What do Star Trek and author Patrick Moore have in common with theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre? If you guessed the warp drive, you'd be correct. However, you might ask yourself, isn't the warp drive a work of science fiction? I'm here to tell you that it is more authentic than you think.
First, let's start with understanding who Miguel Alcubierre is. He was born in Mexico City in 1964. His father was the one who cultivated his curiosity regarding space exploration. At age 15, after reading Patrick Moore and David Hardy's Challenge of the Stars, Alcubierre decided to become an astronomer. As a result, he focused his attention on physics to help him understand space.
Alcubierre obtained a Licentiate (between a bachelor's and master's) degree in physics in 1988 and an MSc degree in theoretical physics in 1990, both at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
At the end of 1990, Alcubierre moved to Wales to attend graduate school at Cardiff University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1994 through the study of numerical general relativity.
It's All Relative
Relativity is a wide-ranging physical theory formed by the German-born physicist Albert Einstein. With his theories of special relativity (1905) and general relativity (1915), Einstein overthrew many assumptions underlying earlier
physical theories, redefining in the process the fundamental concepts of space, time, matter, energy, and gravity. Along with quantum mechanics, relativity is central to modern physics. In particular, relativity provides the basis for understanding cosmic processes and the universe's geometry.
General relativity is concerned with gravity, one of the fundamental forces in the universe. Gravity defines macroscopic behavior, and so general relativity describes large-scale physical phenomena. Similarly, general relativity follows from Einstein's principle of equivalence: on a local scale, it is impossible to distinguish between physical effects due to gravity and those due to acceleration.
Gravity is a geometric phenomenon that arises from the curvature of space-time (click to see video). The solution of the field equations that describe general relativity can yield answers to different physical situations, such as planetary dynamics, the birth and death of stars, black holes, and the evolution of the universe. General relativity has been experimentally verified by observations of gravitational lenses, the orbit of the planet Mercury, the dilation of time in Earth's gravitational field, and gravitational waves from merging black holes.
In 1996, Miguel worked at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, developing new numerical techniques to describe black holes. Since 2002, he has worked at the Nuclear Sciences Institute of UNAM, where he conducts research in numerical relativity, employing computers to formulate and solve the physical equations first proposed by Albert Einstein.
So, how does this information add up to the warp drive theory? In 1994, Alcubierre described the Alcubierre drive as a theoretical means of traveling faster than light that does not violate the physical principle that nothing can locally travel faster than light. In this paper, he constructed a model that might transport a volume of flat space inside a "bubble" of curved space. This bubble, named Hyper-relativistic local-dynamic space, is driven forward by a local expansion of space-time behind it and an opposite contraction in front of it. As a result, a spaceship would be placed in motion by forces generated in the change made by space-time.
How does this relate to the physics of today's science? Alcubierre has shown that a ship using an Alcubierre drive travels on a free-fall geodesic (the shortest line between two points on a sphere or curved surface) even while the warp bubble accelerates: its crew would be in free fall while accelerating without experiencing accelerational g-forces. To generate a bubble in a previously flat space for a one-way Faster-than-light (FTL) trip requires forcing the exotic matter to move at faster-than-light speeds, which would necessitate tachyon particles.
The problem with the tachyonic particle is that they are hypothetical particles at this point. The theory is that they always travel FTL. Physicists believe that faster-than-light particles cannot exist because they are not consistent with the known laws of physics. If such particles did exist, the signals would be faster than light. According to the theory of relativity, this would violate causality (the reality of cause and effect), leading to logical paradoxes such as the grandfather paradox (time travel affects the past [talking with your grandfather] and thus changes the future).
So, You're saying there's a chance
Finally, there is the question of energy needed to produce the working model of the Alcubierre drive. Consequently, the energy equivalent of −1064 kg might be required to transport a small spaceship across the Milky Way—a number of orders greater than the observable universe's estimated mass. Or, simply put, we'd need a Type III civilization on the Kardashev scale. In other words, Physicist and futurist Michio Kaku suggested that if humans increase their energy consumption at an average rate of 3 percent each year, they may attain Type I status in 100–200 years, Type II status in a few thousand years, and Type III status in 100,000 to a million years.
Don't worry; other people are working on different modes of transportation that don't rely on energy-based propulsion. I'll share this with you later. Can you say remote viewing?
Read all About It!
In summation, we are not ready to go from galaxy to galaxy in the blink of an eye. However, we can dream what that would look like in our current understanding of science. That is what I want you to understand. A science fiction show inspired a young man from Mexico to dream about traveling effortlessly through the universe, and he created a working model. What do you dream about when you are not thinking about your bills? Let's move from worry to creating. I'm grateful Miguel has shown us the way.
Live long, and prosper!