The space-time bubble. Unfortunately, quantum physics may have the final word (Michael Alcubierre)

Warp Drive and Cloaking Devices: Not Just Science Fiction Anymore?

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

by

[/caption]
Standard in almost every Star Trek episode are warp drives and cloaking devices. But in reality these science fiction gadgets defy the laws of physics. Or do they? Different scientists have been working on developing these two devices and they say they are getting closer to actually creating working prototypes. While warp drive won’t be available anytime soon, scientists are gaining a better understanding of how faster-than-light speed could possibly be achieved. And as for cloaking devices, don’t look now, but researchers recently cloaked three-dimensional objects using specially engineered materials that redirects light around objects.

Previously, scientists at the University of California, Berkley were only able to cloak very thin, two dimensional objects. But now, using meta-materials, which are mixtures of metal and circuit board materials such as ceramic, Teflon or fiber composite, scientists have deflected light waves around an object, like water flowing around a smooth rock in a stream. Objects are visible because they scatter the light that strikes them, reflecting some of it back to the eye. But the meta-materials would ward off light, radar or other waves. In effect, it would be a type of optical camouflage.

The research group, led by Xiang Zhang say they are a step closer to being able to render people and objects invisible. Their findings will be released later this week in the journals Nature and Science.

The path that light rays would take through a theoretical cloaking device.  Credit: John Pendry

The path that light rays would take through a theoretical cloaking device. Credit: John Pendry

Another scientist and one of the leaders in cloaking research is John Pendry, a theoretical physicist at Imperial College, London. It was he who first worked out how a cloak could be built in theory, and then he helped build the first working cloak. Pendry recently submitted an abstract that discusses what he says is a new type of cloak, one that gives all cloaked objects the appearance of a flat conducting sheet. Pendry says this type of cloak has the advantage in that nothing remarkable is required to create the cloak. Pendry said the device could be “made isotropic. It makes broadband cloaking in the optical frequencies one step closer.” This type of cloak seemingly creates a mirage to render an object invisible to the eye. Pendry’s own website says information on his new cloak will be available soon.

While cloaking devices would have military applications, a group of scientists researching warp drives say they just want to have the ability to travel to Earth-like exoplanets, like Gliese 581c to better understand the origin and development of life. “The only way we could realistically visit these worlds in time-frames on the order of a human lifespan would be to develop what has been popularly termed a `warp drive,'” said researchers Gerald Cleaver and Richard Obousy from Baylor University in Texas.

Their work expands on research done by theoretical physicist Michael Alcubierre from the University of Mexico, who in 1994 demonstrated space could be made to move around a spacecraft by `stretching’ space so that space itself would expand behind a hypothetical spacecraft, while contracting in front of the craft, creating the effect of motion. So, the ship itself doesn’t move, but space moves around it.

Their new research tries to take advantage of advances in understanding dark energy and why our universe is ever-expanding in every direction. Comprehending that might give us a leg up in being able to generate an asymmetric bubble around a spacecraft. “If we can understand why spacetime is already expanding, we may be able to use this knowledge to artificially generate an expansion (and contraction) of spacetime,” said Cleaver and Obousy in their abstract.

They propose manipulating the 11th dimension, a special theoretical part of an offshoot of string theory called the “m-theory” to create a bubble of dark energy by shrinking the 11th dimension in front of the ship and expanding it behind.

Obviously, this is highly theoretical, but if it leads researchers to a better understanding of dark energy, so much the better.

There’s one hitch, however. Cleaver and Obousy calculated that the energy needed to distort the space around a spacecraft-sized object is about 10^45 Joules or the total energy of an object the size of Jupiter if all its mass were converted into energy.

This creates a chicken and the egg type of conundrum. Which comes first: understanding dark energy or having the ability to create huge amounts of energy?

But Cleaver and Obousy are upbeat about it all. “This is a hypothetical propulsion device that could theoretically circumvent the traditional limitations of special relativity which restricts spacecraft to sub-light velocities. Any breakthrough in this field would revolutionize space exploration and open the doorway to interstellar travel.”

News Sources: ArXiv (warp drive), ArXiv (cloaking), ArXiv blog, AP


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
troglodyte
Guest
troglodyte
August 11, 2008 12:58 PM

I hope I live to see FTL travel achieved…probably not though

Matthias
Guest
Matthias
August 11, 2008 3:09 PM

Hmm, question though: how fast can changes in spacetime propagate? IIRC they themselves are restricted to the (local?) speed of light, ’cause that’s the point of gravitational waves…

Which, in my humble imagination, would mean that, in order to get to a star 10 ly away, it would still take 10 years to contract the in between.

gwhitton
Member
gwhitton
August 11, 2008 1:06 PM

Yah if I we can solve the warp drive energy problem, who needs oil. ;o)

willphoenix1
Guest
willphoenix1
August 11, 2008 1:28 PM

Great article. Amazing technologies are budding everywhere these days.

VitaminT
Member
VitaminT
August 11, 2008 2:05 PM

So perhaps a nano-scaled probe would require far less energy because the bubble would be so small?

Just a thought.

andar839
Guest
andar839
August 11, 2008 2:16 PM

hello dear sir, andar here. i enjoy post of yours very much so. i am agree to you. good day.

Hunnter
Member
Hunnter
August 11, 2008 2:30 PM
Outside of all the travelling to another star, one thing that would be an absolute requirement: a very good AI to control whatever goes to this star (if people aren’t going) We’ll probably not have any FTL communication by the time we create an FTL method of propulsion. Unless of course, we send pulses of this warped space back towards us encoded with the data. Problem with that is potential noise (as always) and the danger of sending pulses of warped space, and whether or not it could even travel without the need for a constant influence (unlikely) But i am really excited that people are getting into this research now, rather than later. Also, you can bet… Read more »
David R.
Member
David R.
August 11, 2008 4:58 PM

“While cloaking devices would have military applications, a group of scientists researching warp drives say they just want to have the ability to travel to Earth-like exoplanets, like Gliese 581c to better understand the origin and development of life.”

I sense a compromise in the works. The military funds it and uses the technology to blow up the Earth, while the remaining scientists take a leisurely cruise to an exoplanet.

William Patrick Haines
Guest
William Patrick Haines
August 12, 2008 12:15 AM
Of cource Ftl technology is wish full thinking . They are no gaurantees that could acheived or that if acheived it would not have un forseen drawbacks such as nuclear power and genitic energy ie who wants a nuclear power plant in their back yard or would to dine geneticly modified foods One of the perils of ftl would be time travel. Everybody has their verision of a utopian timeline like what if such and were be not president . Well so many people would tempted to alter history and here goes a mess more chaotic than the proverbial expolision in spagheti factory And should we come across a less advanced civilazation the hypercritical temptation tell them how… Read more »
geokstr
Member
geokstr
August 11, 2008 5:50 PM

“…research done by theoretical physicist Michael Alcubierre from the University of Mexico, who in 1994 demonstrated space could be made to move around a spacecraft by `stretching’ space…”

I smell a whiff of BS here.

Does “demonstrated” mean that there was an actual experiment that showed this could be done, or was there a mathematical theory proposed that vaguely hinted such a thing might be theoretically possible?

Don’t get me wrong; I would love see such a thing. But for now and the foreseeable future, this sounds like more hype than anything else.

steve mac
Member
steve mac
August 12, 2008 4:11 AM

They say that the universe expanded faster than light just after the big bang. So FTL is possible. One possible explanation tho’ would be if another dimension, a “Brane” as they call it, had crashed edge on into our area of the multiverse ,then by travelling just a small distance into our space then the far edges of this “Brane” would be further out than light could travel ,in the given time. Thus the big bang could be not just a point but a universe wide crunch.

Basil of Baker Street
Guest
August 11, 2008 10:40 PM

I remember this being an explanation of how their ship flew so fast in an episode of Futurama once, followed by a sweet, 3 second CGI of it in action.

Micky Dickson
Guest
Micky Dickson
August 11, 2008 11:30 PM

Really interesting stuff. If it was 1st April, I would have thought you were having us on!
Keep up the good work.

tielenaar
Member
tielenaar
August 12, 2008 12:40 AM

So if i understand correctly, since with this kind of travel you bend space and not move the ship, you would not need the Star Treks inertial dampener that prevents you from being squished against the back wall of the ship. Right?

state the oblivious
Guest
state the oblivious
August 12, 2008 8:26 AM

this is all very well but where will we get the dylithium crystals from?

BlackWolfStanding
Member
BlackWolfStanding
August 12, 2008 2:45 AM
The model that is being used causes nothing to move. Think of a hot knife flowing up through a vertical column of butter. The butter hits the knife, flows around the knife and fills in the gap behind the knife. Warp speed would be used to force this to happen. It’s not creating a worm-hole or anything else. It’s simply taking space that’s in front of the space craft and putting it behind the space craft. The spacecraft would shrink the space infront and inflate it behind the spacecraft. To the naked eye, the spacecraft would just appear an X distance ahead of where it started. If the spacecraft was coming toward you, you would actually see it… Read more »
risingman
Member
risingman
August 12, 2008 3:44 AM

It seems they are finally coming towards the idea of free energy. The nature itself is a good propellent. I hope to see the invisibility whithin next 25 years and warp drive whithin next 85 years.

Aodhhan
Member
Aodhhan
August 12, 2008 4:24 AM

Cleaver and Obousy are hopefully on their way to finding an answer by following a “carrot on a stick” method of travel. I don’t believe anyone thinks this will directly lead to anything, but the reasearch needed could make some interesting discoveries.

Sort of like making a machine which can simulating the affects of a black hole. One side is your ship being pulled to a location, on the other side of the black hole, space is being pulled to the same spot. At some point, they meet and you are at your destination.

A lot of interesting things can come out of the ability to artificially create huge amounts of gravity; including methods of cloaking.

IKE:) the Alien lifeform
Guest
IKE:) the Alien lifeform
August 12, 2008 5:03 AM

Folding Space, travel without movement. Frank Herbert
I firmly believe that we will solve the riddle of FTL travel, probably by folding space or directing it around a spaceship. Further I don’t think it will require vast amounts of energy. We have to find a way to slip in and use the energies of the universe, gravitation for instance is known to move faster than light…
I won’t see it in my lifetime, but it is our destiny to explore space, and expand. And if we don’t destroy our world before it is possible we shall achieve this. wink

IKE:) the Alien lifeform
Guest
IKE:) the Alien lifeform
August 12, 2008 5:05 AM

oh, yes I forgot. Joseph Durham said it nicely. Thanks, Joseph

wpDiscuz