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Putting the ‘Warp’ into Warp Drive

By Hamish Johnston

My favourite episode of The Simpsons begins with Homer returning to college to retake the course “Nuclear Physics 101”. He manages to get three fellow physics students expelled and they all move into the Simpson home. They proceed to drive Marge crazy with their geeky ways, including tieing up the telephone line by downloading “Top ten reasons why Captain Kirk is better than Captain Picard”.

Funny as it may be, portraying physicists as Trekies is a stereotype that does the physics community no good — which is why someone should have a quiet word with Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver at Baylor University, who have posted a paper on the arXiv preprint server called “Putting the ‘Warp’ into Warp Drive“.

The paper describes how to create a “warp bubble”, which would surround a spacecraft and allow it to “effectively travel faster than the speed of light”. Instead of being powered by a cantankerous engineer with a bad Scottish accent, this warp drive harnesses the Casimir effect.

However, Cleaver and Obousy calculate that the total mass/energy contained in the planet Jupiter would be needed to propel a starship the size of the Enterprise to beyond the speed of light.

That’s a lot of dilithium crystals, and the inevitable tabloid headlines like “Physicists want to annihilate Jupiter to reach Rigel 7” will do the physics community no good.

Indeed, many readers will recall Lawrence Krauss’s 1996 book 20 articles will come up.

A plea to the physics community — no more Star Trek!

Oh, just to set the record straight — Captain Kirk is light years better than Captain Picard.

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  1. Lee Castleton, BSCE, EIT

    The general impression of other writers who have read the relevant paper is that the mass conversion allegedly required is for that needed to transport a ship the size of ‘Enterprise’. Is that the volume of enterprise or its mass? Or both? Can those be minimized by new physics involving translation of that mass/volume into different reality sets. Here I will allege that our three dimensions are a reality set. The associated time unidimension completes this reality set. Physicists propose ten to eleven ‘dimensions’ but do not differentiate whether those are all time, space or some combination, or if they really know them ALL. Or anything about any other than our own set! Symmetry would seem to demand a reality cube of so called ‘spatial’ dimensions at the cube of three since we live in a cubic reality. This would mean no more or less than 27 spatial dimensions. Now time may have dimensions as well, and Thomas Wolfe may yet be right and time travel be right as well and Pauli be right too. If an infinite number of timelines could pass through a single reality set three dimensional point, then one could travel backward, forward or obliquely in time but could not go back on their own original timeline as that one and only that one would violate causality. Having said that, the popular assumption is that all the other dimensions are ‘rolled up small’, which grossly violates the perception of common sense. Suppose some of the reality sets are larger? Suppose we can translate a piece of our reality into one of these larger sets if only for an instant before going back to our original set…at another place? Suppose this can be integrated a bit with Alcubierre’s thesis into using a smaller ship, with the idea that there may be higher power/energy relationships involved here akin to the ones for ‘radius of gyration’ which operates at the fourth power; and a smaller ship may require far less energy to ‘warp’ or inter reality translate which may be a newer and/or better term for this. Somebody solves all the multivariable higher power partial differential math for even some of this may come into the sights of the Nobel Committee, ‘Star Trek’ or not!

  2. Brenna

    I agree. Kirk is way better than Picard.


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