I know I’ve been writing quite a bit about Star Trek lately – lord help me, I’m currently watching through Voyager, the uneven series that’s notable for it’s badass female captain and reams of lesbian subtext between her and buxom borg Seven of Nine – but this time, there’s actual science news to justify the double dip! It sounds crazy (in the best way), but NASA scientists are actually working on a warp drive. Yes, a warp drive.
The spacey tech is the core of the series, allowing humans (and all the lovely species of the Trek universe) to travel faster-than-light speeds and explore the galaxy. It’s perhaps the most out-there of all the tech in the show, based on the principle of literally warping space around you to move great distances — but here’s the kicker — it’s also the most plausible.
Photo from NASA
The answer lies precisely in those laws of physics. Dr. White and other physicists have found loopholes in some mathematical equations — loopholes that indicate that warping the space-time fabric is indeed possible.
Working at NASA Eagleworks — a skunkworks operation deep at NASA’s Johnson Space Center — Dr. White’s team is trying to find proof of those loopholes. They have “initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble” using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer.
By creating one of these warp bubbles, the spaceship’s engine will compress the space ahead and expand the space behind, moving it to another place without actually moving, and carrying none of the adverse effects of other travel methods. According to Dr. White, “by harnessing the physics of cosmic inflation, future spaceships crafted to satisfy the laws of these mathematical equations may actually be able to get somewhere unthinkably fast — and without adverse effects.”
When I was younger, I used to check out every book in the Providence public library on real-life possibilities of sci fi tech. A favorite of mine, naturally, was The Physics of Star Trek, which laid out the actual science behind the technobabble, and sought to discern which technologies were likely possible — and which were not. I’ll always remember that the author made a real case for warp drive being theoretically possible — so while the news doesn’t completely surprise me, it does knock my geeky little socks off with excitement. However, don’t hold your breath for transporter beams — those are probably out of the equation.