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We Will Probably Never Have This Warp-Capable Space Ship, But It Looks Fantastic

Space is unfathomably big, and that’s the problem. To have any hopes of effectively traversing it, humanity can’t just build ships that go really, really fast. Even if we could travel at the speed of light, getting to the next closest star would take years. At the extreme, a trip to another galaxy could take decades, and when the interstellar travelers returned, friends, family, and loved ones would be long gone.

Space is so big that effective travel can’t just traverse the ‘verse—it has to bend it.

So called “warp engines” have been a staple of science fiction ever since writers needed to tackle the problem of space’s extreme emptiness. By warping space, travelers circumvent the problem of time dilation (travelers age slowly during travel while the rest of the universe ages regularly) that would make any kind of space-wide economy or civilization impossible.

Warp engines would work by using theoretical “exotic matter” (read: stuff we’ve never discovered but solves the math) to distort space-time around a craft—expanding space behind the ship and contracting space in front of it (we need “exotic matter” because so far getting the incredible amount of energy required to bend space is almost impossible). This “warp bubble” would encase the ship and effectively move space around it, instead of moving the ship through space. The result is faster than light speed travel, and actually creating such a drive would bring us that much closer to making Star Trek a reality.

Warp Ship FULL

Physicist Harold “Sonny” White is the scientist who made big news when he announced that warp engines are at least theoretically feasible, even buildable. Things got even more exciting when White concluded that the energy required to make the “Alcubierre Drive” work was orders of magnitude less than he originally calculated. And now, thanks to White’s collaboration with concept artist Mark Rademaker, we have pictures of what the final space ship might look like. In short, it looks fantastic.

Warp 2

Though we have the theories and the concept art, we don’t yet have any proof that a warp-capable star ship like the “IXS Enterprise” is in our near future. NASA admits that warp drive is in the “speculation stage” and White, in a video discussing his project says that all the plans are “still in the existence-proof stage of development.” More forcefully, physicist Dr. Matthew R. Francis writing in Slate says, “from what physicists have learned about the universe and its contents, White’s warp drive can’t work, period.” The matter that White’s math requires simply isn’t known to exist. Even the physicist who “solved” Einstein’s equations allowing for a warp bubble, Miguel Alcubierre, doesn’t think a warp drive can be built. And because NASA is in fact spending tax dollars exploring a warp drive that theoretical cosmologist Richard Easther says “not a single reputable scientist takes seriously,” perhaps the numerous outlets touting the warp drive should have payed more attention to the math and not the shiny pictures.

Warp 1

The promise of faster than light travel is an enticing one. Indeed, warp-capable star ships are the premise for a major Hollywood movie coming out later this year, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. But we probably won’t ever pilot an IXS Enterprise, so for now we will have to content ourselves with dreaming of what our first ship to bring us to another star might look like.

Kyle Hill is the Science Officer of the Nerdist enterprise. Follow the continued geekery on Twitter @Sci_Phile.

HT: io9

IMAGES: All images reproduced with explicit permission from Mark Rademaker

You can see the whole collection of Rademaker’s amazing art at his Flickr page, and you can follow him on his blog or on Twitter.

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  1. Casper says:

    We have made some so-called ” laws of physics ” when we actually in fact know nothing about what can happen when and under what circumstances … We have made them so we have something visual to mark our current knowledge of physics. it is the problem with many people is so that we only believe in what we’ve tried and have theoretical or practical proof works. We do not realize how much we actually do not know about .. Well .. Everything. I believe that we certainly can make a ” Warp Drive ”, maybe not with our current understanding of the universe but I believe that the universe does not have any ” Rules ”. We came from nothing .. So as far as we know, there was nothing before the big bang. Otherwise, we just do not know what was before. I believe that since the universe is a big mystery you can not in any way show that it would not work unless you know every little bit of information that is in the universe and beyond. All this is only based on my own understanding and beliefs.

  2. john says:

    Back in the 80 people said we could not build a computer that could learn. But we have. Japan is working on robots that are working in there every day environment.  Back in the past people said we would never have robots. I thank people who say no we can’t because of them we push harder to prove we can. I believe it is possible to build warp drives warp gates. In our life time maybe not. But befor we can figure out that we need to build on the moon. It would be easier to learn in space then on earth.

  3. ozze232 says:

    Who cares if the science is exactly right based on current thought.  So much of what we have came from people pushing the boundaries of scientific thought at any given time.  Hell, half of the things we know and have came from some one failing at the thing they were working on only to revolutionize something else. 
    Science is about discovery.

  4. John Powell says:

    I much prefer NASA waste my taxpayer money than the NSA, CIA and armed forces.

  5. MikeH says:

    Unless Relativity is at some point flat-out wrong, FTL travel is time travel. That’s something that has to be faced.

  6. Phil says:

    I would rather us be wrong than not try at all.  We know the Earth isn’t flat because someone had the motivation to find out.  

  7. Jeremy says:

    The experts also ‘knew’ the earth was flat – and the center of the universe and a great many other things that proved to be false.

    • Kyle Hill says:

      Different case here Jeremy. We have evidence to suggest that a warp drive isn’t possible, not simply an absence of evidence.

      • Swapnil says:

        Evidence based on what? Based on science/laws found so far? ‘So far’. Then on top of everything else it’s just theory. We just found a huge reserviour of water underground which rebuffs the theory that water came to Earth from space….so let’s keep challenging instead of saying Earth is flat.

        • Kyle Hill says:

          Yes, the theories that we have evidence for actively discredit the warp drive ideas advanced by White. Also, citing a geologic find we didn’t expect is not the same as finding a new type of matter that shouldn’t exist.

      • Jeremy says:

        There was, at the time, solid evidence of all those other claims that turned out false as well.  

        What’s your point?

        That we should stop being curious, investigating and challenging what we ‘know’ to be true? 

  8. Doug B says:

    I’m calling shotgun now. #dibs

  9. Scooter420 says:

    Ok that is just awesome.