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Can We Travel Faster Than the Speed of Light?

by Kenny Hoeschen
Can We Travel Faster Than the Speed of Light?zoom in

Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA, is working on a team that is trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel (aka “warp drive”) might one day be possible. Building on the work of Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, who theorized that warp speed could be achieved by harnessing the expansion and contraction of space itself. Following such a model, a so-called “warp bubble” would expand space on one side of the spacecraft and contract it on the other. One might say that the spaceship is surfing through the universe inside the warp bubble (like the football in the image below, courtesy of Mr. White).

White and his team have advanced Alcubierre’s theory and have been able to greatly reduce the power requirements, which previously seemed insurmountable. The key to White’s propulsion system is the design of a warp-traveling spacecraft with a particular a ring around. The experiments are still in the very early stages and Alcubierre himself is quite skeptical, stating, “The warp drive on this ground alone is impossible. At speeds larger than the speed of light, the front of the warp bubble cannot be reached by any signal from within the ship. This does not just mean we can’t turn it off; it is much worse. It means we can’t even turn it on in the first place.”

If this concept were to succeed, a spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light without breaking the “cosmic speed limit” postulated by Albert Einstein.

(Image credit: New York Times)

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