Point a Voyager-speed spacecraft at Alpha Centauri and the travel time would be on the order of 73,000 years. Those of us obsessed with the idea of interstellar journeys are forced to hope for profound breakthroughs in physics and engineering. The word ‘breakthrough’ is, if anything, an understatement. An Alcubierre-style ‘warp drive’ would, so far as we know, require energies that would tax even a Kardashev Type III civilization, as physicist Richard Obousy points out. Hence the acknowledged ‘giggle factor’ that plagues serious discussion of these matters. Writes Obousy:
The giggle-factor is a consequence of using a name for a cutting edge propulsion concept that is taken straight from science fiction. In reality the name is a double-edged sword. When one mentions a ‘warp drive’ it should be immediately obvious (one would hope) that what is being dicussed is a hypothetical propulsion mechanism that utilizes an asymmetric manipulation of the fabric of spacetime to generate an exotic curvature which allows one to circumvent the traditional limitations of Special Relativity and travel at superluminal velocities.
Is a warp drive remotely possible? The answer may well be no, but scientists continue to look at the concept even if the pace of their study is slow. I’ve drawn the quotation above from Obousy’s new Interstellar Journey Web site, which includes not only the beginnings of a regular blog but also a short video introduction in ten sections (of which six are now online) to the issues involved. One emerging fact about warp drive is that it is the poor cousin of interstellar research when compared to the work that has been done on Einstein-Rosen bridges and forms of traversable wormholes.
Like the warp drive, a wormhole calls for negative energy and demands vast amounts of energy to remain functional. Oddly, wormhole papers greatly outnumber those on warp drive even though both ideas are almost absurdly speculative. Obousy runs a quick search and comes up with 1248 wormhole papers (ten released to arXiv in August alone), whereas the numbers for warp drive are miniscule: 33 papers, with no more than one or two being released per year.
We’re dealing with a fascinating idea, yet warp drive lacks the big-name backing (John Wheeler, Herman Weyl, Matt Visser) that wormhole physics enjoys. Consider Obousy’s new site an attempt to balance the books. The short background videos are well produced and visually effective, ranging from motivations for interstellar flight to proposed mission designs like Daedalus and on to the potential of dark energy to enable FTL concepts, an Obousy specialty.
Centauri Dreams readers will recall that Obousy’s work has appeared here on several occasions, in particular re his article in the British Interplanetary Society’s magazine Spaceflight that mines, among other ideas, the potential of higher dimensions of the sort emerging first from the work of Theodor Kaluza and, more recently, string theory. A new Obousy paper (with Aram Saharian) is “Casimir energy and the possibility of higher dimensional manipulation” (abstract), which relates the Casimir effect to dark energy. For this and other warp drive papers, see the archive at Interstellar Journey, which becomes a welcome addition to the online study of exotic concepts.