The science fictional faster-than-light warp drive, despite being a staple of books and movies in which scientific plausibility is at best a tertiary consideration, is actually based on a genuine scientific theory by a fellow called Miguel Alcubierre.
Unfortunately for those looking forward to boldly going where no human has gone before (and doubtless delivering colonial civilisation and moral homilies to aliens with suspiciously lumpy yet humanoid faces), an expansion of Alcubierre’s theory to include quantum mechanics suggests that the warp drive is not a phenomenon we’ll actually be able to use for space travel after all:
Alcubierre imagined a small volume of flat spacetime in which a spacecraft might sit, surrounded by a highly distorted bubble of spacetime which shrinks in the direction of travel, bringing your destination nearer, and stretches behind you. He showed that this shrinking and stretching could enable the bubble–and the spaceship it contained–to move at superluminal speeds.
The conclusion is the result of classical thinking using the ideas of general relativity but physicists have long wondered what would happen if you threw quantum mechanics into the mix? Now Finazzi and pals have worked it. For a start, they say that the inside of the bubble would be filled with Hawking radiation, making life rather uncomfortable for any spacecraft within it.
Not to mention for the occupants of said spacecraft… I guess we’ll just have to put off establishing the Galactic Federation and learn how to make do with what we have to hand, at least until some benevolent sponsor race gives us the key to the subatomic universe. Selah. [via FuturePundit and many others; image by Timm Williams]