|MadSci Network: Astronomy|
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 pennies. But warping space for faster-than-light travel? Not yet. It is just a movie trick.
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