MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: Was curious as to whether it is possible to 'warp' space?

Date: Fri Oct 15 12:57:21 1999
Posted By: Todd Whitcombe, Faculty, Chemistry, University of Northern British Columbia
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 936056707.As

Oh, boy, what a big question! I haven't read the article in Popular Science
so please bear this in mind with respect to the following answer. And it
really is a question of what you have in mind by the term "warp" - the
Star Trek/Star Wars concept of whizzing through hyper-space or whatever
to get from one location to another faster than the speed of light or the
forcing of space to yield up what is not normally there?

Is it likely that we will see warp engines and warp drives? No. Not from
the sort of work that is presently be performed.

Is it possible to force energy out of the vacuum? Yes. But only for a 
little while. My old physical chemistry professor used to paraphrase the
three laws of thermodynamics as:

You can't win.
You can't even break even.
And you can't quit the game.

In those terms, they sound more like a description of a poker game with
some unsavory characters than fundamental laws of the Universe but the
point is, if I may add an interpretation, "you can't get something for 
nothing". The Universe doesn't allow it - on the grand scale.

But physicists have managed to get around this for very short periods of
time by creating virtual particles and anti-particles or even particles and 
anti-particles. In essence, you cheat the Universe out of both positive and 
negative energy with the result that the average is still "zero". By 
creating particle pairs, physicists don't violate the law of conservation
of energy or parity or anything else. 

Within space, within the harsh vacuum, lies energy that can be teased out
to give pairs of particles. Space can be made to give up something that
wasn't there. Energy can be obtained from nothing. Space is being warped.
Unfortunately, the lifetime of these particle pairs is extremely short as
matter and anti-matter annihilate each other to give energy.

Of course, the problem is that presently, as the laws of physics are 
constructed, it takes a tremendous amount of energy - much more than is 
realized in the particles created - to do the experiment. Yes, you can
warp space but it costs. It is like paying $100 to buy a penny - not much
of a deal unless that penny is very rare and valuable. This, of course, is
why the big accelerators operate. They are looking for the valuable 

But warping space for faster-than-light travel? Not yet. It is just a movie

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