12 August 2008

String Theory Faster-Than-Light Drive Proposed

by Kate Melville

Physicists Gerald Cleaver and Richard Obousy, of Baylor University, believe they have come up with a new method for a spaceship to travel faster than the speed of light without breaking the laws of physics. They theorize that by manipulating the extra spatial dimensions of string theory around a spaceship with an extremely large amount of energy, it would create a "bubble" that could cause the ship to travel faster than the speed of light.

String theorists believe that there are a total of 10 dimensions; length, width, breadth and time being the ones we are familiar with, along with six other dimensions that we cannot yet identify because of their incredibly small size. The Baylor physicists believe that manipulating the 10th spatial dimension postulated in string theory would alter the dark energy in three large spatial dimensions: height, width and length. Cleaver said positive dark energy is currently responsible for speeding up the expansion rate of our universe as time moves on, just like it did after the Big Bang, when the universe expanded much faster than the speed of light for a very brief time.

The new method is based on the Alcubierre drive, which proposes expanding the fabric of space behind a ship and shrinking space-time in front of the ship. The ship would not actually move, rather the ship would sit in a bubble between the expanding and shrinking space-time dimensions. Since space would move around the ship, the theory does not violate Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which states that it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a massive object to the speed of light.

"Think of it like a surfer riding a wave," offered Cleaver, who co-authored a paper on the topic with Obousy. "The ship would be pushed by the spatial bubble and the bubble would be traveling faster than the speed of light."

Dreams of interstellar travel may need to be put on hold for the moment, however. Cleaver and Obousy estimate that the amount of energy needed to influence the extra dimension is equivalent to the entire mass of Jupiter being converted into pure energy for a ship measuring roughly 10 meters by 10 meters by 10 meters. "That is an enormous amount of energy," Cleaver said. "We are still a very long ways off before we could create something to harness that type of energy."

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Source: Baylor University