Warp Drives: Physicists Give Chances Of Faster-Than-Light Space Travel A Boost

The closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri. It is about 4.25 light-years away, or about 25 trillion miles (40 trillion kilometers). The fastest spacecraft, the current Space Parker Solar Probe, will reach a maximum speed of 450,000 miles per hour.

It would take just 20 seconds to travel from Los Angeles to New York City at this speed, but the solar probe would take about 6,633 years to reach the nearest neighboring solar system. If humanity ever wants to travel easily between stars, people have to go faster than light. So far, light to fast travel is only possible in science fiction.

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series, humanity can travel from planet to planet, from stars to stars, or around the world using drives. As a kid, I used to read as many stories as I could. I am now a theoretical physicist and studying nanotechnology, but I am fascinated by the way humanity can one day travel in space. Some characters – like astronauts from the movies “Interstellar” and “Thor” – use worm holes to travel through the solar system in seconds. Familiar with “Star Trek” fans – another method is warp drive technology.

Warp drives are theoretically possible if the technology is still very far away. Two recent research papers were titled in March when researchers claimed to have overcome one of the many challenges that stand between the theory of warp drive and the theory of reality. But how does this theoretical warp drives work? And will people soon jump at the speed of warp anytime soon? 

Physicists’ current understanding of spacetime comes from Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. General relativity says that space and time travel freely and nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. General relativity further explains how warm spacetime of mass and energy – huge objects like stars and black holes – have a spacetime curve around them. 

This curvature makes you think of gravity and why so many spacefaring heroines think about getting “stuck” or falling into the “good” of gravity. What if a starship could shrink space in front of it while increasing spacetime behind it? “Star Trek” took this idea and named it Warp Drive.