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back to article Note to Captain Kirk: Warp speed will kill you

A US boffin has effectively put the mockers on Star Trek-style warp speed travel to the stars by warning that interstellar hydrogen gas would become deadly to humans as they approached the speed of light. Professor William Edelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explained to New Scientist that while …

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Anonymous Coward

Eh

So what's new about this, I was aware of it 20 years ago when I was a kid reading sci-fi.

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Title

You may have added a note at the bottom of the article but halfway through reading I was already thinking "Shields up!"

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that's a fair amount of juice!

if there were some way to harness that energy (absorbtion rather than deflection) then it might even be used to power the theoretical engines...

Your hydrogen will be assimilated!

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Thumb Up

Presumably...

...some sort of protective hat is in order?

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Go

And presumably...

...the hats would be like the ones they wear on Thunderbirds - suitably shaped so that the hydrogen atoms simply bounce off the shiny sky-blue plastic coating. Sorted.

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Anonymous Coward

le sigh

However the enterprise has Inertial Nullifiers and a navigation shield to stop such things.

If you've achieved the magic wand technology that lets you fold space, you probably arn't far off inertial nullification and navigation shields.

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Boffin

..the impossible just takes longer.

Yeah. If you have already pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of FTL (ie;overcome what currently appears to be a sacrosanct limitation of the universe) then you can surely invent some other widget that overcomes the relatively banal issue of high-speed collisions.

Personally I'd favour using a hyperdrive to jump out of realspace for the bulk of the journey that way I'm travelling in my own universe and I can make up all the rules.

The biggest problem with any form of FTL travel is causality. It's a real bugger when you arrive back at your home with the groceries before you've actually arrived at the shop. Tesco get real arsey about that kind of thing..

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Really...

But everybody knows that when the Enterprise enters warp speed, the ship enters a layer of subspace, where these hydrogen atoms wouldn't exist.........duhhhhh ;)

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FAIL

Bussard collectors

Those red things at the front of the warp nacelles collect interstellar hydrogen.

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Alien

Deflector dish?

I thought that was what the deflector dish at the front was for?

Also I thought the warp engines (nacelles) create a kind of warp bubble around the ship allowing it to go at warp speed so surely the hydrogen would not affect the ship or crew?

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Paris Hilton

But...

Well, duh, that's what the deflector dish is for.

Paris, also dishy.

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Silver badge

Bussard ramjets

Just move the hydrogen out of the way. Siiimples!

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FAIL

He obviously didn't note the shielding...

The purpose of the main deflector dish was to deflect any particles the ship may strike while travelling at warp...

Besides, the whole point of warp drive is the ship is not travelling at FTL in the traditional sense.

It's warping space around it so the space itself, the "warp bubble" enclosing the ship travels FTL while the space within the bubble the ship's going at sublight.

I realise it's just treknobabble, but they did think about those things.

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FAIL

Eh?

Have you seen Star Trek? What do you think the deflector dish is for?

Besides, isn't the point of warp drive that instead of moving at close to the speed of light, you travel slowly while compressing space to decrease the distance you have to go?

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Grenade

Yeah and remember those trains?

You know, the ones that couldn't go faster than 28mph for fear of all the air being sucked out and killing the passengers...?

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Warp? As in wrap?

As we're having to warp or bend space around the ship to acheive these speeds, wouldn't this in effect also force all those pesky hydrogen atoms around the ship as well?

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Oh dear

Oh, what a shame. Because before that, everything about Star Trek was completely scientifically plausible.

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Alert

WTF?

Including those Sta-Prest nylon outfits?? Surely not! :-o

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Pfft

Surely the whole concept of warp is/should be about warping space around the vehicle, so you don't move, the space round you does.

Anyway, lightspeed travel is so last century, mine will be the spacecraft with the wormhole generator strapped to the front of it.

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So everyone else dies?

Ouch, so the ship effectively 'stands still' and the rest of the known universe gets bombarded with enough radiation to make the cat glow?

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Joke

Nasty

..that certainly puts Gordon Brown into perspective :)

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Happy

Boffin?

Has this so-called scientist never heard of ablative armour or shields? An absolute must for travelling at warp speeds.

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Joke

Honestly...

don't they realise that the Enterprise doesn't actually go that fast? It changes the space around it so that the distance becomes less - otherwise they'd be stuck at Warp < 1.

It's the Bussard ramjet pilots that have to worry.

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FAIL

navigational deflector arrays

Standard fit to Starfleet vessels, and indeed half the problems they encounter seem to be fixable by modifying it! :)

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Navigational_deflector

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Coat

isn't that...

isn't that what the nason collectors or whatever they're called are for...

/So totally ashamed that I'm aware of such things

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Boffin

What about the Bussard Collectors?

"the main function of a Starfleet Bussard collector is to collect interstellar hydrogen atoms for fuel replenishment"

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Bussard_collector

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Anonymous Coward

Not exactly new information

perhaps Prof. Edelstein would like to borrow my copy of Poul Anderson's "Tau Zero" which explains the effect, some made-up mitigation techniques and goes on to use it for the purposes of the plot

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Anonymous Coward

science and common sense

Any normal person would know that in the startrek universe, they use Bussard ramjets for sub lightspeed travel. One caracteristic part of this system is the Bussard hydrogen collector on the front of each ship, that is used to capture interstellar hydrogen to be used as fuel in the ship's reactor. Actually, the writers of the original startrek seems to be better in science than the us professor. (remark: a Bussard ramjet consists of a hydrogen collector on the front, a fusion reactor in the middle and a plasma accelerator /vasimir/ in the back with plasma and electrical conduits between these parts and it is named after its inventor Robert W. Bussard)

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This makes me sad.

Genuinely. I know interstellar travel is unliklely anyway any time soon, but this is just another nail in the coffin of my star wars kid dreams :-(

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Go

Not true

The bloke who flew past me this morning on the way into Manchester clearly disproves this theory.

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So...?

The conclusion from Johns Hopkins, is that trying to travel faster than light is a bad idea because "it is unhealthy"?

How about the near-century-old conclusion, that trying to travel faster than light is a bad idea because it is just plain impossible?

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Bronze badge

Warp bubble

Wouldn't the hydrogen atoms (and anything else in the ship's path) be pushed aside by the warp field? The ship sits in a bubble of normal space surrounded by the warp field, which distorts spacetime outside the bubble, thus creating motion.

Such matter could actually be useful as fodder for a more conventional MHD drive.

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FAIL

Stupid

This is stupid, because clearly ships powered by warp drives aren't operating in normal space; otherwise the Enterprise wouldn't be able to exceed the speed of light as handily as it does, as well as being able to avoid time dilation and other effects of near-lightspeed travel. If you are going to buy into the concept of warp drive to begin with, you'd have to acknowledge that it's not actually travel in any conventional sense, so pesky things like hydrogen atoms are irrelevant. Rather poor attempt at a thought experiment here, I'm afraid....

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WTF?

Well gravity and acceleration never seemed

to bother them, so hydrogen atoms probably won't either. Besides, aren't they travelling faster than light?

This research is incomplete. Scientist guy needs to do more hard sums to work out what the impact of a hydrogen atom on a bussard ramscoop at warp 7 will entail, if you ask me.

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FAIL

Other solutions

Magnetic shielding is the most likely way to go, along with ice (thick cometary fragments as shields, for example). However, assuming we do ever bother going deeper into space, it will be at speeds far below light speed for a long time to come, so I'm sure technology will figure out an answer to this as and when the technology to achieve it progresses. It's meaningless to compare a hypothetical future development with a modern-day prevention system. That's like somebody in the 1400s predicting computers, but complaining that there would be nothing to power them with.

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Kudos

That's a remarkably astute simile there. I like it!

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Obligatory Scotty

She cannae take it, cap'n!

I cannae change the laws of physics!

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Boffin

Faulty ASSumptions

The assumption here is that the warp drive works the same way as conventional propulsion system - push from the back, with the front displacing any matter that gets in the way (air, water, etc)

I propose that the warp drive works (at least partly) by displacing the matter in front of the craft, thus creating (even more of) a vacuum and pulling the craft forwards... a _bit_ like a jet engine if you will, but applied to the whole craft and over distances in the order of light-seconds.

See, laws of physics don't apply.

If you doubt my credentials, consider this:

I have proven that when I disagree with the real world, it is the real world that is wrong.

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Pint

Warp speed

I'd like to resalt the fact that warp speed, as seen in Star Trek films, exceeds c, so there have to be different physics involved, thank you.

Primary, the branch that studies fictional physics.

Of course, that don't invalidates the professor's study, that is applicable to our very real world, and if I one day happen to be flying in a spaceship fast enough to nottice its effects, i'll fondly remeber him.

On the other way, there are far more bigger problems to get to such speed, as the acceleration needed would be far greater than the one my body would resist, for example, or the amount of energy involved to accelerate the ship.

One beer to a time well spent in an important problem, as I'm doing now.

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FAIL

Same old story

Didn't scientists used to think that you would explode if you travelled faster than 20mph....? Stephenson's Rocket soon shut them up, sure this'll be the same. One day we'll look back and laugh about it.

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Nope

That was vicars.

Some religious people don't understand science. Some scientists (it appears) don't understand science fiction.

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Flame

Referee required

May I be the first to offer my services as arbitrator in the inevitable and imminent spat between all the Trekkies and all the people that seem to think that liking science-fiction is tantamount to a delusional mental illness?

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Troll

Liking science fiction is proof of taste and intelligence

It's just liking Star Trek that's a mental illness.

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Paris Hilton

Extra, extra!

Read all about it: Scientist proves fiction is not realistic.

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Boffin

but what about the hydrogen scoops...

in the forward section of the Nacelles, wouldn't they be enough to scoop it up before it got to the sheilds ???

cos every nerd knows u aint got warp speed without them

and to quote wiki. (http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Nacelle)

"Aboard Federation vessels of the 24th century, warp coils are fed by plasma conduits from the warp core reactor assembly. Nacelles are usually separated from the main structure of the ship because of radiation generated by the nacelles; when at optimal levels, the radiation could be deleterious to the safety of ship and crew. (citation needed • edit)Nacelles are separated from the ship by large pylons, and usually house a Bussard ramscoop at the fore end, primarily used for collecting hydrogen from space. "

see nerdy problem already addressed and dealt with........ (50 years ago)

next!..

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klingons

The shield protect them from that, other matter/energy and from time etc duh. Klingons on the starboard bow as second defence.

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Coat

bah..

Bah.. if theHeisenberg Uncertainty Priciple can be compensated for, whats a bit of space grit?!

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Alien

** must resist **

must resist answering this.

MUST RESIST.

some help my inner trekkie is trying to get out and i need help, much help to stop me.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

this was covered in .... MUST STOP.. episode.. PLEASE HELP ME... AAAAAAAHHH!!

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Boffin

Shurely shome mishtake...

Warp drives couldn't possibly be propelling spacecraft at sublight speeds, because their journeys were objectively too fast.

Now, if you're talking about a warp drive based on the Alcubierre metric, then you might have a point. But that would be theoretical physics, and not part of a fictional TV series.

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Joke

Ooo but surely...

Eh? Surely all that needs to be done is to deploy the "Interstellar Hydrogen Gas Compensator Circuit" and all will be well...

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