15 June 2004

SpaceTime Hypersurfing

In some future history, 1994 may be remembered as the year that the warp drive was first conceived to be a physical possibility. Long a cliche' of science- fiction writing, the warp drive has transported countless fictional characters through light-years of interstellar space in the time it takes for you or me to travel to the market. Unfortunately for real-world travelers, the warp drive has always been thought to be inconsistent with the laws of physics.

But all this has changed. In the May issue of Classical and Quantum Gravity, Miguel Alcubierre, a physicist at the University of Wales describes a space-travel scenario that bears an uncanny resemblance to the warp drive of science fiction. With Alcubierre's warp drive, we could reach any place in the universe in as short a time as we please!

The warp drive envisioned by Alcubierre is made possible by the subleties of Einstein's general theory of relativity. According to Einstein, spacetime (the union of the three dimensions of space with the dimension of time) is not an inert substrate, but rather a dynamical entity that twists and distorts under the influence of concentrations of energy. Alcubierre suggests that it might be possible to exploit this phenomenon to travel from one star to another faster than the speed of light. This could be done by creating a disturbance in spacetime such that the region directly in front of a spaceship is contracted while the region directly behind the spaceship is expanded. This distortion of spacetime would, in effect, propel the spaceship forward like a surfer riding the crest of a breaking wave.

No, I am not at the European Cup and taking advantage of lax law enforcement. I'd been meaning to look up the Alcubierre article for awhile, and once I'd linked to the bloater drive it was inevitable.

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