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]
It may be mercifully low again at the moment, but it’s safe to assume that once the global economy adjusts to recent events, the price of oil will obey its historical trend and start climbing once again.
Over at The Guardian, Charles Arthur suggests one of the major outcomes of increasing oil prices will be that travel – be it for work or pleasure – will become much less of a reflex action, at least for those of us who aren’t ridiculously wealthy:
If you need a shorthand for thinking about the future, then, it’s this: analogue will be increasingly expensive; digital will be increasingly cheap. Getting in a car or on a train or a plane? Analogue. Expensive. Non-renewable. By contrast, downloading an album, watching a webcast concert, watching TV: digital. Endlessly replicable, virtually instantly transmitted, cheap.
What, in turn, does that mean for our society? Apart from fewer cars on the roads (though possibly with more people sharing rides in them), it means more time working at or near to home, if your work involves things that can be done digitally. For all those jobs that need to be near to physical things – that is, where you make things like cars or food or whatever – you’ll have to be based nearer the place you work.
I hasten to point out that this is not exactly a new suggestion, but what would have been delivered as a slightly comedic tongue-in-cheek piece of journalism ten years ago (doubtless complete with a reference to “sci-fi futures of virtual travel”) seems much less ludicrous in the light of our new-found interest in frugal living. [image by Atli Harðarson]
I seem to remember one of Stephen Baxter’s Destiny’s Children books featuring a very-near-future Earth where travel is achieved by a kind of mash-up of telepresence and VR technologies. Can anyone think of any other sf stories or books with a similar theme?
I don’t know first-hand, as I don’t drive, but it doesn’t take superhuman empathy to imagine how hard the spiralling cost of diesel and petroleum is hitting a lot of people right now.
Time Magazine obviously came to the same conclusion, and decided to make an attempt at cheering everyone up by listing 10 things you can like about $4 gas. These range from the prospect of globalized jobs returning to their original locations to the more prosaic and obvious like less pollution and fewer traffic deaths.
If those aren’t enough for you, perhaps a piece at the New York Times will sell you on the idea. I mean, come on – who here doesn’t think an air-ship renaissance would be extremely awesome? [via BoingBoing; image by Torley Linden]
Michael Marshall Smith’s excellent novel ‘Spares’ had a large section of its story set in a crashed flying mall, which previously had flown around the country for people to come up to and shop, eat and live. With airships beginning to come back into favour, the French aerospace research body ONERA has developed the design for a flying hotel called Manned Cloud.
The whale-shaped dirigible would potentially house 40 guests and 15 crew with a range of 5000km. Although airships are less stable in high winds than planes, they also use a fraction of the fuel. Manned Cloud was designed by French designer Jean-Marie Massaud. This kind of sky cruise could be an important part of mid-21st Century travel and using airships for freight would also be very efficient.
[via Lou Anders, image from StumbleUponDemo]
Bertrand Piccard was the first person to fly around the world in a balloon, the longest flight ever. His new endeavour, the Solar Impulse, is even more ambitious. To highlight the need for sustainability, the project has a lofty goal:
“In a world depending on fossil energies, the Solar Impulse project is a paradox, almost a provocation: it aims to have an airplane take off and fly autonomously, day and night, propelled uniquely by solar energy, right round the world without fuel or pollution. An unachievable goal without pushing back the current technological limits in all fields…”
If we’re to make the targets that Gordon Brown set yesterday, we’ll be looking to projects like this for inspiration.
[via European Tribune, image by Bertrand Piccard]