In Episode 3 we look at the concept of warp drives, a theoretical type of spaceship propulsion that warps spacetime to allow faster than light travel. We discuss the basic concept and the scientific and technological hurdles to developing it, along with clearing up many of the myths about it.
"the last calculations on this I've seen for that maximum (speed limit) let you jump between galaxies on timescales so short you'd need an atomic clock to measure them."
Ref: Alcubierre, Miguel. The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity. arXiv (1994) | arxiv.org/pdf/gr-qc/0009013v1
It is shown how, within the framework of general relativity and without the introduction of wormholes, it is possible to modify a spacetime in a way that allows a spaceship to travel with an arbitrarily large speed. By a purely local expansion of spacetime behind the spaceship and an opposite contraction in front of it, motion faster than the speed of light as seen by observers outside the disturbed region is possible. The resulting distortion is reminiscent of the “warp drive” of science fiction. However, just as it happens with wormholes, exotic matter will be needed in order to generate a distortion of spacetime like the one discussed here.
Ref: Finazzi, Liberati, Barceló. Semiclassical instability of dynamical warp drives. arXiv (14 July 2009) | arxiv.org/pdf/0904.0141v2
Warp drives are very interesting configurations in general relativity: At least theoretically, they provide a way to travel at superluminal speeds, albeit at the cost of requiring exotic matter to exist as solutions of Einstein’s equations. However, even if one succeeded in providing the necessary exotic matter to build them, it would still be necessary to check whether they would survive to the switching on of quantum effects. Semiclassical corrections to warp-drive geometries have been analyzed only for eternal warp-drive bubbles traveling at fixed superluminal speeds. Here, we investigate the more realistic case in which a superluminal warp drive is created out of an initially flat spacetime. First of all we analyze the causal structure of eternal and dynamical warp-drive spacetimes. Then we pass to the analysis of the renormalized stress-energy tensor (RSET) of a quantum field in these geometries. While the behavior of the RSET in these geometries has close similarities to that in the geometries associated with gravitational collapse, it shows dramatic differences too. On one side, an observer located at the center of a superluminal warp-drive bubble would generically experience a thermal flux of Hawking particles. On the other side, such Hawking flux will be generically extremely high if the exotic matter supporting the warp drive has its origin in a quantum field satisfying some form of quantum inequalities. Most of all, we find that the RSET will exponentially grow in time close to, and on, the front wall of the superluminal bubble. Consequently, one is led to conclude that the warp-drive geometries are unstable against semiclassical backreaction.