The annihilating effects of space travel

Mar 12, 2012
"It sounds like it's straight from science fiction, and in a way it is," said Professor Geraint Lewis (right), seen here with Brendan McMonigal.

Long distance space travel could create the ultimate 'killer entrance', devastating your destination and anything around the arriving spacecraft, according to calculations by Professor Geraint Lewis and two honours students from the University of Sydney.

The University of Sydney team is the first to publish on the effects of theoretical using an Alcubierre warp drive, in the leading journal of the American Physical Society, Physical Review D.

The Alcubierre warp drive is a theoretical tool that would allow to travel in space rapidly by deforming the space-time continuum in a bubble around the .

Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican physicist, proposed this warp drive in 1994 as a way to travel faster than light, overcoming the limit on particles travelling at such speeds posed by Einstein's .

"When the spacecraft decelerates to stop at its destination, the particles collected at the front of the spacecraft are released with such high-energy that they would destroy anything they came in contact with. During the journey the particles picked up and included inside the bubble could threaten the safety of people travelling in the spacecraft," said Professor Geraint Lews from the School of Physics.

Brendan McMonigal and Philip O'Byrne, who completed their Bachelor of Science with Honours in Physics in 2011 and 2010 respectively, both worked with Professor Lewis, their supervisor.

"It sounds like it's straight from science fiction, and in a way it is, as the Alcubierre warp drive is a theoretical solution to the problem of travelling the huge distances in space in a reasonable amount of time," said Professor Lewis. "But unlike science fiction, the Alcubierre warp drive completely obeys Einstein's ."

"All innovations start with theory, however, so these calculations contribute to our understanding of how such speeds could be achieved. Our team decided to consider what would happen to particles and radiation that a spacecraft, travelling in a bubble created by the Alcubierre warp drive, would come across as it travelled through space," explained Professor Lewis.

"What we've shown is that when this spacecraft decelerated to arrive at its destination, it would release high energy particles which would destroy anything near the spacecraft's landing spot."

While scientists have examined how it's theoretically possible to create a bubble around a spacecraft with the Alcubierre warp drive compressing space-time in front of the bubble and expanding it behind the bubble, there has been little consideration of how this high-speed bubble would interact with particles of matter and light.

"Our calculations show that particles that come in contact with the warp bubble can get caught up and congregate in front of the spacecraft, and some even enter the warp bubble," said Professor Lewis.

Brendan McMonigal, one of the honours students working on the research, said, "Interestingly, the energy burst released upon arriving at the destination does not have an upper limit. You can just keep on traveling for longer and longer distances and the energy that will be released will continue to increase - one of the odd effects of General Relativity."

"Even for very short journeys the energy released is so large that you would completely obliterate anything in front of you," said Brendan.

"It seems that human exploration of the universe will have to wait until we've worked out how to avoid the destructive deceleration of a spacecraft in an Alcubierre warp drive bubble."

While the study may seem like a fun theoretical consideration, exploring the implications of Einstein's is significant and has all sorts of practical uses, such as relativity correctors for GPS systems, found in virtually all smartphones, that correct for the time difference between the ground and satellite.

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User comments : 34

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Smellyhat
5 / 5 (7) Mar 12, 2012
It is almost as if you would need to have some sort of Bussard collector mounter on the leading end of each of your warp nacelles.
luinil
5 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2012
Looks like we'll need a deflector in our faster than light ships.
thingumbobesquire
3 / 5 (10) Mar 12, 2012
By the "time" we have conquered matter-antimatter reactions for space travel, "time" will be "bio-relative" because we will have a lifespan that is much greater than our 80 years or so of today. So that all these ideas of what is the length of a reasonable trip to another sector of our universe will have dissolved.

antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (10) Mar 12, 2012
what if such a drive were to be stuttered?

I.e. have two layers of the bubble and alternate between turning them on and off at short intervals. The ship would always remain in at least one bubble, but each bubble would continually shed the accumulated energies.

The total energies would remain the same but the emission would be stretched over the entire time of the journey (and therfore probably within the realm of being shielded.

...just speculating here.
gwrede
3.3 / 5 (12) Mar 12, 2012
This exact same article was here a couple of weeks ago.

And already then, somebody stated the obvious: aim to slow down next to the planet. This will cause all bad things to be directed away from the planet.
Raygunner
5 / 5 (5) Mar 12, 2012
It sounds like a very effective weapon if it could be militarized.
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2012
And already then, somebody stated the obvious: aim to slow down next to the planet. This will cause all bad things to be directed away from the planet.

But since the radiation will be going in all directions it'll fry you no matter where you slow down.
yoatmon
5 / 5 (4) Mar 12, 2012
In accordance with Einstein's TOR, it appears obvious that a method must be found and implemented to convert all the accumulated energy inside the bubble to supply the "Warp Drive" of the spaceship. If the accumulated energy equals the supply energy then both problems are solved. Constant feeding to the drive should prevent accumulation on the other side. No?
Nik_2213
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2012
Perhaps have a doubled bubble as a limaçon of Pascal ? Ship rides within the inner part ? http://en.wikiped...%C3%A7on
( Sadly, that's doubly impossible with even extrapolated tech...)
perrycomo
1 / 5 (8) Mar 12, 2012
When you would have a steering wheel in this warp ship then you would cruise the universe blindfolded , you would absolutely have no idea where you are going to and what is in your way and probably end up in black hole . How can you navigate a ship with a speed of a million km per second and get information with the speed of light . lol.
MrGrynch
2 / 5 (8) Mar 12, 2012
Or.. you could steal from science fiction and use a rotating warp field (Star Trek). Particles would be accelerated around the bubble rather than aggregating in front of it. It would be something like a vacuum "breast stroke". A deflector would be needed in any case to deflect any particles away from the front of the aircraft and steer them away toward the outer rotating fields.
MrVibrating
3.2 / 5 (11) Mar 12, 2012
..so, maybe gamma-ray bursts are just alien ships braking in our direction..
BradynStanaway
5 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2012
When you would have a steering wheel in this warp ship then you would cruise the universe blindfolded , you would absolutely have no idea where you are going to and what is in your way and probably end up in black hole . How can you navigate a ship with a speed of a million km per second and get information with the speed of light . lol.


It's relativistic inside the bubble, you could still see information perfectly fine, but you would have no new information entering the bubble (eg. Coordinates).

Solution: Plan ahead, plot your course and go with it.
rbrtwjohnson
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2012
By now, a solution is to replace the warp drive in front of the spaceship by magnetic deflectors, and use warp drives behind the spaceship to achieve subluminal speeds just for interplanetary missions. http://www.youtub...wyr5Udzw
jyro
1 / 5 (7) Mar 12, 2012
store the particles and power your phasers
PoppaJ
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 12, 2012
wrong wrong wrong wrong! If a Particle could collect at the front of the "bubble" during travel It would need to loose its inertial energy. It would not matter weather the ship was in transit or not. It would have 0 inertial energy either way. Its how the ship itself doesn't become the killer.
Sacrelicious
5 / 5 (4) Mar 12, 2012
It's relativistic inside the bubble, you could still see information perfectly fine, but you would have no new information entering the bubble (eg. Coordinates).

Solution: Plan ahead, plot your course and go with it.


But if the distance we're traveling is vast, say a star system 100 million light years away, then our plot was made from observing the position of the star as seen from Earth. But that's where the star was 100 million years ago, so we'd have to point the ship to where it is now (assuming that it still exists, of course). More importantly, a way needs to be devised for plotting the way home as all the star positions will look completely different from the perspective of the destination, and since there's no fixed reference for navigating in the Universe (such as a North Pole, magnetic or otherwise) it means as large a map as possible of all observable star positions would have to be made constantly during the trip to maximize the probability of making it back.
Sacrelicious
4 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2012
I guess my point is that it seems to me like the deal breaker for interstellar travel will probably be navigation, not the physics of FTL/warp drives. Frank Herbert handled the problem well in Dune, but I'm not sure his solution is viable (but hey, we never know 'til we try...).
stealthc
1.4 / 5 (9) Mar 12, 2012
this is retarded. Try "thinnin" the ether. If you thin the fabric of space you increase the cosmological constant of C and therefore can travel faster. This can be achieved using a metamaterial hull, see creating photons from nothing, where as you are "thinning" the ether around you by liberating virtual photons. Using photonics these photons can create a differential between the side of the ship that is facing away the destination, and the side that is facing and travelling towards. Any particles accumulated would have a propensity in a strong enough field to decay faster and would become part of the virtual field. That is how a real "warp" bubble is formed, whatever these people are talking about they aren't examining the density perturbations of vacuum energy caused by this theoretical device.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (5) Mar 12, 2012
I don't see a solution to FTL or lightspeed travel. The physical mechanism behind lightspeed limitation are the high-frequency phase waves at the Plank limit. Going near lightspeed your Doppler shift grows beyond the Plank scale. The Doppler effect could have only a miniscule braking effect, unless the doppler shift grows so big that it makes a frequency shift on the scale of D(fplanck). That only happens near the speed of light.
AtomThick
4 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2012
In the 19th century it was prooved that trains can't travel at speeds grater than 60km/h because everybody inside will suffocate due to lack of air.
perrycomo
1 / 5 (6) Mar 13, 2012
at Sacrelicius
Why would you or any one else wants to go back to planet earth after a trip of 100 million lightyears ? do you think there will be family waiting for you ?
Sacrelicious
1 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2012
at Sacrelicius
Why would you or any one else wants to go back to planet earth after a trip of 100 million lightyears ? do you think there will be family waiting for you ?


Well, with a warp drive the whole point is that it makes the trip real fast, and if it's fast enough then someone on Earth wouldn't perceive much time passing between your departure and return (my impression is that your family wouldn't age faster relative to your perception of time if you were traveling in a warp bubble).

Besides, if nobody ever returned then how would we know it actually worked? We couldn't use the radio to ask and without a way of verifying that any ship and the people in them weren't simply obliterated when they flipped the switch then we might end up sending all our astronauts to wherever it is we go when we're obliterated by popping warp bubbles.

And it can be real nice here on Earth, so if we go somewhere that turns out to suck then we'll probably want to come back.
Blakut
1 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2012
What if you make unmanned alcubierre powered drones, and put them on a course. When they stop, total annihilation! The perfect weapon? Like a long distance "ballistic" missile? The enemy won't even SEE it coming!
tkjtkj
5 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2012
..so, maybe gamma-ray bursts are just alien ships braking in our direction..

Good one!!!!
Xynos21
1 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2012
I guess my point is that it seems to me like the deal breaker for interstellar travel will probably be navigation, not the physics of FTL/warp drives.

All bodies in space move in a very predictable manner. I'm sure during an age of warp drives the technology necessary to detect not only where but also when we are in space will be child's play.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2012
But if the distance we're traveling is vast, say a star system 100 million light years away, then our plot was made from observing the position of the star as seen from Earth.

You could just go in the general direction for a while. Stop. Revise course. Rinse. Repeat.

Then again: It's not exactly rocket science to preplan where stars are 'now' of which we observe only light that was sent millions of years in the past.
(The concept of 'now' is iffy, anyways, in a universe where realtivity reigns)

I guess my point is that it seems to me like the deal breaker for interstellar travel will probably be navigation

The universe isn't THAT fluid. Stuff can be preplotted and trajectories of stars can predicted. But yes: you would constantly need to update your maps - but not to the point where a map 'now' is completely unrecognizable from one a hundred thousand years ago
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2012
Why would you or any one else wants to go back to planet earth after a trip of 100 million lightyears ? do you think there will be family waiting for you ?

The point of the Alcubierre drive is that you are not limited to the speed of light (without actually exceeding it - the ship itself does not 'move' at all - only the space does. And space is not limited to light speed). With such a drive you could traverse the galaxy and come back far faster than a beam of light could.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (6) Mar 15, 2012
Maybe the equivalency principle offers an answer. You can neither create nor destroy matter/energy, but you can convert one into the other at a given ratio. Maybe there's a way to use the energy to "create" matter, so there wouldn't be any energy to release.

Again looking at the conservation of energy/mass, whatever you power source is, it would need to generate power at least equal to the power in the "blast" you get when you stop, over the course of your journey. (whatever the word "course" means in this context, lol)
MarkyMark
3 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2012
Would make a war between opposing planets very short wont it with those particle death waves?
MorituriMax
5 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2012
Of course this all assumes that the alcubierre drive will actually work like that if they ever make one. I would imagine if you could develop the advanced technology to make it, they could also make something that solves that problem or uses those particles for some beneficial effect.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Mar 18, 2012
Why not stop near a black hole, aimed in the direction of the hole itself, but outside the radius ?

Wouldn't that absorb the accumulated energy ?
rwinners
1 / 5 (3) Mar 19, 2012
Hmm... particles accumulate within the bubble....
well, what about the particles behind the spacecraft?
Two birds with one stone...
Valik
Mar 19, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2012
Why not stop near a black hole, aimed in the direction of the hole itself, but outside the radius ?

Well, if you've planned an itinerary that gets to be THAT close to a black hole you may have other problems.

Would make a war between opposing planets very short wont it

Why would you want to live on planets by the time you can travel the universe?
And what for would you wage a war on someone halfway accross the galaxy (or even in the same solar system)?

it would need to generate power at least equal to the power in the "blast" you get when you stop

Not really, since the blast is composed of the 'collected energy' (i.e. from radiation and particles you encounter en route which become trapped in the frontal part of the bubble.)

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