Han Solo and Chewbacca to punch the hyperdrive in “Star Wars” to the speed of light. Why do we really have?
With the opening of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on Dec. 15, more than likely you will see at least one ship using hyperspace drive to travel faster than the speed of light. It is a staple of the ‘Star Wars’ universe, dating back to the first movie in 1977, when Han Solo and his loyal band of mercenaries with zip between the stars with the help of the Millennium Falcon.
But is this hyperspace drive really a thing? You can go faster than the speed of light? Just like everything else in physics, the answer is complicated. The bottom line is maybe, but only if we can figure out how to get around a number of technical obstacles. [“Star Wars” Spaceships: Vehicles from a Galaxy far, far Away]
The speed limit
The first problem with a hyperspace drive is something with the mass of a spaceship, the people, the Wookiees – can’t go faster than the speed of light without the fancy physics (we’ll get to in a moment.) That is a rule of Einstein’s Special theory of Relativity. Simply put, the problem is your Millennium Falcon would acquire an infinite mass when it approaches lightspeed. That would mean that you would need an infinite amount of energy to move – even more than the amount of energy that is used to blow up Alderaan. So that’s a no-go.
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Einstein’s Special theory of Relativity
The Alcubierre drive
But there is nothing in the equations of Einstein that ban you from bending the space to go faster than the speed of light. As you probably know, in our ordinary world we live in has three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. (Some physicists call this the space-time.) The atmosphere of the space itself – and has traveled faster than the speed of light. For example, shortly after the Big Bang that formed our universe, the space-time itself expanded (or inflated) faster than the speed of light.
The Alcubierre drive is a concept that makes use of the bending of the space around a ship to go superfast – even faster than the speed of light. There are still many problems with the concept, so it only exists as a mathematical idea. In theory, the disk would cause space-time to contract in front of the spaceship, and the space-time would expand behind.
In separate interviews with Space.com, physicists Eric Davis (on EarthTech International) and Gerald Cleaver (Baylor University) independently of the phenomenon to a surfer on a wave. Imagine that the surfboard is a starship; the surfer is the crew. The surfer is (relatively) still on their surfboard while the wave moves in the direction of the coast. In the same way, a spaceship would still remain in the space-time, while the space-time distortion around. [Warp Speed? The Hype of Hyperspace]
Alcubierre drive limitations
But there are lots of problems that physicists need to figure out before we can use the Millennium Falcon to escape Kylo Ren. Cleaver, looked into a number of these issues in collaboration with Richard Obousy (who was his student and now works with Icarus Interstellar) and Jeff Lee (who is also from Baylor.)
The problem starts with putting the Falcon in the ignition. “The amount of energy to start the process would have to be on part with the total mass-energy of the planet Jupiter,” Cleaver said in an interview. “There are proposals for alternatives, however, and if you have that process, that is a technical problem.” (Davis said that the mass requirements of the reach of the mass of the milky way to the mass of the sun, but the principle is still – it’s a lot of energy.)
But to say that you can overcome and start with your space-curves. The next problem is keeping the energy going. If the Alcubierre drive is approaching the speed of light, photons of the cosmic microwave background – the relic radiation from the start of our universe – will be included in the spaceship. That is bad news for both the spaceship and the occupants on board.
“That [photons] will radically blueshifted in the direction of the movement in the direction of the destination star,” Davis said in an interview, which means that the ship travels so fast that the photons will be compressed and their frequency will increase. “Then they will be super-intense radiation and kill everyone on board the spaceship.”
Meanwhile, the ship itself will begin to stall due to a problem with the space-time.
“There will be a constant loss of energy … as a result of the energy converted in the blueshift of photons,” Cleaver said. “There is a source of energy on board of the ship ( … ) to the balance of things, so that what energy is used for blueshifting to be provided to the front.” So under that model, you need a huge amount of energy – an amount that Cleaver did not think that it is technically feasible to produce.
A new hope?
Davis and Cleaver are employees, and Davis recently gave a presentation shared with the variations of the Alcubierre drive during a visit to Baylor. He mentioned some recent lecture of his – in search of a 2002 paper by C. B. Hart et al on the prepublishing site Arxiv, which often publishes paper during or for the peer review. It’s called “On the Problems of Hazardous Matter and Radiation Faster than Light Speeds in the Warp Drive Space-Time.” (Cleaver was not aware of the paper until recently and could not comment on it for this story.) [40 Surprising “Star Wars” Facts You Need To Know]
Heart makes use of work from his own team, and gives an overview of several other physicists, to indicate other problems with Alcubierre-drives. The one is the deadly potential for a ship, and even the Millennium Falcon as it strikes an asteroid or other object in the near of light-speed. Without some kind of shield, careening around the room to escape the dark side of the Force would be a bad idea.
Also, the radiation surrounding the Alcubierre drive would not allow the spacecraft to communicate with persons outside the bubble – so forget about telling your family that you are back on the planet for dinner. Worse still, the physics of the situation does not even allow you to send in the space-time to determine where you’re going.
But there are ways to use the equations to get to some of these issues, according to Hart and some of the other authors quoted in Hart’s paper.
Heart of the cites physicist Chris Van Den Broeck (with the National Institute for Subatomic Physics in the Netherlands), which is a modification of the Alcubierre warp drive. In an interview, Davis said that the math is too complicated to explain to a non-mathematician. But in essence, Van Den Broeck multiples of a mathematical function by a portion of the space-time metric that makes the warp drive. Result? It reduces the amount of energy needed for Alcubierre work. (In the case Van Den Broeck, it lowered the energy of the mass of the milky way to the mass of the sun. Still a big barrier, but definitely an improvement!)
Heart’s of the group or the more mathematical work and, in fact, an Alcubierre warp drive with a balloon around the bubble, according to Davis. Or in other words, a kind of a shield for the inhabitants within.
“The effect of the interior of the warp bubble is to cure the problems of the exterior of the warp bubble. You do not have the dangerous radiation, or the problem with the starship is not able to communicate with the outside universe,” he said. “It also drastically reduces the amount of negative energy to produce the warp drive.”
Davis cited several variations of how the bubble of the shield would work, but the result is the same – as long as you can get the Alcubierre drive to work, the shield could protect. Although, of course, more research is needed.
Tesseracting and EmDrive
If Alcubierre does not work, there are at least a number of other ways you might be able to get the Millennium Falcon through space, moves quickly and effectively.
The first is a wormhole , which is a theoretical connection between two points in space. (Some researchers say that this could be done by means of a black hole, but no one noticed it anyway.) A classic example of how a wormhole works is explained in the Madeleine L’Engle’s book “A Wrinkle in Time” (1962), which will be retold in the film in 2018.
In the book, the girl Meg learns about a concept, a so-called “tesseract”, which the book also refers to a “wrinkle in time.” Meg is asked to take a picture of an ant marching along a sheet of paper. The sheet of paper for the time. You can shorten the ant way by folding the paper to fold space-time itself.
“If we have people to do this, it is difficult to wrap our minds about how this works. We have intuition for a 3-D world and can’t imagine a 4-D,” approved Patrick Johnson, a physics researcher at Georgetown University and the author of the 2017 book “The Physics of Star Wars.”
The problem is, he added, that a wormhole bends space-time, which generates a lot of energy. In the movie “Interstellar” (2014), the ship entered a wormhole near Saturn. “If a wormhole was near Saturn, that would tear Saturn tattered,” Johnson said, adding that the amount of energy needed is very large.”
Another option is the EmDrive , a concept tested by NASA researchers and others who would be able to make it travel through space much faster. We’re not going to deep into the physics on this drive, but it essentially bounces microwaves around in a chamber and appears (in one way or another) to create thrust . Many researchers say that this is in conflict with the laws of physics, although EmDrive has been tested by several groups and is the subject of at least one peer-reviewed paper. NASA EmDrive researcher Harold “Sonny” White’s schedule does not allow for an interview prior to the deadline for this story had passed.
But if hyperspace is possible in real life, it sure is a lot of fun to play with in science fiction. “Star Wars” of course it is not only in the proposals of travel faster than the speed of light . Variants of warp speed are a staple of the franchises such as “Star Wars,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Farscape” and, of course, “Doctor Who”, with his famous TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space).
Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook and Google+ . Original article on Space.com .