Starts With A Bang

Ask Ethan: What impossible physics would be possible with warp drive? (Synopsis)

The starship Enterprise in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, The Hunted. Season 3, episode 11. Original air date, January 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

“Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” -Star Trek, in many incarntions

When Star Trek debuted 50 years ago, we didn’t know that there would be regions of the Universe that were forever inaccessible to humanity, nor that there would be galaxies permanently unreachable to us, even if we managed to develop near-light-speed travel technology. Yet thanks to the existence and dominance of dark energy today, that’s exactly the case. The only workaround, it appears, would be to develop faster-than-light travel.

A warp field from Star Trek, which shortens the space in front of it while lengthening the space behind it. Image credit: Trekky0623 of English Wikipedia.

But with the physical possibility of the Alcubierre solution to General Relativity, which would enable warp drive, this might actually render these distant, unreachable regions someday traversable. Not only that, but a whole slew of other “physical impossibilities” would suddenly become possible, enabling us to perform acts that physics without warp travel would simply never allow.

An illustration of a very young, dusty star, reminiscent of what our Solar System may have been like in its infancy. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

There’s a whole slew of fun physics to explore if negative mass/energy is real, and this week’s Ask Ethan goes after the biggest stakes of all!