Age of Space Travel: Warp Drives

Author: Jean Claude Ted Isidor

Editor: Jacklynn Nguyen

Artist: Aurora Chen

Star Trek, a saga accredited with sparking the minds of the curiosity seekers of our world to “Live Long and Prosper” in this age of technology, to view the unforeseen parts of our homely abode in the universe and transform our means of exploration. The most iconic element of this series is its starships, ships of the galaxy that sails intrepid explorers to the blindspots of the world as we know it yet, one element of these starships still lingers in the minds of all scientists involved in space exploration, the notion of a warp drive. A warp drive is defined as an out-of-this-world propulsion system that enables us to travel at unprecedented speeds so that we do not waste precious time in our quest for knowledge; but as we strive to build such a device, we ask the question: why is it needed in space flight?

TOO MUCH SPACE

Space is extremely large, with measurements according to organizations such as NASA revealing to us that the fabric of space is continuing to become larger and larger as time goes forth, making the distance between us and the unknown continue to grow by the second. An article made by the University of California at Berkeley tells us that for every 3 billion trillion kilometers of space from earth, space itself is expanding at a rate of about 73.3 km/second/megaparsec (a megaparsec is a 3.26 mil light-years). As our universe continues to expand at these rates as you read this very article, you may gain a faint understanding of the need for warp drives as they allow for our quest of discovery not to be hauled due to the vast time it takes to travel these distances. Due to the necessity for such a device, many theoretical models have been developed as possible warp drives, each of which revealing new means of powering exploration.

THE HUNT BEGINS

Miguel Alcubierre is a Mexican physicist who, for his Ph.D. thesis, developed the widely known concept of a warp drive. In his theory as well as others, a warp drive would be able to travel vast distances of space by essentially causing space in front of you to contract while the space behind you expands, with the best way of accomplishing this being stretching spacetime as a wave. Picture a surfer preparing for an enormous wave on a beach, as this surfer begins to paddle towards the monster size of a wave you realize that the wave itself appears to smoothen the water behind it while squeezing the water in front of it, allowing for the surfer to cowabunga. Alcubierre’s warp drive can cause the space behind it to expand and the space in front of it to contract by creating a warp bubble, which is essentially the region of space surrounding the spaceship when riding this wave and can exceed the speed of light. As this fact perplexes many people since it is widely known that the speed of light is a cosmic speed limit, one way of understanding how the warp drive can do this is by conceptual thought. For example, space is continuously expanding, so to travel great distances we must essentially “neutralize” space, meaning that we need to manipulate space so that it is neither expanding nor contracting, through shortening the path in front of us and allowing the space behind us to expand. To achieve this, an Alcubierre drive would need a spaceship with a shape similar to a football with a ring encircling around it, with the ring itself being made of a type of matter called exotic matter. This form of matter allows for the possibility of the Alcubbiere’s warp drive as it consists of negative mass(makes space curves outwardly than inwardly). Although this model for a potential warp drive seems remarkable, its major flaw is the issue of getting exotic matter but, a recent study has shown that warp drives are more possible(and physical) than ever leading to our quest for such a device possibly coming to reality.

PHYSICAL WARP DRIVES

A recent article published by the physicists Alexy Bobrick and Gianni Martire has proposed a new means of creating a warp drive in which instead of utilizing negative mass, their warp drive will utilize a compressed planet-sized mass to use a gravitational force to bend space. Although many would believe this is foolish as in this current age in time it seems rather impossible to compact the size of a planet like Jupiter into something way smaller but as the ever-evolving tools we scientists and engineers have made continue to improve in the ages, this drastic plan may bear fruit in the coming centuries or even decades. The most important aspect of this research is that it provides us the opportunity to not only develop but hypothetically conjured up ways in which this new, more physical drive can function and the places it can travel to. Alcubbiere’s warp drives major flaw as previously stated was its need to gain a large sum of exotic matter for it to work so this new study on the formation of a warp drive that uses the mass of a planet as daring as it may seem is more down to earth than many previous ideas.

THE BEGINNING OF A STAR TREK REVOLUTION

The technology featured in Star Trek never fails to amaze all who wonder about the inner workings of the universe. From warp drives to tractor beams, the tech side of this revolutionary film series continues to inspire even the most accomplished scientists to break the limits of reality. Rather than a quote from an accomplished scientist to end this article, here is an impactful quote from one of the greatest characters of Star Trek Jean Luc Picard, “Things are only impossible until they’re not.” Solve the impossible and jump into the unknown, life is full of greatness waiting to be known.

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