Astrophysicist Eric Davis is one of the leaders in the field of faster-than-light (FTL) space travel. But for Davis, humanity's potential to explore the vastness of space at warp speed is not science fiction.
Davis' latest study, "Faster-Than-Light Space Warps, Status and Next Steps" won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' (AIAA) 2013 Best Paper Award for Nuclear and Future Flight Propulsion.
TechNewsDaily recently caught up with Davis to discuss his new paper, which appeared in the March/April volume of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society and will form the basis of his upcoming address at Icarus Interstellar's 2013 Starship Congress in August. [Super-Fast Space Travel Propulsion Ideas (Images)]
"The proof of principle for FTL space warp propulsion was published decades ago," said Davis, referring to a 1994 paper by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. "All conventional advanced propulsion physics technologies are limited to speeds below the speed of light … Using an FTL space warp will drastically reduce the time and distances of interstellar flight."
Warp speed: a primer
Before delving into Davis' study, here's a quick review of faster-than-light space travel:
According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, an object with mass cannot go as fast or faster than the speed of light. However, some scientists believe that a loophole in this theory will someday allow humans to travel light-years in a matter of days.
In current FTL theories, it's not the ship that's moving — space itself moves. It's established that space is flexible; in fact, space has been steadily expanding since the Big Bang.
By distorting the space around the ship instead of accelerating the ship itself, these theoretical warp drives would never break Einstein's special relativity rules. The ship itself is never going faster than light with respect to the space immediately around it.
Davis's paper examines the two principle theories for how to achieve faster-than-light travel: warp drives and wormholes.
The difference between the two is the way in which space is manipulated. With a warp drive, space in front of the vessel is contracted while space behind it is expanded, creating a sort of wave that brings the vessel to its destination.
With a wormhole, the ship (or perhaps an exterior mechanism) would create a tunnel through spacetime, with a targeted entrance and exit. The ship would enter the wormhole at sublight speeds and reappear in a different location many light-years away.
In his paper, Davis describes a wormhole entrance as "a sphere that contained the mirror image of a whole other universe or remote region within our universe, incredibly shrunken and distorted."
Sci-fi fans, for warp drives, think "Star Trek" and "Futurama." For wormholes, think "Stargate."