Imagine: you’ve traveled all the way across the galaxy to some faraway, potentially life-embracing planet orbiting a faraway star, only to obliterate your destination upon arrival. It’s a very real threat according to few physicists at the University of Sydney. It turns out that a spacecraft emerging from a so-called Alcubierre warp drive does so quite violently, releasing an accumulation of high energy particles that would annihilate anything in their path.
The Alcubierre warp drive--proposed by a Mexican physicist of the same name back in the 1990s--is a theoretical mechanism by which a spacecraft could deform the space-time continuum in a bubble around itself so it could travel faster than the speed of light while still staying within the parameters of special relativity. So a couple of honors students and their professor at the U. of Sydney School of Physics decided to take the Alcubierre warp drive for a theoretical spin. Their findings: there’s no soft landing at the other end of warp speed.It turns out that bending the space-time continuum has its hazards. During faster-than-light travel, particles that come in contact with this Alcubierre bubble get trapped and accumulate in front it. Some particles can even enter the warp bubble. There is an aggregating effect here, the physicists found, so the longer the bubble travels, the more particles accumulate in front of it.
When the spacecraft is finally decelerated at its destination, that energy is released all at once with such high energy that virtually anything they come in contact with would be instantly destroyed. The particles that wormed their way inside the bubble could also threaten the spacecraft itself. This could be handy if your cruiser drops out of warp speed in the midst of an asteroid field, but it also means that if you dropped out of warp too close to your destination planet you could inadvertently wipe it off the interstellar map. Don’t tell The Galactic Empire.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.