it. (This is done to test and record variations in the path-time of light.) When lasers were fired through the new EmDrive, some of the beams seemed to be traveling faster than the speed of light.
When word about NASA’s experiments got around, it set off a storm of online speculation, with many websites speculating that because of those speeding light beams, man was only a couple of steps away from being able to travel at speeds faster than light (186,000 miles per second).
Not So Fast…
Speculation has been so rampant on the Web that NASA has recently issued its own statement on these developments. And that statement can basically be summarized as “Forget it.”
“Traveling at the speed of light is simply imaginary at present,” a NASA press release read.
“The bulk of scientific knowledge concludes that it’s impossible, especially when considering Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. There are certainly some credible concepts in scientific literature. However, it’s too soon to know if they are viable.”
NASA officials have suggested that the chamber where the new thruster was tested may have contained leaks which flawed the tests.
Science Marches On
Even though we may not be close as we first hoped to passing the speed of light, technology has definitely brought man to a place of unimagined realities.
With science marching constantly forward, it makes sense to expose kids to engineering and other technical subjects early, so they can start to enjoy the science adventure of a lifetime.
After all, by the time those kids are adults, there could be human-piloted spacecraft that can do laps around a beam of light!