Scientists Get Serious in the Search for a Working Warp Drive

time warp, traveling at the speed of light with the colorful starburst
Scientists Get Serious in Search for Warp DriveArtur Debat - Getty Images
  • If humanity wants to be a spacefaring species, it needs to figure out how to travel faster than the speed of light.

  • Now, a new online toolkit — backed up by a $500,000 grant — will help engineers kickstart how humanity can achieve its faster-than-light dreams in reality.

  • This toolkit was created by Applied Physics, an international group of scientists, which hopes to also provide a "reality check" on warp drive concepts that rely on exotic physics.

The galaxy—let alone the universe—is a stunningly huge place. Containing anywhere from 100 billion to 400 billion stars (and by extension trillions of planets), the Milky Way is a stunning 100,000 light years across. That means a trans-galactic photon that just exited the Milky Way today likely began its journey when Homo sapiens had yet to migrate out of Africa, and that’s traveling at roughly 670 million miles per hour. Considering the velocity limitations of our rockets, it takes roughly half a human lifetime just to exit our solar system.

Simply put, if humans want to be a spacefaring species, we’re going to need something better than chemical — or even nuclear — rockets, and for decades, it’s science fiction that has held the answer. The most famous example is Star Trek, which relies on the power of its warp drive to traverse the galaxy in a fraction of the time. Galactic journeys that once took centuries could now be wrapped up in a couple of hours.

Scientists have longed for some sort of technology that can propel humans faster than what physics says is possible, and now a new online tool is helping engineers make a warp drive the sole property of Starfleet. Last week, Applied Physics, which is an international group of scientists and engineers, announced that they’d created an online toolkit for “analyzing warp drive spacetimes” called the “Warp Factory.”

This comes only a few years after a flurry of papers reported that constructing warp drives — built on the idea of spacetime-folding warp bubbles — could be theoretically possible. Warp Factory provides an online playground for researchers to test warp engine ideas.

“Physicists can now generate and refine an array of warp drive designs with just a few clicks, allowing us to advance science at warp speed," Gianni Martire, CEO of Applied Physics, said in a press statement. “Warp Factory serves as a virtual wind tunnel, enabling us to test and evaluate different warp designs. Science fiction is now inching closer to science fact.”

As Public Benefit Company, Applied Physics is ponying up $500,000 in potential grants for aspiring warp drive theorists. However, those grants come with a few caveats, mainly that the idea is to produce a physical warp drive based in classical relativity, which means not relying on “negative energy or superluminal matter” to make your time-bending engine work.

AP’s Christopher Helmerich, in an interview with The Debrief, also compared the Warp Factory as a “reality check” for warp drives as concepts can be analyzed in a comprehensive way and hopefully weed out ideas that have no chance of operating in the real world.

While a fully working warp drives has many hurdles to overcome, it’s a technology worth taking seriously. Because if humans have any hope of one day exploring distant stars, it’ll need the help of space-bending tech that the newly-minted Warp Factory hopes to nurture.

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