Astrophysicist Eric Davis is one of the leaders in the field of faster-than-light (FTL) space travel. But for Davis, humanity's potential to explore the vastness of space at warp speed is not science fiction. Davis' latest study, "Faster-Than-Light Space Warps, Status and Next Steps" won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' (AIAA) 2013 Best Paper Award for Nuclear and Future Flight Propulsion. According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, an object with mass cannot go as fast or faster than the speed of light. However, some scientists believe that a loophole in this theory will someday allow humans to travel light-years in a matter of days. In current FTL theories, it's not the ship that's moving — space itself moves. It's established that space is flexible; in fact, space has been steadily expanding since the Big Bang.
By distorting the space around the ship instead of accelerating the ship itself, these theoretical warp drives would never break Einstein's special relativity rules. The ship itself is never going faster than light with respect to the space immediately around it. Davis's paper examines the two principle theories for how to achieve faster-than-light travel: warp drives and wormholes. The difference between the two is the way in which space is manipulated. With a warp drive, space in front of the vessel is contracted while space behind it is expanded, creating a sort of wave that brings the vessel to its destination. With a wormhole, the ship (or perhaps an exterior mechanism) would create a tunnel through spacetime, with a targeted entrance and exit. The ship would enter the wormhole at sublight speeds and reappear in a different location many light-years away.
The next question is: how to create these spacetime distortions that will allow vessels to travel faster than light? It's believed — and certain preliminary experiments seem to confirm — that producing targeted amounts of what's called "negative energy" would achieve the desired effect. According to Davis, one of the most promising methods for creating negative energy is called the Ford-Svaiter mirror. This is a theoretical device that would focus all the quantum vacuum fluctuations onto the mirror's focal line. Davis described a theoretical configuration of Ford-Svaiter mirrors that could enable FTL spaceflight: "For a traversable wormhole, it'll have to be separate Ford-Svaiter mirrors arranged in an array to create the wormhole and then a ship with mirrors attached to it to extend the wormhole to the destination star."
The concern there is how to target the wormhole's exit. According to our current understanding of physics, targeting the wormhole's exit is possible, but engineers have yet to figure out how to achieve it.
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