Spin Up The FTL!


It’s finally happening!  NASA have cracked faster-than-light propulsion!

It must be true: it’s in the Washington Post.  That’s, like, a serious news thing, isn’t it?

Well, apparently not today.

Oddly enough, amongst all the breathless excitement of the Internet at this brand-new image straight from NASA, the one place the image doesn’t seem to crop up is, well, nasa.gov.

Where similar images do appear is in a file called Eagleworks Laboratories: Warp Field Physics – a PDF file full of highly technical-sounding language and pictures that range from the immensely complex and sciency-looking…

No. I’ve told you before: oscillate your own damn bubble intensity.

…to apparent advertising:

While the pages of this file don’t carry any apparent dating, Dr Harold “Sonny” White apparently appeared at the – ahem – ‘Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress 2013’, where he spoke on ‘Warp Field Physics: An Update’.  2013.  Not terribly recent in Internet terms.

In 2012, Gizmodo carried an item entitled, ‘NASA Starts Work on Real Life Star Trek Warp Drive’, featuring the work of one Dr Harold “Sonny” White, who said:

‘Perhaps a Star Trek experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility.’

Well, here’s hoping.  It’s not that I don’t want to believe NASA actually have someone working on the Alcubierre drive – the favoured method of FTL travel, which would make a reality the notion from Frank Herbert’s Dune of ‘travelling without moving’.  The Alcubierre drive is a ‘warp drive’ in the literal sense: it works by expanding and contracting space-time behind and in front of the ship, making it possible for the ship to move from A to B whilst remaining stationary inside a bubble of local space-time.

The Great Law of Physics isn’t in fact nothing can travel faster than light; it’s nothing can travel faster than light speed in local space.  And that’s a big difference.  It’s why galaxies, which are generally moving apart, can – if they’re far enough apart already – recede from each other at a combined speed faster than light: as long as they’re not doing it local to each other, there’s no breach of the rules.  (That in turn is why there’s a limit to the ‘observable universe’ – some galaxies are so far away, and moving away from us so quickly, that their light can’t ever reach us; so we’ll never see them.)

Dr Harold “Sonny” White (this is invariably how his full name is presented) may well be onto something.  I’d like to think he is.  I’d like to think that the ho-hum naysayers will be made to eat their nays, and that humanity is but a few months away from zipping around the universe at ludicrous speed.  But I don’t see any reason to think we’re significantly closer than when Dr White asked Star Trek artists to create an artist’s impression of what an Alcubierre ship might look like:

“Might look like” versus “NASA currently working on”.  Not the same thing.

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