For the first time in history, a team of scientists has identified a warping bubble – or ‘warp bubble’, in English – that fits with the mathematics of the Alcubierre engine to travel faster than light without violating the theory of relativity Einstein special.
|NASA’s prototype warp drive spacecraft. (Mark
It is an incredible discovery that can take us to other star systems in the still very distant future, but somewhat closer than yesterday. The theory behind that engine — proposed in the 1990s by Mexican mathematician Miguel Alcubierre — allows a spacecraft to travel faster than light by curving space, expanding it behind the ship while contracting it at its bow. In this way, the effective distance between two points is shortened and the ship could cover that distance faster than a photon traveling through unwarped space.
A nanoscopic bubble
The team was working on a different project for DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced technology division when they came across the bubble by accident. That original project—still underway—is evaluating the possibility of extracting energy from a phenomenon called a Casimir cavity. This effect describes the attraction between metallic objects separated by an extremely small distance. According to quantum field theory, there are fluctuations in the quantum vacuum within that distance, caused by an imbalance of the vibrational modes of these metallic elements. This imbalance generates a measurable force that is not gravitational and causes the plates to move closer together.
But, in principle, the study claims that the bubble has nothing to do with the Casimir cavity. It was during one of the experiments to investigate the Casimir cavity phenomenon that the Boundless Space Institute team under the supervision of Dr. Harold G. “Sonny” White identified a structure that matched the warp bubble.
According to their research, “performing an analysis related to a DARPA-funded project to evaluate the possible structure of the energy density present in a Casimir cavity, as predicted by the dynamical vacuum model, a structure has been discovered to micro/nanoscale that predicts a negative energy density distribution that closely matches the requirements of the Alcubierre metric .”
In an email interview with The Debrief blog, Dr. White said that what they have identified is not a warp bubble analog, but “a real warp bubble, albeit modest and tiny.” The scientist —who for years led the NASA Eagleworks research group— affirmed that the significance of this discovery is very important and opens up the possibility of future practical applications hitherto unimaginable.
Eagleworks was NASA’s advanced propulsion research group in which White conducted research to solve the gigantic power consumption problems opened up by Alcubierre’s equations. His work managed to reduce these energy needs, proposing for the first time a possible solution so that humanity could travel to other star systems as it can now only be done in science fiction series such as ‘Star Trek’.
If ever we are able to develop theory and technology to the point where energy needs are manageable and materials strong enough. That, for now, is something that is still centuries away.
Hence the importance of this accidental discovery, which Dr. White already discussed during a talk at the propulsion energy forum of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics last August, but whose results and conclusions have been reviewed and published in the scientific journal ‘European Physical Journal. Their next step is not to investigate the curvature bubble further. Tempting as it may seem, she says, they must first finish the research on the Casimir cavities paid for by DARPA.
But Dr. White says the next step is to investigate this bubble of curvature further by building a nanoscopic spacecraft, “a 1-micron-diameter sphere model located in the center of a four-micron-diameter cylinder.” The investigator did not comment further because, according to The Debrief, that investigation could become classified as confidential by the Pentagon.