Not too long ago, Elon Musk announced his intention to create the first-ever space warp bubble. In layman’s terms, that means that he plans to develop a way to build super-fast transportation capabilities for humans in space, using nothing but existing technology and no new inventions needed at all.
His announcement has stirred up quite the controversy among many other space companies, who are worried about what this will mean for the future of space travel and scientific innovation in general. What do you think? Will this be good or bad? Should Elon be allowed to pursue this project?
What is a Warp Bubble?
In general relativity, a warp bubble is a speculative structure that exists for a brief time inside of an artificially created wormhole. The term was coined by Charles W. Misner in his popular book Gravitation (1973). It describes a distortion in spacetime created by concentrations of mass/energy such as planet/sun centers and laser beams. Wormholes are space-time tunnels that have been explored in numerous films, including Interstellar. If a technology capable of man-made wormholes is ever developed, then all speculation about warp bubbles and what they could mean for humanity will become fact. Until then, it remains science fiction–but it sure is fun to think about!
A warp bubble is a theoretical phenomenon that would occur when something passes through a warp bubble generator. That might sound like something out of science fiction, but it’s not hard to imagine such a generator at some point in humanity’s future. The technology is called Quantum Vacuum Plasma Wakefield Acceleration (QVPWA), and could conceivably be used to propel objects great distances without actually moving them through space.
Warp Bubble- In order for QVPWA to work, there needs to be an input laser that provides enough energy for making warp bubbles, with pulses around 10 picoseconds long. The most powerful laser in existence today is LASER, located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Its power is 500 trillion watts—500 terawatts–and its pulses are only 2 picoseconds long. For comparison, a picosecond is one-millionth of a billionth of a second, so these pulses aren’t even near what would be needed for creating warp bubbles. That said, scientists and engineers are already looking into ideas for creating lasers more powerful than LASER.
How will this Warp Drive work?
The physics involved are complex, but Dr. Harold Sonny White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center provided a highly detailed explanation of how it will work back in 2013. The spacecraft will create its own warp bubble around itself that expands space behind it and contracts space in front of it. The result is faster-than-light travel without all those pesky time dilation issues that arise from traveling at such speeds (though it could allow you to reach distant destinations quickly). Since relativity applies to everything inside a warp bubble as well, passengers would experience time as passing normally within their frame of reference while everything outside would see them moving faster than lightspeed.
Although Dr. White is a key member of NASA’s team to develop faster-than-light travel and has performed numerous experiments on plasma, he is not working alone on a warp drive or warp bubble. NASA collaborated with American engineer Guido Fetta and British astrophysicist Dr. Ronan O’Flaherty to create one of their own, with positive results so far (though these haven’t been peer-reviewed). They’ve also just secured funding for more research from a Russian billionaire in addition to other investors, which means we could see another breakthrough soon. In fact, if enough money can be raised, Dr. White believes that we could see human spaceflight using his warp bubbles within two decades!
Negative Public Opinion
Most people won’t get what Elon Musk is trying to do, though, and that’s part of why there’s such a negative public opinion about his creation. The Warp Bubble is really just another name for a wormhole—or at least it will be once Musk is finished refining his plans. A lot of people have viewed space as an uncharted territory or some sort of mystical place, which has led them to believe that anything out there must be supernatural in origin. But that couldn’t be further from reality; in fact, one could argue that man doesn’t fully understand nature here on Earth let alone space and time! By playing with wormholes, we may just learn a thing or two about our own planet!
Much of that is likely due to our general ignorance about space and science in general. We’ve managed to reach other planets, but we don’t understand how black holes work or what dark matter is. As much as some may think it’s foolish to try and build a warp bubble, it could lead to new technology that we can use here on Earth. Musk has said that he will eventually open up his research to anyone who wants it, which means we may soon see similar projects being carried out by others who are more focused on money than scientific discovery.
Other Reasons Why It May Not Happen
Beyond some of these purely technical issues, though, there’s another reason that a real warp bubble may never be created.
Namely, how would you create it? In order to create one of these bubbles around an object, you’d need a tremendous amount of energy and have to produce it as quickly as possible. This is only possible if you already have an incredibly powerful generator on hand—but in order to build that generator in the first place, you’d need exactly what a wormhole could provide: superconductivity (which again requires a wormhole) or antimatter. Antimatter sounds like something from science fiction, but it actually exists—physicists at CERN have successfully made particles of antimatter called antiprotons.
You can’t create a powerful warp bubble in a lab and then throw antimatter into it—that’s just not how it works. To get there, you first need antimatter on hand that you can produce superconductivity with (which again requires a wormhole). In other words, to create one of these things in real life would require having all three technologies—and all of them at an incredibly high level of maturity—simultaneously. Since these are still emerging technologies, we may never be able to produce an actual warp bubble. It may simply be impossible for us to do so for logistical reasons.
Positive Effects on Earth
Many, especially those living near Cape Canaveral in Florida (where Elon Musk will create his first-ever warp bubble), are wondering what effects all of these subatomic particles being fired into space might have on our planet. And though we don’t have solid evidence as to how they’ll affect us at ground level, most agree that it’s probably better to err on the side of caution; I mean, who wouldn’t want to live a few extra years? But if you’re convinced that there could be some sort of unforeseen harm associated with firing particles into space, don’t worry—there are negative implications too. Long story short: Elon Musk won’t be able to use his warp bubble for quite some time; and when he does?
Oh, and in case you were wondering: no, he isn’t doing all of these things because he wants to make life better for those living on Earth. While it’s definitely a nice side effect, his primary goal is actually to advance our understanding of how we can eventually become a multi-planetary species. In other words: as crazy as some may think it sounds—it may very well be possible for us to one day live on other planets. That’s right: perhaps in just a few decades, we’ll have colonies on Mars or maybe even Alpha Centauri!
But before any of that can happen, we need to first figure out how to travel faster than our current speed limit: light speed. Think about it: as of now, it takes us approximately eight minutes for NASA’s New Horizons probe to reach Pluto from Earth—and that was traveling at about 35,000 miles per hour! Clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of space exploration. To be fair though, I suppose you could say that with all he has going on right now (among them taking Tesla public and building reusable rockets), Elon Musk is doing an impressive job staying focused on his goal; even if no one really knows exactly when his warp bubble will become a reality.
Final Thoughts on Wrap Bubble
Could it really be possible to create a warp bubble in space? Everyone seems to have an opinion about Musk’s latest endeavor, but for now, there is only one way to find out if a warp bubble can really exist: get busy planning. The first test of The Spaceship will take place in 2019 and you can bet some very smart people are hard at work behind closed doors trying to figure out how exactly to make it happen. Elon has an interesting talent for getting us talking about his ideas and dreaming up what they could mean, whether they turn out to be fact or fiction.
We should all be interested in what happens next because a real warp bubble would certainly have profound implications for our planet. Scientists still aren’t sure if it could actually happen but when Elon puts his mind to something there is always something to learn. Could wrapping space create wormholes or other types of matter? It will be fascinating to see what types of scientific discoveries come out of making a wrap bubble in space and whether humanity can harness these cosmic phenomena to open new doors and travel vast distances more quickly than ever before. Even if it doesn’t work out quite as we expect, we have plenty to look forward to from The Spaceship Company nonetheless.
As innovators continue to think about ways we can get off Earth, innovations that make space affordable will change society and make way for an interplanetary human race. Ingenuity and determination are powerful things! What does your ideal vision of mankind’s future in space look like
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