Forget the Star Wars trailer released last week – sorry, Han and Chewie—NASA might have just accidentally started on a path toward warp speed.
Several years ago, theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre started working with the concept of a bubble within spacetime that would be capable of traveling faster than the speed of light, while carrying within it a ship that remains stationary. This capability, like Star Trek’s warp speed, would allow for incredibly fast exploration of and movement through space without the risk of being ripped apart, atom by atom. In Alcubierre’s concept, the bubble protects the ship while contracting spacetime in the front of the vessel and expanding it at the rear, resulting in a football-like shape inside a ring. This idea was largely shrugged at until Harold “Sunny” White, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Texas started playing around with the measurements and design of the protective bubble.
He determined that a donut shape would be better than a ring as it would reduce the amount of energy needed to zoom through space and, in 2011, began presenting papers discussing his idea, explains Sputnik News. Alcubierre’s concept had been dismissed in part because the amount of energy required to power the bubble and ship through spacetime would be considerably greater than any viable energy source was capable of producing. White and his team at JSC kept working on his revised design, creating a warp field interferometer to demonstrate warp field characteristics.
At the same time, NASA and other space agencies were experimenting with an EmDrive, a thruster engine capable of moving through space without fuel, instead relying on “a magnetron to produce microwaves for thrust” while containing “no moving parts and needs no reaction mass” for propulsion, according to MysteriousUniverse.org.
This week, posts began appearing on NASASpaceFlight.com suggesting that when lasers were fired through the EmDrive’s resonance chamber, the beams appeared to be traveling faster than the speed of light.
“That’s the big surprise. This signature on the EmDrive looks just like what a warp bubble looks like. And the math behind the warp bubble apparently matches the interference pattern found in the EmDrive,” according to one post. One scientist adds that it “seems to have been an accidental connection. They were wondering where this ‘thrust’ might be coming from,” MysteriousUniverse writes.
Of course, researchers will need to replicate the test in order to see if there’s something worth noting here and to determine whether the EmDrive is, in fact, producing a warp field. If a warp field is possible, a warp drive might not be too far off in the future.