Scientists and science fiction enthusiasts alike have been astounded by the idea of a warp drive that takes us across large swaths of space faster than the speed of light. Although we are still a long way from exceeding any global speed limits, that does not mean that we will never ride in the tortuous waves of space-time.
Now a group of physicists have compiled the first proposal for a physical torsion engine, based on a concept that was pioneered in the 1990s. It should not, they say, violate any of the laws of physics.
In theory, torsion motors bend and change the shape of spacetime to amplify differences in time and distance which, in some conditions, could see travelers moving over distances faster than the speed of light.
One of these conditions was determined more than a quarter of a century ago by the Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Coubert. His idea, which he proposed in 1994, was for it to be a spaA cecraft powered by something called an “Alcubierre engine” can achieve this travel faster than light. The problem is that it requires a lot of negative energy in one place, which is not possible according to existing physics.
But the new study has an alternative solution. According to researchers from the New York-based Independent Research Group in Applied Physics, it’s possible to shake off the fantasy of negative energy and continue making the warp drive, albeit perhaps a little slower than we’d like.
“We went in a different direction from NASA and others and our research has shown that there are actually several other classes of warp drives in General Relativity, Says astrophysicist Alexei BubrickFrom Lund University in Sweden.
“In particular, we have formulated new classes of warp drive solutions that do not require passive energy and thus become physical.”
Why is negative energy a big deal? The need for negative energy overcomes some of the problems of general relativity to travel faster than the speed of light, by allowing space to expand and contract faster than light, while keeping everything within global speed limits.
Unfortunately, it introduces more of its own problems – essentially the negative energy we need is only present in fluctuations on a quantum scale. Until we can find a way to collect a mass of things the size of the Sun, this kind of driving is not possible.
New research works around this – according to the paper, negative energy will not be required, but there will be a very strong gravitational field. Gravity will act on the heavy lifting of the curvature of space-time so that the passage of time in and out of the torsion drive machine is significantly different.
You won’t be able to book tickets yet – the amount of mass required to produce a noticeable gravitational effect on spacetime will be at least as large as the planet, and there are still a lot of questions to answer.
“If we take the entire mass of the planet Earth and squeeze it into a 10-meter-long envelope, the correction to the average time inside is still very small, about an extra hour or so a year,” Bubrick told new world.
Another interesting finding from the research has to do with the shape of the torsion engine: a larger and taller vessel requires less power than a tall and thin vessel. Think of a plate that sits upright against a wall first, and you have an idea of what an optimal torsion drive would look like.
Although the reality of travel to distant stars and planets remains elusive, the new study is the latest addition to a growing body of research indicating that the principles of warp drives are scientifically sound.
The researchers admit that they’re still not entirely sure how to assemble the technology they described in their research paper, but at least more numbers are being gathered now. They are confident that in the distant future, the torsion drive will become a reality.
“While we are still unable to break the speed of light, we do not need that to become an interstellar species,” Says Gianni Martyr, One of the scientists in the applied physics group behind the new study. “Our torsional drive research has the power to unite us all.”
The research has been published in Classical and Quantum Gravity.