Can we finally break the speed of light? Nasa breakthrough suggests Star Trek’s ‘warp drives’ may not only be possible – but practical

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  • NASA suggests new model which could reduce energy  requirements for warp-speed travel from planet-sized to car-sized
  • ‘Humble experiments’ in laboratory could  lead to faster-than-light travel

By Eddie Wrenn

PUBLISHED:04:13 EST, 18  September 2012| UPDATED:07:27 EST, 18 September 2012

As we take our virgin steps into space, there  is one thing that could always put a cap on our ambitions.

Despite our desire to explore the stars, we  are limited by travelling at less than light speed – and even if we managed to  match that pace, we would still be listing our voyages from star to star in  years, centuries or millenia.

But, in what could be a huge breakthrough,  theorists from Nasa say there is ‘hope’ that we can achieve faster-than-light  travel, after physicists found a theoretical possibility for warp speed  travel.

Space time mapped out: Teams at NASA are exploring ways to warp the universe to enable faster than light travel. Pictured is a model of how a ship, enclosed in a space-time 'doughnut', could reach the starsSpace time mapped out: Teams at NASA are exploring ways  to warp the universe to enable faster than light travel. Pictured is a model of  how a ship, enclosed in a space-time ‘doughnut’, could reach the stars

While nothing can break the speed of light,  scientists have long considered the fantasy of warp speed travel, where  spaceships could bend space and time on itself to move through loopholes in  space.

Equations based on the laws of relativity  have allowed warp speed in theory: but the energy required to make it happen  would require the energy-mass of a Jupiter-sized planet.

Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre’s  theories are the most practical, mooting a ring around a sphere-shaped  spaceship, which would contract space in front of the ship, and expand space  behind it.

This would allow faster-than-light travel –  if astrophysicists could harness planet-sized energy or sip power from a  supernova.

Weighing 50,000 tonnes and powered by nuclear fusion the journey time would be close to 50 years.The 100 year star ship symposium is investigating  various means by which we can travel to the stars, hoping to find a happy medium  between practical and far-fetched methods

But according to,  Harold ‘Sonny’ White, from NASA’s Johnson  Space Center, told the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a gathering of scientists,  writers and philosophers in Houston, that new theories could allow Man to reach  such speeds with less energy.

He told his audience that, instead of  enclosing a space-ship in a space time-bubble, a craft could sit within a  ‘doughnut’ shape – which means the warp drive could be powered by a mass the  size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe – the equivalent size of a small  car.

He told ”The findings I presented  today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further  investigation.

‘The additional energy reduction realized by  oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy  looking at in the lab.’

White and his team are experimenting with a  mini-version of a warp drive in their laboratory, using laser to try to warp  space and time in miniature.

He said his ‘humble experiment’ was ‘trying  to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment,  to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million.’

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