Adventures With FTL, Part 3
For those of you who don’t know, FTL is an acronym for “Faster Than Light”, used in discussions regarding traveling the vast, enormous, gargantuan distances of space. It’s a much less fun or interesting term than warp speed or hyperdrive, but it is possibly more descriptive.
So, now the “news” comes out that at least one scientist at NASA feels it may be possible under the right circumstances to make an object appear to travel faster than light, which Einstein said was the “cosmic speed limit”. I find this humorous on several levels, mostly in the media’s ability to sensationalize things and the oceanic nature of the Internet, where an undersea quake that few people feel can cause massive tidal waves and flooding the world over.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that when the mathematics are jiggled in the right way, FTL becomes theoretically possible. But let’s look at the facts and how they evolved. This whole possibility was first introduced in the mid nineties by Miguel Alcubierre and I can even remember it causing a small media splash back then. The problem was the amount of energy needed to make it happen, according to Miguel’s calculations, was roughly equivalent in mass to the planet Jupiter! New calculations (the ones that prompted this latest buzz) suggest the energy need to be much smaller, however, much smaller still equals the energy output of over a million Hiroshima bombs. While this brings the requirements much closer to the realm of feasibility, I wouldn’t book my flight to the nearest star system just yet.
Some aspects of the idea require the use of negative energy or dark matter, which exist in many current theories of how the universe works, but we haven’t found any direct evidence of yet. So, while the possibility is very exciting, we’re much farther away from making this happen than some of the news headlines would lead you to believe that I’ve seen over the past few days. But, it was on the Internet, it must be true! Not so fast my friend.
I’ll leave you with this video from NewsyScience which gives a fun explanation of some of the theory behind a possible warp drive and also pokes fun at some of the news folks who jumped on this story.