A NASA concept illustration of a warp drive ship, the IXS Enterprise. Mark Rademaker/NASA image.
A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded research project at NASA’s Johnson Space Center may have accidentally discovered how to build a warp drive engine. The scientists published their findings in July.
Harold “Sonny” White, a NASA researcher at the Eagleworks Laboratory in Houston, Texas, published a research paper with his team in July about the “possible structure of the energy density present in a Casimir cavity.”
According to the report, the Eagleworks team came across “a micro/nano-scale structure … that predicts negative energy density distribution that closely matches requirements for the Alcubierre metric.”
In other words, White and his colleagues accidentally created a microscopic experiment while researching how energy distributes around wavelengths — a theory developed by Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir. The experiment resulted in enough theoretical energy to achieve “warp speed,” a concept theorized by Mexican mathematician and physicist Miguel Alcubierre.
In 1994, Alcubierre made waves in the physics community when he published his findings on the theoretical possibilities of “warping” interstellar space. He posited that it was possible to manipulate the fabric of space itself in order to achieve faster-than-light travel.
Alcubierre said it might be possible to expand the space behind a starship and contract space in front of it, thereby reducing the intervening gaps between planets and stars to very short distances. In visualization, the concept was compared to a surfer riding a wave — a metaphor often used to describe how a ship could travel the stars.
Alcubierre’s math, though reportedly sound, had some unresolved problems. Some of the theoretical energy requirements do not exist — or, at least, have not yet been discovered. However, the latest DARPA-funded research released by White and his team indicates that the energy requirements would be much less than initially believed.
If correct, White’s team has possibly discovered the world’s first warp drive. Even so, if scientists had all the materials they needed for the so-called Alcubierre Drive, the energy emitted off the space-fabric-warping spacecraft would be enough to rip planets apart.
Earlier this week, White told The Debrief, a science and technology magazine: “To my knowledge, this is the first paper in the peer-reviewed literature that proposes a realizable nano-structure that is predicted to manifest a real, albeit humble, warp bubble.”
White and his team plan to conduct more experiments into the possibility of smaller models to better understand the opportunities of a prospective warp drive. Perhaps the Eagleworks Laboratory can take us from science fiction to reality.
Lauren Coontz is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. Beaches are preferred, but Lauren calls the Rocky Mountains of Utah home. You can usually find her in an art museum, at an archaeology site, or checking out local nightlife like drag shows and cocktail bars (gin is key). A student of history, Lauren is an Army veteran who worked all over the world and loves to travel to see the old stuff the history books only give a sentence to. She likes medium roast coffee and sometimes, like a sinner, adds sweet cream to it.
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