Friday, November 19, 2010

Faster Than Light Travel

Editing, editing, and more editing.  It's more than just reading what you write down.  Sometimes it's double-checking facts and theories for plausibility.  I don't think this is the first time I've said this (and it won't be the last), but IMHO, modern science fiction readers are becoming more advanced in that they won't just "accept" space-age and futuristic tech that isn't at least grounded in current theories. 

One of the key technologies I had to research for my work-in-progress novel is faster-than-light travel, or FTL.  There are several theories, but it seems they all have a common theme - that you really don't "move" faster than light.  Physicists refer back to Einstein's theories that to physicially move an object faster than light would require unlimited energy.  So the most accepted theories FTL have to change the playing field for propulsion, but what I don't hear as much about is theories behind navigation.  I don't think we're ready to explain that.

One of the most widely recognized FTL terms comes from my favorite - Star Trek.  I'm talking of course about warp drive.  But how does it work?  Warp drive does just what it sounds like.  It contracts space in front of the ship, effectivley reducing the relative distance the ship must travel, while expanding space behind the ship.  The ship, sitting inside of a warp bubble basically rides the warp like surfing a wave.  I find it interesting that many articles use the surfing analogy.  While the aforementioned Star Trek is all but given credit for creating the idea of warp drive, credit for a currently scientific theory related to that technology goes to Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre.  His 1994 theories about warping space is best known as the Alcubierre metric.  The Alcubierre drive has been gaining popularity as scientifically plausible methods of FTL in science fiction.

Physicists like Gerald Cleaver and Richard Obousy have been researching string theory, which considers 10 spacial dimensions and that a warp field could exist by manipulating one of the six unidentifiable dimensions.  However, this way around Einstein's theory has the same pitfall.  The energy needed.  However, Cleaver and Obousy have theorized the possibility of manipulating.dark matter in the warping process.

That brings up the next theory - worm holes or artificial black holes.  Black holes have been used in literature and science fiction for decades, and

When I first read an article that CERN officials admitted that the Large Hadron Collider was shut down when a microscopic black hole was created during an experiment, I looked at the date and wondered if it was an April Fool's joke.  Guess not. While some in the scientific community probably found this frightening, theoretical physicists and science fiction fans probably looked at this as excellent new in that it could be considered one step closer to FTL technology.  That's great, as long as we don't get sucked into oblivion as a result of these experiments.

While all of these theories focus on the potential for "propulsion" very little is really discussed about navigation.  If we were to create FTL technology, the obvious first step would be to use unmanned vessels.  Send them out, say a couple of hours or days and then wait for hours or days to receive telemetry.  But with the nearest stars light years away, this would be the equivalent of using a sailboat across the Mississippi river to guage a person's ability to navigate that ship design across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and back (many, many times). 

In my draft novel, I do touch on this idea that testing the navigation could be as big a problem as creating FTL technology.  I use an idea that humans try colonizing outside of the solar system with a prototype FTL, but the navigational theories for long journeys are flawed.  As a result, the colony ships aren't heard from until centuries later when descendants of one colony ship return to Earth discretely looking for help.  And, for what it's worth, I use the particle collision/artificial black hole theory in my FTL tech.

For anyone researching that prefers more visual stimuli than reading article after article, I'd recommend looking for DVDs or replays of the fourth season of History Channel's series:  The Universe.  Episodes in that season included very insightful and entertaining discussions on Space Wars and Light Speed.

If you catch reruns.  You know what to do during the commercials.

Write On.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! It reminds me of Holly from Red Dwarf, "Look, we're traveling faster than the speed of light. That means, by the time we see something, we've already passed through it. Even with an IQ of 6000, it's still brown trousers time." :D