Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Next Stop Alpha Centauri

The highly regarded science weekly New Scientist has in its current issue, available online, an extraordinary article outlining the possibility of testing a form of warp drive within five years.

Allow me to repeat that: WARP DRIVE IN FIVE YEARS!!!!

It involves an extremely obscure branch of physics called Heim theory, worked out by an extremely obscure physicist, Burkhart Heim, in the 1950s. Heim was trying to reconcile the inconsistencies between quantum theory and Einstein's general relativity, a process postulating at least a few more dimensions than the ones we're familiar with, and along the way he came up with a way to, at least theoretically, propel a vessel many times faster than the ordinary speed of light.

Obviously this has never been tested. Very few people know about Heim theory, and hardly anyone understands it, as the mathematics are incredibly difficult. The person most able to promote Heim theory, Heim himself, shunned publicity due to the disfiguring injuries he suffered in an explosives accident towards the end of WWII. The only aspect of Heim theory that has been tested, in computer simulation at a lab in Germany, involves predicting the mass of elementary particles. In this, Heim theory succeeds wildly beyond the capabilities of conventional physics.

There is at least one advanced research facility that has said, if the math could be clarified for them and if they agreed it made sense, they might be able to physically test it within five years. Even if the test succeeds, of course, that's a long, long way from building the Enterprise-A. But to know it was even possible would completely revolutionize our view of the universe and our place in it. Think of it: Mars in three hours, a star 11 light years away in 80 days.

Boy I wish James Doohan had lived to hear of this. The thought that Scotty's beloved engine room might someday exist would have made his heart soar.


Don said...

Of course it's exciting but I have the need to look at the probabilities.

a) It's true, and we are the first species in the galaxy to come up with it. How likely is that?

b) It's true, and there have therefore been space aliens visiting us; but only in a way that makes them no more certain than the visitations of angels, as if there is some galactic law against proving themselves to us and no one has ever violated it. How likely is that?

c) Heim theory looks promising because we don't understand it very well, but after investigation it will be found impossible and hence impractical. How likely is that? Well, rather more likely than (a) or (b), unfortunately.

Don said...

Very poorly stated comment edit: By Heim theory being impossible, I meant an FTL implementation based on it being impossible.

Mr. Clio said...

If don's (b) is true, I'm hoping we can visit a planet where they've figured out Category Five hurricane protection, as well as wetlands preservation. It would help if they'd also figure out how to make to-go beignets taste as good as when you're sitting at the cafe table. That would make warp drive worth it.

P.S. Even with warp drive, I suspect it would still take forever to get to Kenner and Harahan.

Jean Lafitte said...

Actually, Don, your (a) might in fact be quite likely. Science tells us that every atom of the elements in the periodic table was cooked up in the insides of stars, heavier elements being created by the fusion of lighter ones. As each star ages and runs out of fuel, it goes nova and scatters these elements through space. Some of this coalesces into the next generation of stars, and the pattern repeats. In time some of this coalesces into planets and everything on them, including plants, fish, and people sitting at computers arguing with each other. Every atom in your body was cooked up in a star billions of years ago. As Carl Sagan liked to say, we are literally made of star stuff.

To get the heaviest naturally occurring elements, like uranium, you would probably have to go through multiple generations of stars. The best estimate of the universe's age is 13.7 billion years. The age of the earth is 4.5 billion years. Even if earlier generations came and went faster than the later ones, that doesn't leave all that much time for many stellar generations. It may well be that we really ARE among the first intelligent life forms to evolve, because it is only recently, on a cosmic scale, that a great enough variety of elements developed to allow the world as we see it to exist. The first such life forms would probably be few and very, very, very far between, and even with a Heim stardrive it would be quite plausible that the others haven't gotten here yet.

But if you want to suppose a truly, truly ancient form of intelligent life, you have to imagine one arising and evolving in a universe that has only nine or ten elements in it. How likely is that?

Anonymous said...

This guy blogged about the same thing - it's worth the time to check out.

Beth - bethmauldin.com

Blogdevil9 said...

Not only a very interesting post, all on its own, Jean, but I also found your response to Don's comment very isightful and thought-provoking. After all, why coulnd't we be among the first intellegent life forms to evolve? I think that a majority of people these days have been brainwashed by recent science fiction (such as the X-Files)into believing that we simply COULDN'T be the only intelligent life in the universe. Maybe they're wrong.

Don said...

Okay, so (a) isn't so unlikely. I'm okay with that. Very okay.

Maybe Star Trek is prophetic after all, since nearly all the extraterestrials share humanoid genetics.

I drilled down from Beth's link into a number of NASA articles. Great stuff. Man I wish I had the time to read it.

M. Mansouryar said...


Probably my releasd paper about the schematic design of a practical spacewarp can be considered
as one of your favorites. That's placed on: http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0511086
The aim of this email to you is providing the possibility of introducing it to
more numbers of people which I believe that's in favor of improving the science and a service to
the mankind. However, your personal opinion on my work is important to me too.
I guess you might be able and/or interested to help me at least via making a link of the above address within your
page(s) or presenting it to more media. So, please give a clear answer to my request.

Best Regards
M. Mansouryar

P.S.: A simplified description of my work is viewable on: