03 October 2013

FWS Topics: Faster-Than-Light Propulsion

Designations in outer space can be separated by nearly unimaginable distances. In the realm of science fiction, when our intrepid space heroes need to get from one star system to another, they activity their handy-dandy hyperspace motor, and with a few button pushes, the good ship and crew are traveling beyond the speed of light...life is good and the beer is cold. But, could it be that easy? Could future space explorers engage some advance propulsion system, and cross light-years, like we drive to the Starbuck's? Is that type of propulsion system possible, according to science? What is science saying about the possibility of superluminal travel for our future astronauts? Will travel between stars ever be like the fictional reality found in sci-fi via some sort of near-magically FTL drive system? Recently FWS discussed sub-light propulsion, and now, we are going to cover the scientific POV on FTL, as well as how sci-fi portrayal of superluminal velocities. BTW...I listened to a lot of Royksopp and Daft Punk while writing this.

The Speed of Light by the Numbers

  • AUs per day at the Speed of Light? 173
  • KPS? 300,000
  • Miles Per Second? 186,282.4
  • Meters Per Second? 299,792,458
  • KPH? 1,080 Million
  • MPH? 671 Million
  • From Terra to Luna? 1.3 seconds
  • From Terra to Sol? 8.3 minutes
  • From Terra to Mars? 12.5 minutes
  • From the Sol System to Alpha Centauri? 4.3 years
  • Cross the Milky Way Galaxy? 100,000 years
  • From the Milky Way to Andromeda? 2.5 million years (bring a book)

Superluminal Velocity In Context
With the easy of FTL travel in sci-fi, it is sometimes best to put things in context. Let us review some more numbers: 2,193.2, 760.343, 670,616,629, 1104 years, 186,000 miles per second, 157,000 MPH, and 19,000 years. In 1976, an SR-71 (the most badass plane of all time!) reached a record 2,193.2 miles-per-hour. The current land speed record is 760.343 MPH. To put that in prospective, the speed of light in MPH is 670,616,629. It has been estimated for Terran civilization to acquire FTL technology, given the present pace of development, we will be able to travel at the speed of light in 1,104 years. I wonder if The Simpsons will still be on?
At present, the fastest man-made object, the Helios II solar probe, clocked in at 157,000 MPH, which would take 19,000 years to travel from Terra to Proxima Centauri, some 4.3 LYs away. The Voyager 1 space probe launched in 1977, achieved 38,610 MPH, and took from 1977 to 2013 to transverse our solar system...which is span of my entire life. If you were to achieve the speed of light, you could travel across our star system in 10.85 hours. Scary. If we look at travel to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, which is about 4.3 LYs away, traveling at the speed of light and greater is even more important, because 4.3 lightyears is nearly 6 trillion miles away. Even with the Saturn V rocket, it would take 73,000 years. At light speed, the journey takes 4.3 sidereal years, Warp Factor Six (392.498x C), the journey takes just 4.03 days. The problem of conventional space travel at the limit of light speed becomes worse when you look at the closest Earth-like world, Gliese 581c. This world lays some 20.3 LYs away or 118 Trillion miles away. The Enterprise-D could traverse the distance in a few days at warp factor eight and above, but even at light-speed for the bulk of the trip, we are dealing with traveling at light speed for years, followed by de-acceleration for nearly as long. Indeed, the laws of science be a harsh mistress.

Why is Faster-Than-Light Travel Considered Impossible?
To the majority of people that have never devoted much thought or research to the topic of FTL propulsion, they treat space travel like conventional travel here on Earth with planes, trains, and automobiles. They falsely believe that the issue of getting from Point A to Point B in a galactic distance sense is like cover miles in their car or plane...simply putting down more fuel to equal more speed. By that logic, all we humans need to do is construct the spaceborne equate of the Bugatti Veyron, and be on our merry way to pillage the blue feline people of their magically rocks. However, what they fail to consider in the first place is how fucking fast the speed of light really is and the laws of physics. One factor limiting FTL is the causality. If a starship was about to move at FTL speeds, and/or communication, than it would violate the laws of special relativity and the basic law of cause-and-effect, allowing the starship to affect the universe as a whole...which is bad.
The limits of communication over vast distances in space exploration are already a factor. It takes over eight minutes for a signal to travel between Terra and Mars. With FTL, you could make every moments in the galaxy or even universe "now", causing for a loss of time passage between two frame of references, creating those very-bad paradoxes. And here is the real kicker...FTL travel = time travel in the eyes of physics.
Another element in the case against FTL is that there no real examples of it in observable phenomenon, light speed seems to be the speed limit in the known universe. Also complicating matters is the power requirements for FTL. At the moment, NASA is working Alcubierre Drive, which could require massive amount of power...like more than the current power output of our entire planet and several others. Speaking of power requirements, we need to talk about mass. Einstein stated that an object gains mass as it accelerates. The more speed equals greater mass, and this issue becomes worse as you achieve the speed of light. According to Einstein, an object that could achieve the speed of light, mass would be infinite. There is no force in the known universe that can allow our starship achieve the thrust needed for light speed while at infinite mass.

The word "tachyon" comes from the Greek word "tachys" meaning swift or fast, and was meant to describe a theoretical particle that moved at superlumial speed. Tachyons fall in and out of favor of physics, papers have been authored on their existences, and other debunking their existence. Not helping the matter, is that Tachyons cannot be seen or detected, save for an shock-wave of Cherenkov radiation, and have never been proven in a laboratory experiment...tat was until 2011. In 2011, the CERN was experimenting with the massless particles known as neutrinos, and shot these neutrinos to another lab in Italy. These particles reached Italy faster than expected, and even with margin of error in calculation, these neutrinos arrived faster-than-light speed. CERN is still trying to replicate the results, and there is not much on the topic...could Tachyons exist?
Mainstream physics still says no, but that has not stopped these FTL  particles for being used as the basis for fictional FTL system, as seen in Space Cruiser Yamato or even time travel, as seen in NBC time traveling show Journeyman. Are these particles a sign of possible FTL? Some believe that Tachyons are real and originate from various wormholes that are present in our galaxy, spilling out from dimensional neverland that wormholes open up to...that's the theory anyway.

What Would Happen if you Actually Achieved Superluminal Speeds?
That. Right there. That is what the universe would look like if you travel at light-speed. Not streaking stars or a illuminated corridor of light, or even plaid pattern, but a disc of light. Another factor not often discussed about FTL is incoming matter, like micro-meteors. Even at "normal" interstellar speeds, the possibility of a starship intercept dangerous and damaging matter that can lead to critical risk is high. By increasing the speed of your space dreadnought, increases the risk. Just imagine the risk of going at several times the speed of light in normal space. That means that every incoming bit of space matter would be like the starship being pelleted by incoming hyper-kinetic energy projectiles. It is doubtful that a Whipple Shield could prevent the good ship Enterprise from being blown to expensive space dust if they were traveling at warp speeds...which, even Warp Factor 2 is eight times the speed of light! Pray there better be a hyperspace corridor!

What COULD Happen After You "Break" the "Light Barrier"

There are those that believe once you "break the light barrier", that something will happen...something wonderful. When I was a kid, in my own sci-fi universe I develop, when you achieved the speed of light with something with mass, than you broken into another region of space, unlike normal space-time. This could what others believe, that once a starship or probe achieved the speed of light, that you break on through to the other side, and the rules of normal space-time no longer apply. It is possible that a region of "newspace" like fictional hyperspace awaits us to transport mankind to distance points of light without taking generations. Now, all we need to do is "break" the speed of light, and see what happens...simple, right?

What Would Happen if you Fired Your Phasers at Warp Speed?
The end of the  universe!...just kidding. With physics telling us that faster-than-light propulsion does not stop people like me from asking questions like "what would happen if you turned your starship's headlights on? Or "what would happen if you fired your phasers while at warp speed?"
For all of its boasting about being hard science fiction, I can remember watching Star Trek and seeing a number of times starships engaging in space combat while at warp speeds. Not only were they fired their directed energy beams at one another, but also torpedoes. Never fucking mind that completely bullshit combat sequence in Star Trek: Into Dogshit, where the USS Vengeance pounds the Enterprise like a porn star. There is just no way to use DE weapons while at FTL, not to mention some sort of missile-based weapon. These missiles would have to have their own FTL drive, similar to what is on the launching starship. The cost of an missile system fitted with an microized FTL system would beyond insane. You better really, really want to kill the other ship.
here is a link:

Why is FTL Important to Sci-Fi?
When you examine the hard truth of the possibility of being able to skip about the universe, from star to star, like what we have seen in sci-fi for decades, than it breaks your heart to read the cold, hard truth: No Virginia, there is no FTL warp drive. If this is true, than why is sci-fi so invested with the idea of FTL? Simple, the universe is unbelievably massive. Even the distances in our own solar system are a major roadblock for manned exploration, not mention trekking to the nearest stars. In order for science fiction creators to tell the stories seen in the vast majority of fictional space exploration stories, faster-than-light propulsion system are mandatory.
For there to be an Galactic Empire, there has to be an hyperdrive. For there to be an Goa'uld Empire, there has to be Stargate portals. For there to be United Federation of Planets, there has be an warp drive. That is why easy superluminal flight is so critical for science fiction, for stories set on the stage of the galaxy or even the known universe, there has be to a way to go from Point-A to Point-B in the time span of an hour-long show. It is the exemption to the rule for a sci-fi story to involve realistic space travel that does not include some manner of FTL travel. An creator normally deliberately sets their story in a world without FTL to setup some critical element of the story, like Firefly. For me, it almost seems so alien to have a sci-fi story without FTL propulsion, and to date, I've got only a few stores out of dozens that feature hard science sub-light propulsion systems for interplanetary travel. In some ways, FTL propulsion systems could be consider more of literary plot device than scientific advancement.

Faster-Than-Light and Science Fiction
One of the biggest fictions of science that sci-fi commits liberally is the inclusion of faster-than-light starship. This is basically the sci-fi community, as a whole, saying "Up Yours, Einstein!" with the continued use of these handwavium propulsion systems. But, as I said above, how could you not when science is such a killjoy? It is a bitter pill to take for all of fans of sci-fi space travel when you discover that mainstream physics basically says: "no warp drive for you." The inclusion of superluminal flight divides hard and soft science fiction. For a work to be truly "hard" than it cannot include FTL. However, some believe that if the author or creator was to use Alcubierre Warp Drive, than it could still be considered "hard". When it came to soft sci-fi, FTL drives and devices come in all manner, ability, and size.
Some creators simply use the common terms of FTL present in sci-fi, like George Lucas using hyperspace for his Star Wars universe or the 1970's Battlestar Galactica, because the FTL equipment is not integral to the plot or setting. Other creators design their FTL systems with more care and consideration, due to its involvement with the world or setting. Take the FTL jump drive in Battlestar Galactica, how it was designed and used was integral to the plot and setting. These soft sci-fi superluminal flight systems are extremely varied, from the jumpgates of Babylon 5 to the galactic spanning slipstream drives of Andromeda, to the seminal FTL system, the warp drive from Star Trek. Others take a different path, like making hyperspace a dangerous entity, like The Warp from Warhammer 40K. Whatever form it takes, there seems to be no end to the love affair between sci-fi and FTL.

Guide to Sci-Fi FTL Propulsion Terms

Jump Drive/Space Fold
Traveling great galactic distances without moving is a common theme in sci-fi FTL propulsion systems, because is so radically different than how we travel on Earth today. Travelling without moving in the real world only happens with the benefit of pharmacology or if you are Jamiroqual. In science fiction, starships that use these types of FTL propulsion allows for the ability to jump the starship from a stationary position, and instantly leap several lightyears in the blink of an eye, behaving more like a interstellar teleporter than a traditional engine. People have summarized that instead of a starship racing towards a star or planet, these FTL systems bridge the gap between you and your destination by folding the Riemann Surface of space like bed sheets. In Starblazers, they described it as jumping from one point in space/time to another, instead of traveling through the "valleys" of space-time.
At times, sci-fi creators place limits on their invented Jump FTL Drive, like the starship has to be X amount distance from celestial bodies, recharging times, specific "jump points" in a star system, and range limits. These limits on space folding are often used in combinations in a sci-fi work. In Battlestar Galactica, the fleet normal jumped about 5 LYs at a time, but it requires time to scan and approve the exit-site. In the Battletech universe, the jump-points are at the area of the star system were the gravital force is at its minimum. In our solar system, that point is about 10.2 AUs away from Sol, around Saturn. These jump-points make for excellent combat sites for invading/defending fleets. The real downside to space fold drives is that in some ways, every FTL jump is blind faith, unless you have a 3rd stage Guild Navigator.

Hyperspace Drive
The term "hyperspace" can be traced back to famed sci-fi editor and author John Campbell. He used the term in his 1931 sci-fi story Islands of Space. Iconic sci-fi pioneer E.E. "Doc" Smith used the term "5th Order Drive" in his works, and during the heyday of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, hyperspace was the well-established generalized device to travel between the stars in the 4th dimension, and this capitalized on this for his method of fictional travel in Star Wars. Typically, hyperspace drive allows for a starship to avoid the messy physics of normal space, and travel through another dimension that allows for superliminal travel without that pesky Einstein character. This dimension of hyperspace not only allows for faster than light travel but also avoiding time dilation and incoming space matter that could splat the starship to interstellar dust. Hyperspace can be used in conjunction with wormhole jump gates, where these gates provide access to the 4th dimension.

Wormhole Jump Gates
One of the FTL propulsion systems that could exist (and does, according to UFO theorists) is traveling through a portal gate system that confronts to the laws of physics via the use of wormholes and a great deal of negative energy...if there are such things as wormholes and negative energies in our known universe. According to theory, wormholes could be short-cuts in the vastness of outer space, allowing for travel between the stars. Or they could be a bridge between our universe, and possibly another universe, or even the multi-universes. The idea of wormholes would require massive amounts of negative energy to push the fabric of space open, working against positive energy. These forces would create a portal through the fabric space-time, and in theory allowing a quick trip down the rabbit-hole, and across the vast reaches of space.
Of course, the Stargate universe took the idea of stable wormholes and ran with it, allowing for a network of stable wormholes that could be artificially controlled and generated allowed for interstellar/intergalactic travel. At times, sci-fi has presented portal gates as the apex of FTL travel. Take for example the Iconians from the Star Trek universe, who were called "demons of air and darkness" and used a gateway technology to form a vast interstellar empire 200,000 years ago. This allowed for travel across the Milky Way, around 70,000 LYs, as easily as crossing a room. With this technology, Iconians could land entire armies on-planet without any warning. Gateway technology was presented as well beyond the realm of the Federation or even the Dominion. Of course, sometimes opening portals into space comes with risks. In the world of the DOOM games, the UAC experiments with wormhole-based teleportation. led to the opening of a portal to hell, and cause the deaths of thousands. At the present time, wormholes are still theory and the stargates are still buried in the sands in Egypt...or are they at Area-51?...or is that Cheyenne mountain?

Warp Drive
The term "warp drive" is another standard term in sci-fi to explain the ability of a starship to travel at FTL speeds via "warping" the fabric of normal space-time. While it is crediting with being first used in Star Trek in the 1965 episode "the Cage", the term was used in 1936 by Jack Williamson. Space warping is common in sci-fi works, and as been seen in countless works from mainstream TV to the 1970's immortal classic Starblazers.
Some descriptions of warp drive compare it to riding a wave while a bubble protects our cool starship from the effects of time dilation. In regards to Star Trek warp drive, it works by the starship generating a subspace bubble that protects the vessel from the effects of warping space, via the warp nacelles that contain the warp coils. These nacelles "warp" local space, allowing a starship to ride the wave into FTL speeds. To generate the power requirements needed for such a task, Matter/Anti-Matter is used to generate a turned plasma stream that is fed into the warp field coils. Speaking to the iconic status of the term, even NASA has uses "warp drive" for their work on the Alcubierre Drive as a frame reference for the great unwashed masses.

Slipstream Drive
Mentioned in fictional universes is the star-drive called slipstream that normally opens some sort of alternate dimensional region, allowing for FTL flight without time dilation or other issues. Science Fiction is divided on what exactly "slipstream" or "slipspace" is, but, it seems be like a raft being put into a rushing river. The challenge was manage this speed, entering and leaving the slipspace. One of the more interesting protrayals of slipstream FTL is in the TV series Andromeda, Slipstream is the only method of FTL drive between the galaxies of the old Systems Commonwealth.
Slipstream requires a mass-lowering Gravity Field Generator (GFG), and this allows for a starship to form a slip-point, and enter the realm of blindly faster space travel. Slipstream, according to the TV show, requires a biological pilot to navigate the slipstream and make the correct choices when the vessel came to "decision points" in the network of pathways. Good experienced pilots could navigate their starship faster through the medium of slipspace faster than less experienced pilots. In the HALO universe, Slipstream is the FTL of choice, and there is a difference between the Human slipstream drive and the Covenant. Even in Star Trek, Slipstream was featured, called "Quantum Slipstream" in an episode of Voyager, and was explained as being unstable, but much quicker than conventional warp drive.

Gravity Drive
In Isaac Asimov's Foundation Universe, Councilman Golan Tra uses the Far Star, the apex of starship power generation systems in the books Foundation's Edge and The Foundation and the Earth. This Gravity Drive drew power from the gravitational fields of the galaxy, allowing for the small ship not be fitted with massive engines or power plants. Other works of sci-fi, like Larry Niven's Known Space, see Gravity Drive as a way to bend or warp the fabric of space or create some push-pull system to allow for high velocity travel. Science has developed a gravity-based propulsion system. A charged smaller starship could use Jupiter's magnetic field to buildup speed, and be sling-shot out into deep space at very high speeds. Some believe that UFOs use some sort of Gravity Drive to pull of the amazing flying that has been observed.

The Possibility of FTL Will Determine Our Future Reality
That's a mouth full, isn't? But, it is true. Science fiction has informed us over the course of nearly a century that faster-than-light space travel is possible, and it will be the primary tool of our species expansion into deep space. In the real world, the possibility of FTL, or lack there of, will determine how far we expand into the space beyond our own star system. There is little doubt that humanity will expand and colonize beyond Terra, and there is enough evidence to support that science will formalize future propulsion technology to allow for the conquest of the solar system...but reaching out to distance points of light is another matter. Faster-than-light drive is the key element in any future interstellar human civilization. Without FTL, colonization to the stars could be limited and unbearably slow. This "low and slow" pathway to the stars would most likely prevent the formations of any Federations or Empires, and cause humanity to be isolated on scattered worlds. This also determines how we ourselves will travel to the stars. Will we be in cryo-status, waiting to be defrosted as a majority of sci-fi predicts? Or will be starships like the Enterprise, where life continues on even if the starship is going at well beyond the speed of light? There could even be a possibility that unborn humans will be the future colonists, not freeze-dried humans. In the end will our future in space be more like Star Trek or Firefly?

Is There Any Hope of an Sci-Fi Star-Drive?
After reading a pile of scientific papers, watching Dr. Michio Kaku, and pouring through Star Trek technical manuals, I frankly do not believe that the superluminal flight we've seen in sci-fi is possible, it is just that, science fiction. There is simply too much evidence against it, astronomical amounts of power would be used, and how it would impacted the natural order of our known universe. Depending on if there are wormholes, and they are connected like an interstellar highway system, that could be an method of FTL, but speeding through the cosmos over the 299,000,000 meters per second is highly unlikely. That being said, there is still the phenomenon of UFOs...and where the frak do they come from and how are they getting here? And please don't say Hallow Earth theory. In reality, if our species achieves 90% of C, than could be the best we could hope for.

Designing Your Own FTL Propulsion System
With all of the evidence against science fiction like superlumial propulsion systems, can you still include these standard plot devices in your own sci-fi tale? Absolutely. There is nothing wrong with using FTL propulsion in your own writing...it just cannot be considered 100% hard science fiction. While current science tells us FTL is not possible, that does not mean that there should be a void of some logic and science involved in your own fictional FTL system. When it comes to designing your own FTL system, consider several factors: does the FTL system's abilities or limitations impact the plot itself? How big is the setting of your story? And sometimes, as funny as it sounds, faster-than-light can be too fast.
In some fictional universes, like Alien Legion, Stargate, and Andromeda, their idea of FTL have be able to transverse entire galaxies, and the millions of light years between them in order for their types of stories to be told. In Star Trek after TNG, there were limits placed on how fast their warp drives could function, allowing for the central story of interstellar exploration to be protected, making the Milky Way of Star Trek to be still a big place with uncharted regions. Consider Star Trek: Voyager, it was going to take the Voyager over 70+ years to cover the 70,000 LYs from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant. If the Voyager could have an FTL system as seen in Andromeda, the story would have mercifully over in the first episode.
Interestingly enough, sometimes superluminal propulsion is not really an important element in the overall story...it is just the way to get from Point-A to Point-B. Take for example the excellent book I'm reading now, Strings on a Shadow Puppet by T.L. Evans. In his fictional universe of the Sophyan Imperial, they use FTL in the same manner as most galactic projecting governments with vast space fleets, and Evans as used FTL as a plot device to move the setting from star system to star system, and it makes prefect sense within the fictional universe. When you read the sections when FTL drive is used, it is organic to the text and settling.
At other times, the method and equipment used for faster-than-light flight is critical to the story.
Star Trek: Enterprise clearly set up that Starfleet at disadvantage over the rest of the alien races in the Alpha Quadrant with only being able to reach Warp-5. In ROBOTECH, the SDF-1 had to make a long journey across the solar system due to the disappearance of their fold system. And just look at The Empire Strikes Back and The Phantom Plot, the failure of the hyperdrive is key to overall story. At the end of the day, when you sit down to craft your story, that is your universe, and how your characters zip around is your business, it just has to be convincing in your fictional setting to other readers. Sorry to get all Bob Ross on you, but it is important to remember that we are crafting science fiction, and not a term paper on physics. Just design our own FTL with care and consideration, and not treating it like a one-night stand.  

Proposed FTL Propulsion Systems

The Alcubierre Warp Drive

What is it?
We've all watched Star Trek and wondered why can't NASA make a warp drive. Well, in 1994, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre watch an episode of Star Trek: TNG, and he wondered the same question:  if warp drive, as seen in the series, could be possible? What he would invent is the only real possible FTL propulsion system known: the Alcubierre Warp Drive. Any vessel equipped with Alcubierre Warp Drive, would "warp" space at the rear of the ship, and space at the forward axis would be compressed, propelling a starship at superluminal speeds.
 This could allow for travel time between the nearest star and Terra to compressed to two weeks, not centuries. One of the best things about this warp drive, is that it is reactionless propulsion...no big engines. Dr. Harold White of NASA's Eagleworks advanced propulsion labs is actively working on this very drive system, and has garnered much media attention about exploring this FTL system for the 100 year Starship project. Protecting our starship from the compressing and warping of space around it is a bubble of normal flat space-time that, in theory, cancels out time dilation. The ship itself, encased in the bubble, would not move, while the warp bubble is push-pulled alone at superluminal velocity. In order to create this bubble, a great deal of negative energy would be needed, along with the energy to warp and compass space. So, when can we expect NASA to roll out the Alcubierre Drive equipped NX-01? Check back in one hundred years.

Why This Could Work:
For the most part, and if you take somethings for granted, the Alcubierre Warp Drive would obey the laws laid down by Einstein in the early years of the 20th century, and these seems to be one of the only FTL drive systems that could be possible. In order to make the Alcubierre Drive work, massive amounts of negative energy is needed, and the majority of physics believes that negative energy is a theory, nothing more. However, for two decades, Yale university Atomic Physicist, Steve K. Lamoreaux worked on a device to measure the force produced by negative energy using two metal panels a human hair apart, and it seems he was partly successful. Recently, Dr. White of NASA's Eagleworks stated recently that they have gotten the power requirements down to something more manageable that stated previous...he did not provide any hard numbers on power requirements.

Why This Could Not Work:
Any Alcubierre Warp Drive would require a massive amount of negative energy...which is theoretic at this point, and while the theory of warping and compressing space fits within known physics, negative energy in that amount could be nothing more than math on a whiteboard, In 2002, a paper was authored stating that the crew of an Alcubierre equipped vessel would not allow for crew survivability, nor could the ship be steered. Then we come to the energy required. It has been estimated that it would take the combined energies of 300 Earths to propel our Enterprise equipped with the Alcubierre drive system to travel between the stars. In order to form this bubble of normal space-time, there needs to be negative energy. The issue is that it is predicted to exist. Predicted. Articles I read conclude that methods exist to produce negative energy, but not in the amount needed for the Alcubierre Warp Drive.
Then there would be a balancing act between the negative and positive energies, meaning that our Alcubierre equipped starship would need the ability to produce this negative. With the push-pull act that propels our starship, with warping and compressing, the forward axis of the ship's motion would need to generate a powerful field of negative that was ahead of the ship to reach the regions of local space that the starship was about to traverse. That is the kicker, this field would need to be moving faster than the ship, which means FTL, which is impossible. Or so they say.
Protecting our expensive ship and her crew, is the neutral warp bubble, which is still a theory. One of the challenges of this warp bubble would not only generating it, but its sustainability of the field integrity. If the warp bubble was to become destabilized, normally via Hawking Radiation, that this could led complete collapse of the warp field, dropping our starship out of warp. That brings up one of my questions about superluminal flight. If the Alcubierre Warp Drive moves through normal space, than could this warp ship be protected from incoming matter? It is unlikely that we humans could chart completely the flight-path of our starship, and at FTL speeds, anything with mass could pose at lethal threat to our vessel. Could the crew scan ahead to be aware of any incoming threat from rouge comets to micro-meteoroids?      

The Krasnikov Tube
In 1995, Serguei Krasnikov proposed another FTL system that attempts to conform to known physics. The system is different that others seen in science fiction and the Alcubierre Warp Drive. There is the example I've seen online. Our good starship Enterprise travels to Epsilon Eridani at near light-speed, once arrive there, the trip back is shortened by the Enterprise traveling back on its own path. This short-cut corridor was created by the Enterprise by warping space behind it. This system would allow for a more rapid return trip...like driving to LA from Dallas, and taking plane back to Dallas once you're in LA, and not driving back. It sucks the way there, but nice the way back. It is believed that the trip back would not have time dilation issues, due to the tunneling through time. However, our starships would have to be careful, two tubes going in opposite directions could create issues with Causality due to a loop in space-time. One of the other major issues is that tube would have to be forged by negative energy, and which could be more theory than fact. There some theories I've read that say that aliens have developed tubes going through the galaxy...so, where is my subway pass card?   

Could Wormholes Be Used For FTL Travel?
With wormholes being cited as connections between different locations in space-time, they are often credited with the best possible means of FTL travel...well, that is if they exist. That is the real issue, if they exist and most of our understanding of physics and the known universe break down around Blackholes. Einstein, via his Einstein-Rosen Bridge, had a place within his universal model for wormhole, but it seemed unlikely that it was stable long enough for light to traverse the "bridge" in space-time. Traversable Wormholes, like those proposed by Kip Thorne and Mike Morris in 1988, could allow for travel only by a shell of exotic matter and negative energy. Exotic matter is also used in other proposed wormholes, like mass cosmic string in the Visser-Cramer wormhole model. While wormholes, if they exist, seem like a possible method for "allowed" FTL in a general relativity universe, they suffer for an issue that could de-rail the wormhole galactic railroad,  the aperture exit site conforming to the rules of general relativity without violating paradox. If a wormhole opens in one star system, and exits in another or several others, than travel between them could violent the rule against time travel.    
Another major issue for future use of wormholes was best demonstrated in the Season 3 episode of ST:TNG "the price". It was believed by an alien race, the Barzan, that they had the first stable wormhole in the Alpha Quadrant. When this theory was tested, it was learned that entrance wormhole was stable, however, the exit wormhole migrated locations in the Delta Quadrant.  This could be the reality for wormholes, stable on one end, and destable on another. Which is very bad for interstellar trade and travel. However, the greater question is if wormholes could be used for travel at all. There is no evidence to support their exists, let alone that they exit into somewhere you want to go, and if these wormholes are navigable by a starship.  

"If the Universe is so Big..." Question
In a universe were there is 300 sextillion stars packed into 100 billion galaxies that stretch for billions of lightyears, outer space is filled with limitless destinations for our future starships. However, without a method of FTL flight, than we could be playing the kiddie pool of space...forever. That begs the question that some people (especially those with more religion than science), "if the universe is so big, than there MUST be a way to get around out there...right?" Well, no. Simply put, science is cold, and doesn't a shit about the human race or a certain belief system, it is what it is. The speed of light, as far as we know, is the limit, and as I've stated above, it is highly unlikely that sci-fi superluminal flight is possible, and our best bet for exploring these distance points of light is via space-based telescopes like the Hubble.    

From the Fox Mulder Corner...
Sometimes when FWS discusses certain topics, I have inject my "inner-Mulder" and talk about UFOs. Yes, I am one of those people that believe that we have been and continued to be visited by being sharing our space and time, but did not originate on Terra. With all of the current science inform us that faster-than-travel is more or less impossible, and goes against physics and the nature of the universe, I continuation remind myself of those strange vehicles in our skies and on Martian skies (yes...there is some odd things appear in the Martian skies as captured by the NASA rovers). If UFOs are real and are piloted by beings from another solar system, than that means that there is some method of crossing the gap between stars...right? The other possibility is that these alien lifeforms spend hundreds of years in travel time to arrive at the Sol system, then they constructed inter-solar system bases to mount whatever purpose they are here for...killing cattle, getting it on with Terran females (Earth girls are easy after all...), eating Strawberry ice cream, or just freaking out the local populous.
When researching this topic, I did come across an interesting article that mimicked some of those Stargate stories lines alone with others that talked about reversed-engineered alien technology salvaged from crash sites. According to some theorists online, it seems that a long-time head of Lockheed-Martin's Skunk Works, who helped advance stealth technology and all-around American patriot, admitted the existence of UFOs on his deathbed in 1995. He told of salvaged material from the Roswell crash allowing for technology development far beyond what we know today, including an secret military space program that had already ventured to the stars. Not only was this secret military space program using reverse engineered UFO technology, also these aliens were giving us "hand-me-down" models.
This rumor has been expanded on by several other sites, that say this US government is waging a space war (along with Iraq, A-stan...no wonder our economy is in the shitter), we have a space fleet, that operates under the name "Solar Warren" and has the motto of "to serve man"...which means they've been watching The Twilight Zone. According to similar websites, we are not limited to space fleets, it also seems FTL portals, like in Stargate, are not limited to science fiction. Conspiracy theorists have an array stories of secret government "star-gates" that are hidden in underground facilities, like the rumored Dulce Base in New Mexico. There have been rumors of these black government "star-gates" being outgrowths of the infamous Philadelphia Experiment, or even HARRP and led to off-world military colonies. Ancient Astronaunt theorists have also pointed to the Great Pyramids or the Sphinx as being site of ancient star-gates, along with Hayu Marca in Peru and Tiahuanaco. If aliens exist in the manner that UFO theorists conclude, than how are they getting here? A new type of physics? And how the hell can I sign up for service with Solar Warren?


Atomic Rockets FTL entry

University of California at Riverside

Negative Energy and FTL Travel


The 2012 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: Faster-Than-Light 

Will We Ever Visit Other Stars?

Dr. Michio Kaku on Warp Drive


  1. Christopher PhoenixOctober 3, 2013 at 6:44 PM

    Yep, fact is that all the methods of FTL travel used in SF stories are more or less basically plot devices to allow stories that involve travel to and from very faraway space destinations. Which, as any High School astronomy course will teach us, tend to be very, very far away. You are looking at crossing 25 trillion miles just to reach the Alpha Centauri stars... and the entire galaxy is about 587,850 trillion miles across!!

    Put in the more familiar terms of light-years, the nearest sunlike stars, the Alpha Centauri pair, are 4.3 lys away, while the M-class red dwarf star Proxima Centauri is actually the nearest star at 4.2 lys. The Milky Way is 100,000 lys across and has an average thickness of 1000 lys and contains 100-400 billion stars. The Andromeda galaxy and its trillions of stars is 2.5 million lys away... about 25 Milky-Way lengths across.

    Unless your starship can race along cosmic shortcuts like non-space or wormholes, or travel at vastly superluminal speeds with a tachyon drive, the voyage to another star will take years even if you travel at nearly the speed of light. But this is where a bit of semantics come in.

    The well-known phenomena of time dilation comes into play at speeds near that of light, so to the astronauts on board the starship the travel time will appear to be shorter than it is for those back on Earth... as short as they like, if they can continue creeping closer to C.

    You can even argue that the travelers are effectively flying at FTL speeds by dividing the trip time they experience by the distance they cover in light years. This is, however, an improper measurement since the reduced trip time is only experienced in the rocket's frame of reference, while the distance in light years is measured in Earth's reference frame. From the rocket's perspective, it appears that the distances between the stars it is racing past at near-C speeds have shrunk in the direction of motion!! But light itself still races past the ship at 186,000 miles per second- light is funny in that way in Relativity.

    And if the astronauts return, they will find that years have passed since their launch and the planet is now ruled by damn dirty apes.

    When we talk about superluminal flight, we mean from Starport New York to the Starbase Epsilon Eridani, or something like that.

    Our cruel Skynet overlords will not allow me to publish my commentfull-length, so I'm cutting it in half...

  2. Christopher PhoenixOctober 3, 2013 at 7:26 PM

    This does make me wonder if the whole distance/time/velocity relationship that applies to car trips doesn't work for high speed space travel- if traveling at near-C speeds means reduced trip time for the astronauts, what would we experience if we could travel FTL? Naively we tend to assume that if you travel 1000 times C to a star 500 lys away it will take 500/1000=.5 years, or half a year, but isn't this just thinking about spaceship like we do cars?

    Tachyons are predicted to have truly bizarre properties... they need to lose energy to go faster, and behave opposite to massive objects on the other side of the C barrier, accelerating when a force is applied to slow them down and slowing down if you try to accelerate them. What would a tachyonic astronaut experience, if he or she could somehow assume imaginary mass and behave like a tachyon?

    Regarding UFOs, I have never seen one or seen any evidence that Earth is being visited by flying saucers. To be honest I think most people believe in UFOs as a substitute for the age-old belief in spirits, gods, and devils, the reported sightings of which often resemble modern UFO legends. UFOs also offer reassurance to people that the Earth (and them) are interesting to flying saucer people... heck, they fly lightyears just to look literally up your ass!! This is more comfortable to most than a vast, silent void in which we are either alone, too far from the nearest aliens to hope to meet, or being left alone to take care of ourselves by uncaring ETs. Thus stories of benevolent aliens who want to "help" us or take the true believers away to a better world... which sounds like a lot of Earthly religions, right?

    The true believers are pretty squishy in their beliefs, not caring to justify their ideas or explain ETs technology or motives. Like all religions, they want their "revelations" to be beyond the scope of science.

    It would really cool if UFOs did turn out to be alien spacecraft, and some people like to talk about them not because they are a squishy "true believer" but because they are interested in space travel and alien life, and what to investigate the notion that they may be visiting us already. But there just isn't any hard evidence, and significantly, most of the people who see UFOs are not knowledgeable about the sky... why don't astronomers and meteorologists see them all the time if they are so common? They look at the sky professionally.

    The whole "Men in Black" gag of "light from the planet Venus refracted through some swamp gas" is actually pretty accurate... people mistake Venus for a UFO often. They just don't know the sky. My parents tell me that during a big blackout in LA, people called the police because a big milky band of light was in the sky... that is the Milky Way, our home galaxy, stretching across the sky!! The Ancient Greeks though it looked like milk spilt from Hera's breast, which gives you an idea of how visible it is from a dark sky location.

    This cartoon says it all about most UFO believers: http://xkcd.com/718/

  3. Love that comic about UFO beliefs. To me, UFOs, Loch Ness Monster Bigfoot and so are the last bastion of my childhoold beliefs, since the whole Jesus didn't work out. I would like to believe that FTL travel is possible, and we've got a prototype in New Mexico. Despite my believe in UFOs (to a small degree), after 30+ years of going to New Mexico, we've never seen anything in the skies...save for balloons of odd designs. One of my issues with hardcore believers in UFOs is that frakking everything becomes an UFO, no matter what it is. Space junk in orbit becomes alien weapon platforms and such. Speaking as an historian, the possible stories of Ancient Astronauts and they were the foundations of our gods is very cool...especially with the whole ending to BSG! I agree with you...why would the endeavor to our little G-type star and study these meatbags filled with water? Puzzles the mind.
    This blogpost puzzled my mind, especially with all the lies that sci-fi tells. I love that Star Trek claims the mantel of being hard sci-fi, but they have a soft FTL system.
    Those damn dirty apes and their Skynet overlords!

  4. Christopher PhoenixOctober 8, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Yeah, I know how you feel, I grew up surrounded by stories of UFOs, flying saucer technologies, and alien contact. I ran across a lot of books on aliens and UFOs in bookstores with a New Age bent. Then I found my way to books in the "nutty crank inventor's science section" that purport to reveal the secrets of antigravity technology and "overunity" devices- mostly from Adventures Unlimited. And Tesla, can't forget Tesla, the poor fellow has had most of his image tangled with nutty UFO conspiracy types.

    I also read Chariots of the Gods, but it was mostly the chapter where Von Danken claimed that photon rocket technology would allow us travel to other solar systems (and play god with the natives) that attracted my attention... somewhere Edgar Purcell was laughing when it was claimed that fusion energy is sufficient for a rocket to reach high gamma factors!!

    I did learn one thing... practically every bit of bad science and crank invention, from perpetual motion to the Dean drive to cold fusion, has a final home- the "alternative science" shelf!

    I absolutely agree, the "any light in the sky is a UFO" thing is what bothers me most about soft-serve UFO believers. My mother happens to know someone who runs UFO tours, and was wondering about how someone can possibly guarantee a UFO sighting on a tour... so she searched the topic online and found a video purporting to show UFOs flying through wormholes or something. Said UFOs were only shooting stars, literally frakking meteors you can see anytime, 'specially during meteor showers!!

    I was hoping for a fuzzy photo of pie plate at the very least. Seriously, my idea of a UFO sighting is seeing a hovering shiny metal disk, and the tour better include anal probing and a complementary penis implant. :D

    That leads me to another thing. Ever heard of spider aeronauts? There are spiders that can release some long silk threads and be carried aloft in the wind. They can travel great distances to reach new habitats. During evening, at the right angles, you can see their glimmering threads... which are very long, and the spiders can drift very high. If someone took fuzzy photographs of them, and claimed they were some kind of alien, then we would have stuff that looks much like the "rods" people claim are buzzing Arizona. Think of all the other odd stuff and junk in the sky people can take fuzzy photographs of with their cell phone and claim are invisible flying aliens.

  5. Christopher PhoenixOctober 8, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    What really puzzles my mind, though, is how alien visitors would fit into life in the cosmos as a whole. Remember the whole "apes and angles" thing? What is the likelihood that aliens would develop to be, say, a few hundred years more advanced then us and start buzzing Earth just at the time when Earth is home to a developing intelligent civilization? Factoring in what we guess about the formation of life-bearing planets and know about physics, some would say it is almost zero.


    But then, could our assumptions be wrong? Might the galaxy have been explored by intelligent species millions of years ago who now monitor developing planets for signs of intelligent life? What does this say about any kind of galactic society that might be out there? What would the galaxy look like if it had been colonized millions of years ago?

    How long do intelligent species last, on the galactic scale? A universe where aliens not much older than us visit us from nearby stars with interstellar ships suggests either that much older civilizations don't mess around with younger ones too much, or that civilizations don't last long enough to dominate the galaxy for millions of years. A lot of TV shows like Star Trek and Babylon 5 seem to suggest the first scenario for the fictional galaxies- advanced forerunners exist but tend to ignore younger species- for most episodes at least.

    Or maybe the galaxy is barren of intelligences other than ours. In that case, might we seed the galaxy with thinking life by spread our own form of intelligence (or lack thereof!!)? If there is only one intelligent species per galaxy on average, might other galaxies be graced with conscious beings?

    We have answers to none of these questions so far. Such an immensity of space and time is almost impossible for our meat brains to encompass. Consider, humans as a species have only existed in their modern anatomical form for 0.0015% of the galaxy's total age, and news of our developing radio cannot have gone more than a thousandth of the way across the galaxy at the speed of light...

    Ultimately, though, everything falls back on Carl Sagan's dictum that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Fuzzy photos of lights in the sky and reinterpretations of prehistoric cave paintings as depicting space helmets just don't count as extraordinary evidence. Having a flying saucer land, or finding steel and glass skyscraper in the ruins of an ancient city would, but we haven't found that. Arguably, most of the artifacts of a technological civilization- glass, microelectronics, etc. would degrade with time and resemble sand or dust in a million years. But, to reverse a certain phrase, absence of evidence is not evidence of presence.

    About the only thing we can do is keep supporting the search for exoplanets through descendants of Kepler, astrobiology, and space exploration. We won't know for certain how common and how far away intelligent life might be until we have more data.

    I hear those damn dirty apes are worshipping His Divine Shadow these days... where is the last of the Brunnen G when you need him? :D

  6. At times, I feel bad for Tesla. He got the shaft historically, and it was his "death ray" claim that allowed the alternative history mob to pick up on him, and cite him as the electric messiah. Pity. Of course, he did get a rad car company named after him.
    That has always been the same element for me...hard evidence, and I'm not just talking about the frakking pyramids and the Lego blocks at Puma Punku. We find archaeologically evidence of settlements in North America that do not jive with mainstream historical records, no aliens mind you, but if there were alien bases on Terra...where is the empty Coke cans? The bits of trash? Surely, there is something besides wall art and Legos?!
    When it comes to other life in the galaxy/universe, there is intelligence life out there...it may not be on Pandora, but it is there. If we are here, so are they, but they could be separated by thousands of light-years.
    When it comes to "lights in the sky", I wish I could see them for myself to judge the oddness of these off-world craft...I do believe that some of what is being seen is combinations of what they want to see and black operations military aero-vehicles. Aurora anyone? Of course, in reality, it was the 12 Colonies of Kobol that founded our culture.
    Great comments! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Christopher PhoenixOctober 17, 2013 at 6:41 AM

    Yeah, the funny thing is that Tesla's "death ray" isn't quite so farfetched after all. As Tesla was careful to explain, Teleforce did not use rays of any sort because all rays obey the inverse square law. Move twice as far from the death ray generator and the rays are four times less intense. You could convert the entire output of a municipal power plant into "death rays" and fail to kill a cockroach at any significant distance, let alone a hostile bomber. This was before lasers, remember.

    What Tesla proposed was a sort of electrical gun firing tiny, electrically charged droplets of mercury at enormous speeds- much like a modern day particle accelerator. These minuscule "bullets" would slam into the target, dumping so much energy in a concentrated point that any target would be destroyed. In other words, it was a particle-beam weapon, proposed years before efforts like SDI!!

    I don't know if he could really have pulled off what he claimed Teleforce could do. His ideas were often too futuristic for his time- his bladeless turbine never worked because the alloys available to him were simply not strong enough, for example.

    What is sad is how badly understood his ideas are these days. Most people forget him in favor of his rival, Edison, even though our entire electrical grid is based on his polyphase AC patents- he won the war of the currents, and no one seems to care! Even my biographies of Edison never mentioned Tesla, even at the points in his life where the rivalry between the two men was intense.

    Part of it is that Tesla fits the archetypical "mad scientist" profile. His extravagant claims and personal quirks set him apart, and like any good mad scientist he tried to build his own death ray... along with such oddities as electrifying the atmosphere for wireless power and building flying machines powered thereby. Along the way he made countless important electrical patents and discovered many unusual phenomena like ground wave propagation. He even invented the first remote-control boat.

    His real fascination was always wireless broadcast of power. He wanted to eliminate wires by building a "world system" to broadcast power over the entire planet all while acting as a global communications system. If he had had his way, you would just stick some spikes in the ground to light up your house and fly around in a personal aircraft driven by energy transmitted from the ground- no fuel required!!

    The reaction of Westinghouse was, "Where do we put the meter?" And then Marconi beat him to the first transatlantic broadcast and Tesla's Wardenclyffe tower project was abandoned- along with his world system.

    All the same, I am sure that Heinlein was thinking of Tesla when he wrote "Waldo"!!

    Again, Tesla was just too far ahead of this time. Researchers are still thinking about wireless transmission of power, including beaming energy to aircraft or even space vehicles. Think of the lightcraft, for instance.

    Yet, in between claims that Tesla was really a Venusian (!?) and that he used beamed power to send people to Mars, we find people claiming that Tesla invented free energy with Wardenclyffe- do these people even read what the man said? He wanted to broadcast energy from power stations- power stations driven by boring old coal, at least initially. He never once claimed to have invented perpetual motion of any sort.

    Tesla would probably say the problem with the Tesla Roadster is that it drags its batteries with it- he would want to beam the power directly from the power station for a fill-up and charge-up free drive!!

    I'd love to have on opportunity to help shed light on Tesla historically. Without him, we would not have our modern AC power grid, and even his crazier ideas were more often than not simply ahead of his times.

  8. Christopher PhoenixOctober 17, 2013 at 7:15 AM

    In regards to ancient alien visitation, yeah... as Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We do not have this evidence. We also should keep in mind that actually finding evidence of landing that occurred thousands or millions of years ago would be really difficult... most advanced technologies will degrade to unrecognizable remains, and there is simply so much ground to cover the fragments might never be found.

    Perhaps the whole "Fermi Paradox" thing is like a little kid going down to the beach with a bucket, scooping up one bucketful of water off the pier, and after having seen no sharks in the bucket concluding that sharks do not exist in all the oceans. How long have we been keeping historical records, and for how long would we have recognized visitors for what they were? Not very long, cosmically speaking. We can't prove or rule out historic or prehistoric landings.

    The big difficulty is that A: we have no evidence, and B: all sorts of people write pseudoscience books about aliens having sex with apes and creating humans and the like so the whole field gets a bad name. It is hard to carry out serious investigations when you basically have zilch chance of finding anything truly anomalous to investigate and everyone dismisses you because of the association with UFOs and alternative history theories.

    I agree- if intelligent life could develop here, there is no logical reason it couldn't arise many other places, even if we don't have any ETs nearby to talk too. Not in a universe where a small spiral galaxy like ours has 400 billion stars, and there are millions of other galaxies...

    Black military aircraft start their own rumors, like the claim that the B2 Bomber is an antigravity craft. My parents saw one once, and tell me it flies like no other craft the have ever seen, wobbling along like some sort of SF spaceship. It probably has totally funky aerodynamics due to the stealth considerations that makes it only flyable with computers, which may explain the odd way it flies.

    I'd love to see a real alien spacecraft... as long as the occupants were friendly (or neutral, at least) and the craft was spitting out hazardous radiation everywhere it flew!!

  9. I really enjoyed this post. I am definitely following your blog from here on out.

  10. Welcome to FWS! Always glad to another follower to the roll-call! Hope you enjoy your stay.

  11. The main problem with considering FTL travel is the predominate bias against it. Most people will not even consider it, because the odds are that it’s wrong and most people don’t want to be on a losing side. I have a theory for interstellar flight that I have been trying to get critiqued, but have had no luck. The only explanation as to why my theory doesn’t work is because, “I’m stupid,” (this, coincidently, is also the reason year Honors Society tutor gave me in my Sophomore year, for why I was doing so badly in algebra.) The theory probably doesn’t work, but the more that I am insulted about it, the more I try to defend it.

    On the subject of the U.S. government using alien technology, I have a thought experiment.

    What if General George Washington had access to the wreckage of an F-18, and understood what it was? The conspirator theorists would argue that the revolutionary army would then use jet aircraft against the English. I would argue that the wreckage would be studied, and aviation advancements that during the First World War, would instead happen during the time of the American Civil War.

    I have just found your blog. We seem to have similar interests, with compatible opinions. I will be spending quite a bit of time on it. I will be making some comments, and I hope you don’t mind that those comments are on rather old subjects, (like this one.)

  12. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tegdIawRtwg ftl (specificly warp drive) is possible

  13. Your article is good except for one error in it. It is 4.3 light years to Proxima Centauri. You stated that is nearly 6 trillion miles away. This is false. That is near the distance of one light year. It is 4 times that distance, so it would be closer to 25 trillion miles.