Rocketboom is reporting that scientists have found a way to produce a Star Trek style warp drive. It’s a cute story, but it suffers from having more than one tooth fairy.
Let me explain.
The report appears to be based on this paper, by Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver from Baylor university. The idea of a warp drive is to produce a “bubble” of space that moves by distorting spacetime itself, and is therefore not subject to the cosmic speed limit of 300 million meters per second. What the authors have done is to construct a scenario where one could create such a bubble. The idea itself appears to be correct, and is actually quite creative.
For their idea to work, though, 4 things need to happen. First, spacetime needs to have more directions than the 3 space and 1 time dimensions that we currently enjoy, and that these extra dimensions be curled up in a little ball. This idea is far less crazy than it sounds at first. There are good reasons to think they might exist, and many experiments searching for them. That said, it’s still a long shot. (Sean, more or less arbitrarily, puts it at 11%, I think that’s pretty high). Still, basing an idea on a long shot has a long history, and a potential for huge payoffs. After all, the tooth fairy might exist, and she might be interested in your wonderful business plan for second-hand tooth distribution.
The problem is that they still need 3 more things to happen. They need, for technical reasons, the current acceleration of the universe to be due to these extra dimensions; something which is far from certain even if the dimensions do exists. They need a technology that can control the size of the dimensions. And finally, they need a way to generate the enormous amount of energy this would require – they estimate that this is about what would be obtained by converting the mass of Jupiter to energy. Each of those is asking for another tooth fairy. If the payoff is big enough, searching for one tooth fairy might be a very good idea. Looking for more than one that all have to be there…. Well, just don’t get your hopes up.
Note 1: I don’t mean to pick on the authors of this paper. They wrote a very nice paper as a fun exercise, and are certainly aware of everything I talked about here.
Note 2: I learned the “tooth fairy” method of evaluating ideas from Tom LeCompte, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory.