A new study provides some theoretical underpinning to warp drives, suggesting that the superfast propulsion tech may not forever elude humanity.

Sci-fi fans — especially “Star Trek” devotees — are familiar with warp drives. These hypothetical engines manipulate the fabric of space-time itself, compressing the stuff in front of a spaceship and expanding it behind. This creates a “warp bubble” that allows a craft to travel at incredible velocities — in some imaginings, many times faster than the speed of light.

In 1994, Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre published a groundbreaking paper that laid out how a real-life warp drive could work. This exciting development came with a major caveat, however: The proposed “Alcubierre drive” required negative energy, an exotic substance that may or may not exist (or, perhaps, the harnessing of dark energy, the mysterious force that seems to be causing the universe’s accelerated expansion).

Alcubierre published his idea in Classical and Quantum Gravity. Now, a new paper in the same journal suggests that a warp drive may not require exotic negative energy after all.

“This study changes the conversation about warp drives,” lead author Jared Fuchs, of the University of Alabama, Huntsville and the research think tank Applied Physics, said in a statement. “By demonstrating a first-of-its-kind model, we’ve shown that warp drives might not be relegated to science fiction.”

The team’s model uses “a sophisticated blend of traditional and novel gravitational techniques to create a warp bubble that can transport objects at high speeds within the bounds of known physics,” according to the statement.

Understanding that model is probably beyond most of us; the paper’s abstract, for example, says that the solution “involves combining a stable matter shell with a shift vector distribution that closely matches well-known warp drive solutions such as the Alcubierre metric.”

The proposed engine could not achieve faster-than-light travel, though it could come close; the statement mentions “high but subluminal speeds.”

This is a single modeling study, so don’t get too excited. Even if other research teams confirm that the math reported in the new study checks out, we’re still very far from being able to build an actual warp drive.

Fuchs and his team admit as much, stressing that their work could end up being a stepping stone on the long road to efficient interstellar flight.

“While we’re not yet preparing for interstellar voyages, this research heralds a new era of possibilities,” Gianni Martire, CEO of Applied Physics, said in the same statement. “We’re continuing to make steady progress as humanity embarks on the Warp Age.”

The team’s study was published online on April 29. You can find it here, though all but the abstract is behind a paywall; a free preprint version is available via arXiv.org.

  • @GregorGizeh@lemmy.zip
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    15 days ago

    Even if it is capped at sub light speeds we could travel all around our solar system in very reasonable timeframes, probably even visit neighboring solar systems without generational ships. Very cool, but this is obviously a very sensationalist headline, so I remain on the fence

    • @stembolts@programming.dev
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      515 days ago

      After this announcement, all of the cell phone companies in the US announced Warp Drive Plans, for only $200 extra a month you get a little warp reactor icon in your system tray that occasionally makes lightning.

      It doesn’t do anything for speed, but neither did it when they announced 5G and started selling it before the infrastructure existed.

      I’m signing up today!

  • @CanadaPlus@lemmy.sdf.org
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    15 days ago

    The paper. It doesn’t actually help for any practical space exploration future or present, but it’s interesting and seems accessibly written so far.

    Figure 13 is nice if you just want to visualise it.

  • @dohpaz42@lemmy.world
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    115 days ago

    Can someone help me understand how this would be considered efficient if the closer to the speed of light that you get, the slower time moves for those at that speed? Wouldn’t that mean a loss of time for the travelers because everyone else would be moving along the timeline faster than them?

    • TheOneCurly
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      1715 days ago

      One of the things that makes the warp drive idea so compelling is it does not have this issue. I’m not a physicist but I do like star trek. The idea is that inside the “bubble” is a normal inertial frame with no significant time dilation effects compared to where you left from. This is why in fiction you can travel faster than the speed of light within one without the need for “infinite” energy. Your mass never moves in space, you take your little bubble of space with you.

    • OsaErisXero
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      815 days ago

      The Alcuberie drive doesn’t move the ship, it moves space around the ship in such a way as to create a pocket of ‘normal’ speed that the ship rides in, shortcutting around near-c time dilation effects.

      • @CanadaPlus@lemmy.sdf.org
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        215 days ago

        Nope, it will still cause time dilation in the bubble, relative to outside the bubble. The appeal is not having to accelerate things in the bubble, and the existence of (causally questionable) metrics where the bubble exceeds lightspeed.

    • @RobotToaster@mander.xyz
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      315 days ago

      An Alcubierre drive doesn’t move faster than light, it compresses the space in front of a ship and expands the space behind it.

      There’s a whole bunch of theoretical problems though, like potentially killing everyone inside the bubble with hawking radiation, or destroying everything at the destination with high energy particles.

      • @BakerBagel@midwest.social
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        215 days ago

        Also requiring as much energy as exists in the entire universe to generate said field. It’s theoretically possible, but the math doesn’t even let us pretend it’s something we can actually accomplish.

        • AwkwardLookMonkeyPuppet
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          215 days ago

          That’s literally what the article is about. A new paper has theoretically found a way to operate a variation of that drive without the need for exotic matter.

      • DdCno1
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        115 days ago

        The potential issues could result in only unmanned probes using this drive far away from planets - which would still be immensely useful, e.g. for automated space exploration and fast interstellar communication.

        • @CanadaPlus@lemmy.sdf.org
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          115 days ago

          There’s lot’s of reasons to suspect FTL can’t work in any way, for any vessel. The suspicion is that these solutions only show up in GR because it neglects unknown quantum effects that ultimately keep things nice and paradox-free.

        • @RobotToaster@mander.xyz
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          115 days ago

          Would be kinda embarrassing to obliterate the first alien species we encounter because we accidentally parked our probe too close to their planet.

    • @CanadaPlus@lemmy.sdf.org
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      15 days ago

      Ignore the article, because it’s not really interesting from a practical perspective, and inevitably will attract crackpottery.

      I was going to write about the ins and outs of the twin paradox, but maybe it’s better just to point out that if you leave for Alpha Centauri in 2050 and succeed, you’ll never see Earth 2055; there’s no way around that that preserves causality, and realistically you’re not going home for a much longer time than that if ever. Less travel time onboard is good in that sense, and the sleeper ship concept is attractive to make the trip even shorter.

    • @FooBarrington@lemmy.world
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      115 days ago

      Loss of time relative to the experience of others, but gain of time relative to the duration of others. If you experience one hour less than someone, you also live one hour longer than they do.

  • Possibly linux
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    -1215 days ago

    You can not go faster than the speed of light.

    These studies are the click bait of the academic world

    • AmbroisindeMontaigu
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      815 days ago

      The study says “subluminal” in its abstract, the linked article hides that between lots of speculation and talk about fictional FTL warp drives, so I’d say the study is ok, the article is clickbait.

    • AwkwardLookMonkeyPuppet
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      15 days ago

      “Hi, not only did I not read anything except the headline, I no understanding of what a warp drive does and have never heard of Aculbierre.”

    • @CanadaPlus@lemmy.sdf.org
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      15 days ago

      Pretty much. If you do, using some kind of cute trick like Alcubierre metrics, you break causality, guaranteed. Clickbait is actually flattery, I think. These headlines might as well be “bat boy”.

      Showing a subluminal one is possible without negative energy density is really neat from a theoretical perspective, but gravity is weak. If 99% of c is all you need it’s almost certainly easier to use the hypothetical reaction engine of your choice than burrito spacetime.

    • @lemmyseizethemeans@lemmygrad.ml
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      -115 days ago

      Yeah don’t know why you got down voted. Thing about mass and the speed of light, well, it’s not negotiable. Unless you got zero mass there’s only so fast you can go thems the facts so agreed, click bait.

      • Possibly linux
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        115 days ago

        I’m pretty sure you still can’t go faster than the speed of light with zero mass. It would be exactly the speed of light.

        • @lemmyseizethemeans@lemmygrad.ml
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          115 days ago

          It’s because you need more than infinite energy. The cool thing about special relativity is you can understand it with algebra. As you accelerate you gain mass, that’s the rub

      • @CanadaPlus@lemmy.sdf.org
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        15 days ago

        Well, the Alcubierre metrics specifically sidestep that, by “moving” a chunk of a spacetime through itself.

        It still breaks causality and is generally suspect for not corresponding to a physical thing quantum gravity allows, though. Plus, since they’re potentially finite, they come with a guarantee any such shenanigans would require negative energy density to happen.