By: Grace Helmke
It’s something out of a sci-fi novel. The thought of being able to travel at 670,616,629 miles per hour seems impossible. But is it really? Traversing the cosmos at the speed of light may not be as fictional as we once thought.
Understanding Einstein’s general theory of relativity
Einstein’s theory of general relativity is essential to this idea of traveling at the speed of light. He stated that gravity was a geometric distortion of spacetime which could not be predicted by Newton’s laws. Einstein defined spacetime as the dimension which time and space shared. It was the formation of a four dimensional continuum which was made up of space and time. It would look something like a piece of fabric. Each planet, star, or mass would make dips in it. Or, they would bend spacetime.
Relativity in space travel
Scientists have since been looking into light speed travel using various methods. In several projects, spanning all the way from 1950-1980, researchers discussed using nuclear fusion to propel a spacecraft, however they decided it might be best not to launch a nuclear warhead into space.
However, researchers have begun to follow in the footsteps of science fiction in an attempt to achieve light speed travel. Warp drive was a concept introduced on Star Trek, a television show from the 1960s about a space crew completing missions in the 23rd century. Warp drive essentially distorted the fabric of spacetime, allowing the crew to travel superluminally, or faster than the speed of light.
Einstein’s theories suggest that this is not a totally unheard of thought. In fact, it’s entirely possible. In 1994, a scientist named Miguel Alcubierre discovered what today is known as the Alcubierre Drive. Essentially, his theory was that it’s possible to bend space time in a way that contracts in front of you, and expands behind you, moving you in a forward motion.
This field of study is still largely unexplored. However, there have been some discoveries in recent years that have significantly contributed to its advancement. Scientists working at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) discovered naturally occurring gravitational waves. It confirmed Einstein’s predictions of relativity and proved that the basis for the warp drive exists in nature.
There are some problems that come along with this form of travel. It requires negative energy. This is an issue because we have no physical evidence that negative energy is real. At this point in time, it only exists in the laws of physics, and in quantum theory, which states that it’s possible to borrow energy from a vacuum at another location. It’s like borrowing money from a bank.
Another issue is the sheer amount of energy needed. Scientists believe that the total energy required to travel via warp drive would be equivalent to the mass of Jupiter. That is simply not in our capacity at this point in time. The production of that amount of energy will only come from the furthering of science and technology; well into the future. It’s not impossible, it’s just not in line with our current abilities.
So, is it possible that humanity may one day travel at the speed of light? Most likely, yes. It is probable that we may one day travel at astonishing speeds. Although we do not currently have the capacity to create the amount of energy needed, scientists are working to change that. We will one day achieve a seemingly fictional feat. One that may change our society forever.
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