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Warp Speed: The Hype of Hyperspace


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ByElizabethHowell,Space.comContributor | April27,201612:26amET

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Hyperspacetravelisthepremisethatit'spossibletotravelatspeedsfasterthanthatoflightwhen
energyfromotherdimensionsisharnessed,andisanideamuchusedbysciencefictionwriters.
Onefamousexampleis"StarTrek,"wherethestarshipEnterprisejumpsfromstarsystemtostar
systemtovisitotherplanets.

"IfCaptainKirkwereconstrainedtomoveatthespeedofourfastestrockets,itwouldtakehima
hundredthousandyearsjusttogettothenextstarsystem,"saidSethShostak,anastronomerat
theSearchforExtraterrestrialIntelligence(SETI)InstituteinMountainView,Calif,ina2010

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6/22/2017 WarpSpeed:TheHypeofHyperspace

interviewwithSpace.com'ssistersiteLiveScience."Sosciencefictionhaslongpostulatedaway
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tobeatthespeedoflightbarriersothestorycanmovealittlemorequickly."

Butinreality,theconceptis"alotofhype,"Shostaksaid.
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Theconceptofhyperspacetravelisalsoknownashyperdrive,subspaceandwarpspeed.
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Butthedearthofresearchandscholarlydiscussiononthetransportationmethodmakeitmore
oftenaconvenientliterarydevicethanscientificpossibility,Shostaksaid.
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TheMillenniumFalconspaceshipmakesthe"jumptolightspeed"inthemovieStarWarsEpisodeIV:ANewHope.


Credit:20THCENTURYFOX

Other dimensions
Physicssuggeststhatshortcutsthroughspacedoexist,Shostaksaid.Thecurvednatureofspace
wasfirstproposedbyEinstein,andquicklyledtotheideaofawormhole:aportionofspacethat
curvesinonitself,connectingtwootherwisedistantpartsofspace.Aspacecraftcouldtheoretically
skipaheadtoadistantregionofspaceifitenterssuchawormholebetweenthetwolocations.

Asinourfamiliaruniverse,objectsinawormholewouldhavetotravelslowerthanthespeedof
light,which,inavacuumis186,282milespersecond(299,792kilometerspersecond).But,a
spaceshipcouldappeartohaveexceededthislimitbytravelingthroughawormholeandreaching
astarsystemthousandoflightsyearsawayinamatterofhours,forexample.

However,ouraccesstotheseinterspacefreewayswouldbelimitedbythesizeoftheportal.

"Wormholes,wethink,aremadeallthetimeonamicroscopiclevel,"Shostaksaid."Butthe
questionis,canweactuallyusethemfortransportation?"

Findingorcreatingawormholethat'sgoingtotherightplaceandscootingthroughitbeforeit
closesupandsmashesonetopiecesaretwounsolvedproblemsthatthelawsofphysicsdon't
clearlybarorallow.

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6/22/2017 WarpSpeed:TheHypeofHyperspace

Technically,itwouldbepossibletowarpspacetocreatewormholeifonecouldplaceaverydense
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pieceofmassinfrontoftheirrocketship,Shostaksaid.Perhapssimilartothe"hyperspace
engine"seenintheStarWarsmovies,theobjectwoulddistorttheshapeofspacearoundit,
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essentiallybringingthechosendestinationclosertotheship.Buttheobjectwouldneedtohave
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thedensityofthecenterofablackholeinordertowork.

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"Theproblemis,wheredoyougettheblackholeandhowdoyougetitinfrontofyour

spacecraft?"Shostaksaid."It'ssortoflike,howdoyoucreatesomethingthatwillwarpspaceand
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thenputitinfrontofyourspacecraft?"

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What about teleportation?


Arelatedsciencefictionideaisteleportationthepossibilityofinstantlyconveyingapersonor
shipintoanotherpartoftheuniverse.Thephenomenonisseenin"StarTrek,"wherethesocalled
transporterdeconstructsone'sbodyandreconstructsitatanother,distantlocation.

Thereissomescientificbasisforthisideascientistshaveshownthatsubatomicparticlescan
bemovedfromonepointtoanotherfasterthanthespeedoflight,saidphysicistIanDurhamat
SaintAnselmCollegeina2010interview.

Buttheabilitytobreakapartandreassembleanentirehumanappearsimpossible,Durhamsaid.
Becauseoftherandomizedaspectsbehindthearrangementofsubatomicparticles,perfectly
reversingthembecomesincreasinglydifficultastheyaccumulateingreaternumbers.

Scientically looking at hyperspace


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Whilehyperspaceisnotacurrentformofspacetravel,thereisongoingresearchtodeterminehow
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viableitisandwhattheexperiencewouldbelike.

In2013,agroupofphysicsstudentscorrectedtheviewofwhathappenswhenspaceshipsflyat
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thespeedoflight.Thefamiliartousstreaksoflight(seenin"StarTrek,""StarWars"andother

series)wouldnotactuallybethecase.Instead,theviewwouldappearmorelikeacentralized
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brightglow.

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ThefasttravelwouldcauselighttoshiftintolongerwavelengthsaspertheDopplereffect,which
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alsoexplainsphenomenasuchaswhythesoundofacarhornchangesbeforeitpassesan
observerandafterward.Inspace,humanswouldnotbeabletoseestarlightbecauseits
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wavelengthswouldbestretchedintotheXrayspectrum.Also,theglowoftheuniversewhich
glowsinmicrowaveswouldbecomevisiblebecauseitslightwouldbestretchedintothevisible
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spectrum.
In2015,rumorsofapossibleNASAwarpdrivecalledthe"EMDrive"surfacedona
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NASASpaceflight.comforumandthenspreadaroundtheInternetrapidly.Thereportssaida
prototypeofthisengine,whichwasintendedtooperatewithoutfuelandmovefasterthanlight,
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producedasmallamountofthrustwhentestedinavacuum.Criticssaiditwouldviolatephysical
laws.
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WhencontactedbySpace.com,however,NASAofficialsdownplayedtheresearch."Thisisa
smalleffortthathasnotyetshownanytangibleresults,"theysaid."NASAisnotworkingon'warp
drive'technology."

AdditionalreportingbycontributorZoeMacintosh.

Additionalresources

NASA:IsWarpDriveReal?
PopularScience:WarpFactor
BigThink:4ThingsThatCurrentlyBreaktheSpeedofLightBarrier

EDITOR'S RECOMMENDATIONS

WarpSpeed:WhatHyperspaceWouldReallyLookLike

WarpDrive&Transporters:How'StarTrek'TechnologyWorks(Infographic)

Engage!WarpDriveCouldBecomeRealitywithQuantumThrusterPhysics

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AUTHOR BIO

Elizabeth Howell, Space.com Contributor


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ElizabethHowellisacontributingwriterforSpace.comwhoisoneofthefew
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Canadianjournaliststoreportregularlyonspaceexploration.SheispursuingaPh.D.

parttimeinaerospacesciences(UniversityofNorthDakota)aftercompletingan
M.Sc.(spacestudies)atthesameinstitution.Shealsoholdsabachelorofjournalism
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degreefromCarletonUniversity.Besideswriting,Elizabethteachescommunications
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attheuniversityandcommunitycollegelevel.Toseeherlatestprojects,follow

ElizabethonTwitterat@HowellSpace.
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ElizabethHowell,Space.comContributoron
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