One day, we could really boldly go where no man has gone before.
A common staple of most spacefaring science fiction franchises is the capacity for FTL, or “Faster-than-light,” travel. The most common example were the warp engines on the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, though there were similar concepts in things like Star Wars, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, and so forth. The notion of a manned vessel moving faster than the speed of light is purely in the realm of science fiction, of course, which is why just getting a probe to Mars is such an undertaking. But what if it didn’t have to be?
According to a research paper penned by astrophysicist Dr. Erik Lentz of Göttingen University in Germany and published in Classical and Quantum Gravity, FTL travel is technically possible, and even within the boundaries of conventional physics. Most sci-fi warp drives rely on undiscovered physics theories or wacky power sources, but according to Lentz, we may be looking at it the wrong way.
“This work has moved the problem of faster-than-light travel one step away from theoretical research in fundamental physics and closer to engineering,” Lentz said in a statement.
The concept of a warp drive relies on bending the fabric of space-time around a vessel to create a sort of bubble where the laws of physics are a little more wishy-washy. There’s a lot of metaphysical stuff to it, but the short version is that according to Lentz, such a device is technically possible, we just need a power source.
Scientific understanding of light speed as an absolute natural limit derives from Albert Einstein’s publications on special relativity in 1905. Read about how sci-fi authors have imagined faster-than-light travel: https://t.co/goat2n3To2 pic.twitter.com/ml5Sh8d3ia
— National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace) March 14, 2021
“The next step is to figure out how to bring down the astronomical amount of energy needed to within the range of today’s technologies, such as a large modern nuclear fission power plant. Then we can talk about building the first prototypes,” Lentz said.
This is all deeply theoretical stuff, and we’re probably not gonna get within striking distance of a tangible concept for decades, but the fact that it is possible at all is a promising first step. Who knows, maybe in a hundred years or so, maybe we can get to Mars in a week instead of several months.