4/1/13

Warp Drive Update

4/1/13
Since reporting on any and all notable (if incremental and highly theoretical) advances in Warp drive is one of the explicit goals of this blog, I am duty bound to chronicle the following:

From PopSci.com: Warp Factor: A NASA scientist claims to be on the verge of faster-than-light travel: is he for real?
Not pictured above: NASA Scientist Sonny White
If, like me, you are pretty well-aware of the warp field theory and negative energy then don't bother reading most of the first two pages--it's all background on that (way to bury the lede PopSci). But PopSci reporter Konstantin Kakaes, took a tour with and interviewed NASA's warp-drive (among other things) scientist, Sonny White.

Here is where the good stuff starts:
Negative energy . . . is gravitationally repulsive. Instead of drawing space-time together, negative energy would push it apart. Roughly speaking, for his model to work, Alcubierre needed negative energy to expand the space-time behind a craft.

Though no one has ever measured negative energy, quantum mechanics predicts that it exists, and scientists should be able to create it in a lab. One way to generate it would be through the Casimir effect: Two parallel conducting plates, placed very closely together, should create small amounts of negative energy. Where Alcubierre’s model broke down is that it required a vast amount of negative energy, orders of magnitude more than most scientists estimate could be produced.

White says he’s found a way around that limitation. In a computer simulation, White varied the strength and geometry of a warp field. He determined that, in theory, he could produce a warp bubble using millions of times less negative energy than Alcubierre predicted and perhaps little enough that a space craft could carry the means of producing it. “The findings,” he says, “change it from impractical to plausible.”
"Plausible"
It'll be a good day when we discard the "you don't need to be a rocket scientist" idiom and replace it with "you don't need to be a warp scientist." I digress too much. Anyway, that snippet too, is old news. White's had this idea rolling around in his head for some time. But it looks like he finally got a little project going:
White’s warp experiment is tucked into the back corner of the room [What? Back corner?!? Get your priorities straight! -ed). A helium-neon laser is bolted onto a small table pricked with a lattice of holes, along with a beam splitter and a black-and-white commercial CCD camera. This is a White-Juday warp field interferometer, which White named for himself and Richard Juday, a retired JSC employee who is helping White analyze the data from the CCD. Half of the laser light passes through a ring—White’s test device. The other half does not. If the ring has no effect, White would expect one type of signal at the CCD. If it warps space, he says “the interference pattern will be starkly different.”
Before I quote any more, and blatantly abuse fair use, I should get my cynicism out of the way. Maybe it's just my cynical nature, but I'm not sure this White guy (heh) is on the level. I understand NASA is all government funded and deals with some pretty sensitive stuff, as well as mingling with the Pentagon/Air Force; but, it's also about science. Which is about sharing and showing your work. So upon reading the following, it felt like I was watching a bad sci-fi movie:

"People come in and want to talk about some things"
Yet when I ask how it would create the negative energy necessary to warp space-time he becomes evasive. “That gets into . . . I can tell you what I can tell you. I can’t tell you what I can’t tell you,” he says. He explains that he has signed nondisclosure agreements that prevent him from revealing the particulars. I ask with whom he has the agreements. He says, “People come in and want to talk about some things. I just can’t go into any more detail than that.”
Well, alright then. So, when can we expect to vacation in Alpha Centauri? If you're as optimistic as White sounds, probably in a few decades. I don't know if he's just generating buzz for whatever reason, or if he's that confident, but there it is. He says he's even found a way (at least theoretically--he's not clear on it) to generate a stable warp field. Here's hoping.

Update: From commenter Noel, apparently PopSci made a mistake. "White has not signed any NDAs. The article has it backwards. In order for the Popular Science author to get briefed on the referenced technology, he would need to sign an NDA with the government . . ."

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