Space

Has NASA Really Created A Warp Drive?

April 27, 2015 | by Caroline Reid

Photo credit: Traveling trough space and time, intergalactic exploration by Pixelparticle via Shutterstock

Note: This recent news has not been officially confirmed or peer-reviewed.

Forget blowing bubbles, NASA may be on the path to discovering warp bubbles that will open up every corner of the universe for human exploration. We have broken the speed of sound, but now scientists may have broken the speed of light, according to posts on NASASpaceFlight.com. However, before you keep reading, keep in mind: As stated above, this news has not yet been officially confirmed or peer-reviewed.

The piece of kit responsible for the sudden warp-drive frenzy is called the Electromagnetic Drive or EM Drive for short. It’s an innovative thruster that was built to steer rockets without the use of a propellant. The idea was originally met with skepticism: In order to move in one direction in the vacuum of space, you need to push an object in the opposite direction to give your rocket momentum. The object pushed in the opposite direction to the motion of the vessel is called the propellant, but the EM Drive does away with that. 

It was originally intended for moon missions, Mars missions and low-Earth orbit (LEO) operations. Now, the hype over the EM Drive is all about record-timing interstellar travel.

The unpublished experiment that led to this exciting possibility was performed in the vacuum of space. After shooting laser beams into the EM Drive’s resonance chamber, where the light is resonated to increase its intensity, researchers found that some of the beams of light were moving faster than the speed of light constant: approximately 300,000,000 meters per second (186,000 miles per second). The big question that’s intriguing scientists and dreamers alike is "How?"

Einstein’s theory of relativity forbids any object from moving faster than the speed of light. Fortunately, there’s a theory that sidesteps this minor impossibility. If the laser beams are definitely moving faster than the speed of light, then it would indicate that they are creating some sort of warp field, or bubble in the space-time foam, which in turn produces the thrust that could, in the future, power a spaceship. 

The bubble would contract space-time in front of the ship, flow over the ship, then expand back to normality behind it. It’s inaccurate to describe the spaceship as moving faster than the speed of light, but rather space-time is moving around the ship faster than the speed of light. This is different to a wormhole, where one part of the universe is connected to another and the ship travels through the hole. The ship itself is essentially stationary and the space-time bubble hurtles around it. 

A commonly held belief is that during the Big Bang, space-time expanded dizzyingly fast, certainly faster than the speed of light! So if space-time moved faster than the speed of light, then why couldn’t scientists warp space-time now? Warp drive technology, similar to ones described in popular science fiction, could well be next on the agenda. 

Even the less glamorous forms of space travel are set to benefit from this technology. The EM Drive will get satellites off the ground by reducing their launch masses. Space stations won’t demand as many refueling missions, making space life cheaper with the added benefit of less damage to the structure of spacecrafts from docking maneuvers. 

There are still lots of tests that need to be performed to confirm whether the laser beams are breaking the speed of light barrier. In 2011, the OPERA experiment mistakenly observed neutrino particles to be moving faster than the speed of light. They later realized that the culprits for these mind-blowing conclusions were a faulty fiber optic cable and a clock that ticked too quickly. 

Read this next: Scientists Discover Secret To Butterfly's Invisible Wings

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