back to article Star Trek's Enterprise turns 50 and still no sign of a warp drive. Sigh

Zooming through space faster than the speed of light is integral in science fiction if the story unfolds over different planets, galaxies and universes. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace, the TARDIS in Doctor Who travelled through a time vortex, and Star Trek used warp drive. The sight of the Starship …

  1. Tony S

    As a side note

    A few years back, Bill Shatner co-wrote a book. In it, he describes how some of the technology used within ST has become reality or is still in research.

    The title of the book comes from the filming of an episode of ST:TNG, in which Data opens the show by playing cards with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Hawking had been invited to play himself in a cameo role and was delighted to do so.

    After shooting ended, he was given a tour of the various stages and sound lots. One of these was the "Engineering" section, with the iconic "Warp Field Generator". Apparently, he gazed at it for several seconds, before announcing to everyone "I'm working on that".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a side note

      He's not even an engineer.

      But definitely a General Relativist, so "c" aka "1" aka "45°" is a very constant for him.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a side note

      He hasn't done any real work since the 70s, most of the stuff published in his name has come form his students and research assistants. He's well known for claiming credit from their work while providing next to no support.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: As a side note

      "an episode of ST:TNG, in which Data opens the show by playing cards with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking."

      that was a great episode. I miss STNG [nobody plays the reruns any more]

      My guess is that there are several possible explanations as to WHY we don't have things like warp drive and practical fusion reactors and things like that...

      a) space aliens "holding us back" for our own good [had to get that over with, heh]

      b) wealthy/powerful elitists (like Soros) fearing a loss of power and control, shifting gummint policies and money accordingly to maintain power/control. After all, if we can just leave earth and go to space to get away from *THEM*, they'll lose the monopoly they have over our lives...

      c) scientists paid to "do research", not "get results" (think of the Manhattan project, which was all about THE RESULTS, and how quickly atomic energy became an integral pat of our society)

      d) all of the above.

      hey, it's possible, ya know? I think 'c' is the most likely candidate, though. history backs me up on THAT one.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: As a side note

        We don't have warp drive for the same reason we don't have a time machine they (or it since they're the same thing really*) are pure wishful thinking.

        We don't have a practical fusion reactor because climate change doesn't wear jackboots and therefore no one is willing to fund a new Manhattan Project.

        *See Destroy All Monsters's post below.

  2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Headmaster

    FTFY

    Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed that if a spacecraft was placed within a ring of “exotic matter” that could warp the space around it, the spacecraft travelling in the warped bubble could bypass the speed of light.

    Glaswegian physicist Imma Musingmyself Wiffequations proposed that if cats were actually magic beings with the power of extruding rainbows from their arse, a spacecraft that was placed within a ring of “exotic kittens” could "move over the rainbow" and thus bypass the speed of light.

    The only way we know how to "warp space" (and that only one way) is to move shitloads of matter into the place to be warped.

    And we know that if there is something that moves faster than the speed of light, there are reference systems in which an observer can see causality relations invovling this faster-than-light-signalling going the wrong way, and that is a no-no. Indeed, Mother Nature consistently goes to extremes to interdict any possibility of faster-than-light-signalling that may appear in QM and QFT.

    1. tony2heads
      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: FTFY

        Can't unhear!

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: FTFY

      "The only way we know how to "warp space" (and that only one way) is to move shitloads of matter into the place to be warped."

      I was always under the impression that if you could create a sufficiently strong field [graviton field in the STNG universe] you could effectively 'cut yourself off' from the effects of relativity by (literally) creating a 'sub-space bubble' around yourself, being 'space within space'. The relativity problem is just that: relativity. when thing #1 travels with a relative velocity to thing #2 that approaches light speed, you get the relativity effects. but if thing #1 is no longer influenced by thing #2, it can move it's 'own private universe' (the subspace bubble) at whatever speed is possible, since it's not interactiving "relatively" with anything else. That's how I understand THAT particular theory, anyway.

      The problem is moving the bubble, or creating it for that matter. gravity waves/particles are being detected by satellites, now, looking for gravity wave events and whatnot. So that much (the existence of gravity waves/particles) seems plausible enough. Emitting them may be nothing more than spinning heavy atoms inside a magnetic field [let's say a mercury vapor magnetron]. Emitting them in SUFFICIENT QUANTITIES, however, that's something else, and might require those anti-matter reactors we cannot build yet...

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: FTFY

        You are confused.

        Are we talking "Trek Science" or "Science"

        Making stuff up on TV is fun, but one cannot conclude from that that there is any transference to the Real World..

        > The problem is moving the bubble

        The problem is that there is no bubble in the Real World.

        > gravity waves/particles are being detected by satellites, now, looking for gravity wave events and whatnot.

        There is no realistic way to detect the quantum of the gravitational field (if it even exists). Satellites are used for mapping the gravitational field of Earth and Moon, yes, but that's not any different from using a torsionmeter to find that there is a large mountain outside.

        > Emitting them may be nothing more than spinning heavy atoms inside a magnetic field [let's say a mercury vapor magnetron].

        There is no Science behind these words which align to form a phrase, nothing more.

    3. Jaybus

      Re: FTFY

      "And we know that if there is something that moves faster than the speed of light, there are reference systems in which an observer can see causality relations invovling this faster-than-light-signalling going the wrong way, and that is a no-no"

      Are you sure? See work being done by Gunter Nimtz involving quantum tunneling of spin zero particles. "Tunneling Confronts Special Relativity", Foundations of Physics, 41(7):1193-1199

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Headmaster

    EmDrive is NASA's?

    And here's me thinking it was invented by a Brit, Roger Shawyer.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: EmDrive is NASA's?

      And probably patented at the USPTO

  4. Alister Silver badge

    According to Universe Today, a paper has just been accepted that outlines how a reactionless propulsion system – a system that requires no propellant to gain momentum – could generate enough thrust to power a spacecraft faster than the speed of light.

    This is a nonsensical statement. Leaving aside the veracity or otherwise of the reactionless propulsion system, it doesn't matter how much power / thrust you have, you cannot accelerate anything in normal space-time faster than the speed of light.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But if you go for the button "ludicrous thrust"...

    2. David Robinson 1

      Brings a quote to mind

      you cannot accelerate anything in normal space-time faster than the speed of light.

      So, are you saying ye cannae change the laws of physics?

    3. Chemist

      "you cannot accelerate anything in normal space-time faster than the speed of light."

      Or assuming it has any mass at all even to the speed of light

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Alien

        Sir

        I have always felt that the breakthrough would come when we could create short distance wormholes (think needleships etc.to keep the size down).

        If you had a generator on the ship (obviously this would require vast amounts of energy as well as exotic materials and a lot of know-how) you could 'nip' through space. So you would have an absolute speed based on your reaction drive (impulse) and a relativistic speed based on how fast you could run the needle through the fabric of space without disappearing up your own arsehole (warp drive)*.

        Still, if you can't think of it in the first place it would take a hell of a lot longer to achieve! Science fiction doesn't predict the future, it creates it.

        *and no playing with any naughty bug eyed monsters on the way

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Linux

          Re: Sir

          If you can create those, you can make them time-travelling, and then P=NP (see the end). Instant computational superpowers!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sir

          > needleships

          Also known as "intergalactic missiles/bullets" depending on their size.

          Just what the universe needs.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > Or assuming it has any mass at all even *to* the speed of light

        You can keep accelerating as much as you like: but at any time if you shine a light beam out of the front of your ship it will travel away from you at the speed of light - as indeed will a light beam shone out of the rear of your ship. So it is meaningless to try to catch up with it.

        The cool (or mind-bending) thing about special relativity is that the *very same* light beam is also measured as travelling away at the speed of light by everyone else who comes across it, regardless of what speed they are travelling relative to you.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Boffin

          "The cool (or mind-bending) thing about special relativity is that the *very same* light beam is also measured as travelling away at the speed of light by everyone else who comes across it, regardless of what speed they are travelling relative to you."

          hence, time distortion to make that calculation work [or so it would seem], when you sit and think about it, run the numbers as 'how fast is that photon REALLY going from the perspective of' it all makes sense.

          now let's add the other 7 dimension into the 1st 4 to get M theory. relate that to quantum mechanics and this year's proof that shroedinger's cat really IS both alive and dead [there was an El Reg article about that in january as I recall], it's my guess that THE OBSERVER comprises the 11th dimension, separating the two 10-spaces into separate universes that differ only in their 11th dimensional position at the time they separate, when one universe gets "heads" and the other "tails" - prior to observation, it's heads/tails with a measurable energy. then you observe it, and the quantum state-flipping energy goes away, and has to go SOMEWHERE... so it splits the two 10-spaces along the 11th dimension???

          or something like that.

          /me head splodes

    4. DropBear Silver badge
      WTF?

      Not to mention the linked source never mentions anything about the EmDrive expected to exceed the speed of light, but rather merely expected to maybe possibly not be complete hogwash. What the actual fuck, El Reg?!?

    5. TitterYeNot
      Headmaster

      "Leaving aside the veracity or otherwise of the reactionless propulsion system, it doesn't matter how much power / thrust you have, you cannot accelerate anything in normal space-time faster than the speed of light."

      I guess you meant 'you cannot accelerate anything in normal space-time faster than the speed of light in a vacuum', or c.

      It's possible to accelerate particles to faster than light speed in media such as water, as in those conditions light travels more slowly than c (see Cerenkov Radiation, the blue glow seen around submerged nuclear reactors caused by high energy particles travelling faster than the speed of light in water.)

      </Pedant Mode>

      (Sorry to nitpick - we must have ISO whateverbloodynumberitisnow auditors prowling the office as the pedant hairs on the back of my neck are rising.)

    6. Captain DaFt

      "you cannot accelerate anything in normal space-time faster than the speed of light."

      Well, technically you can't accelerate matter to the speed of light, but there's nothing in the maths that says you can't go faster.

      For practical purpose, it amounts to the same thing for now, but if some bright spark figures out how to jump/tunnel/warp/dodge past that barrier, then the next challenge would be, "How the feck do I slow down, now?"

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        "For practical purpose, it amounts to the same thing for now, but if some bright spark figures out how to jump/tunnel/warp/dodge past that barrier, then the next challenge would be, "How the feck do I slow down, now?"

        In the past, physics, and the laws of physics as we understood them at the time decreed many things "impossible" which we now do every day without even thinking about it. There seem to me to be an awful lot of arrogance being demonstrated in these comments which seems to be predicated on the "fact" that we know all there is to know about the laws of physics. Considering the advances in most scientific fields over the last century, who are we to state what might or might not be possible in another 100 years? Theories abound, many get discarded, some are shown to be fantasy, some take years, billions of $cash_units, and huge colliders spanning multiple countries to demonstrate that they might be right after all.

        I think we as a race are getting too used to quickly getting new toys to play with over recent history, we forget how long some pretty fundamental toys took to be discovered. Like levers, wheels, fire etc, let alone efficient steam engines, internal combustions engines, electric motors etc.

        I just had a quick look and Corpuscular theory of light goes back further than I thought, but prior to that, the idea of a solar sail would have been impossible based on the known laws of physics prior to that theory. It would probably have been ridiculed as a source of motive power for centuries afterwards too, since it was only an unproven theory until Crookes demonstrated that under certain conditions, light seems to exert a force. Satellite operators now take solar pressure into account for station keeping and minor, fine control manoeuvring. Something "impossible" according to the "laws" of physics not all that long ago in terms of human history.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > it was only an unproven theory until Crookes demonstrated that under certain conditions, light seems to exert a force.

          And in this particular case, he was wrong: it's about differential heating of the air in the bulb, and goes away when the air is removed.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crookes_radiometer

          But a more sensitive instrument *can* detect this force:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichols_radiometer

    7. bombastic bob Silver badge

      "you cannot accelerate anything in normal space-time faster than the speed of light."

      very true. the solution, then, would be 'abnormal space' (i.e. warp bubble, subspace, all that sci fi stuff that has at least SOME actual science to it)

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Angel

      So if you cannot go faster than light in normal space then you must use abnormal spece - simples

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        So if you cannot go faster than light in normal space then you must use abnormal spece - simples

        Let's set up an experiment at a Central Bank!

  5. Crisp Silver badge

    EmDrive is an impossible idea?

    Why not build one of the damn things, stick a couple of solar panels on it, launch it into space, and point it at Tau Ceti.

    If it stays put. It doesn't work. If it whizzes off into the cosmos slowly accelerating then we had better hope that whatever it hits isn't inhabited.

    1. Detective Emil
      Boffin

      Re: EmDrive is an impossible idea?

      It's supposed to be happening, although in a somewhat less ambitious testbed than you propose.

      1. Stratman

        Re: EmDrive is an impossible idea?

        Cannae Inc.? Cannea? Cannae?

        Scotty has spoken.

    2. MacroRodent Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: EmDrive is an impossible idea?

      According to the descriptions I have seen, it is supposed to be so simple you could basically put it together from some sheet metal and parts from an old microwave oven. The fact that there are not dozens of reproduced results by now is a clear indication the idea does not really work.

    3. TRT Silver badge

      Re: EmDrive is an impossible idea?

      Less exotic test bed. Tau Nton?

  6. Steve Todd

    Reactionless drive?

    Even were it possible, a craft powered by such a device still couldn't travel faster than light. If the author understands e=mc^2 they should realise that only by converting a body completely to energy can it reach the speed of light. As the craft approaches the speed of light time dialation effects become apparent. The acceleration experienced by the occupants remains constant, but to an external observer it reduces. As they approach light speed their time slows to zero as does their acceleration.

    The whole hyperspace/wormhole thing in SciFi is a plot device to get around this problem.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Reactionless drive?

      From what I recall, the rule is something like 'you can't accelerate past the speed of light' - but that's in normal space - Witch-space is totally different of course :)

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Reactionless drive?

        Thargoid.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Angel

        Re: Reactionless drive?

        Witches of Karres (shewosh drive?)

  7. Detective Emil

    How old would those naysayers be?

    If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    (Clarke again.)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: How old would those naysayers be?

      Context: If said gentleman says to go up against the laws of nature, he is probably a crank.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: How old would those naysayers be?

        "Context: If said gentleman says to go up against the laws of nature, he is probably a crank."

        Further context: The "laws of nature" are made by men to describe how they interpret nature. If something violates those laws, it's Man's law that was violated, not Nature's.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How old would those naysayers be?

          The "laws of nature" are made by men to describe how they interpret nature

          Yeah but so what.

          "GO FASTER THAN C"

          Nature says no. Deal with it.

          "BUT THESE ARE MAN'S LAWS"

          You may want to retreat to a safe space now because Nature is going to microaggress you fiercely.

    2. Richard 120

      Re: How old would those naysayers be?

      An elderly scientist said it's possible you would be crushed by the pressure if you tried to accelerate to near light speed because space is not a perfect vacuum.

      Is that the equivalent to saying it's impossible to travel at light speed?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: How old would those naysayers be?

        Is that the equivalent to saying it's impossible to travel at light speed?

        No. The equivalent of saying "it's impossible to travel at light speed" is that (the mathematical description that best fits) this universe only allows, indeed enforces, light speed for particles with 0 rest mass. These happen to be photons, the carriers of the electromagnetic force. Matter structure (i.e. spaceships and fleshers therein) cannot be mapped to bunches of photons in any evident way. So no spacecraft at lightspeed.

        Addendum 0: Interestingly for a photon, the universe has size zero. Photon trajectories seem to be a very special object that may well indicate a better mathematical description of the whole shebang. Last I heard, Penrose was working on that.

        Addendum 1: According to Penrose, an old universe may well see the rest mass of all particles go to zero, in which case everything will be at light speed, which means there won't be any "time" left.

        Addendum 2: Why is light speed that special veolcity "1"? The explanation may be at a deeper layer that we don't have access to as yet. Let's grab something from the SciFi bag and listen to Greg Egan (Schild's Ladder) for a few paragraphs:

        In the beginning was a graph, more like diamond than graphite. Every node in this graph was tetravalent: connected by four edges to four other nodes. By a count of edges, the shortest path from any node back to itself was a loop six edges long. Every node belonged to twenty-four such loops, as well as forty-eight loops eight edges long, and four hundred and eighty that were ten edges long. The edges had no length or shape, the nodes no position; the graph consisted only of the fact that some nodes were connected to others. This pattern of connections, repeated endlessly, was all there was.

        In the beginning? Waking more fully, Cass corrected herself: that was the version she remembered from childhood, but these days she preferred to be more cautious. The Sarumpaet rules let you trace the history of the universe back to the vicinity of the Diamond Graph, and everything you could ask for in a Big Bang was there: low entropy, particle creation, rapidly expanding space. Whether it made sense to follow these signposts all the way back, though, was another question.

        Cass let the graph's honeycomb pattern linger in the darkness of her skull. Having relinquished her

        child's-eye view of the world, she was unable to decide which epoch of her life she actually inhabited. It was one of the minor perils of longevity: waking could be like to trying to find your way home on a street with ten thousand houses, all of which had once been your own. That the clues on the other side of her eyelids might be more enlightening was beside the point; she had to follow the internal logic of her memories back into the present before she could jolt herself awake.

        The Sarumpaet rules assigned a quantum amplitude to the possibility of any one graph being followed by another. Among other things, the rules predicted that if a graph contained a loop consisting of three trivalent nodes alternating with three pentavalent ones, its most likely successors would share the same pattern, but it would be shifted to an adjoining set of nodes. A loop like this was known as a photon. The rules predicted that the photon would move. (Which way? All directions were equally likely. To aim the photon took more work, superimposing a swarm of different versions that would interfere and cancel each other out when they traveled in all but one favored direction.) Other patterns could propagate in a similar fashion, and their symmetries and interactions matched up perfectly with the known fundamental particles. Every graph was still just a graph, a collection of nodes and their mutual connections, but the flaws in the diamond took on a life of their own.

        The current state of the universe was a long way from the Diamond Graph. Even a patch of near-vacuum in the middle of interstellar space owed its near-Euclidean geometry to the fact that it was an elaborate superposition of a multitude of graphs, each one riddled with virtual particles. And while an ideal vacuum, in all its complexity, was a known quantity, most real space departed from that ideal in an uncontrollable manner: shot through with cosmic radiation, molecular contaminants, neutrinos, and the endless faint ripple of gravitational waves.

  8. Black Rat

    Reminds me of the Newtonian heretic Eric Laithwaite.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Start combining ways maybe?

    I'm no physicist, or even a scientist of any kind. Maybe we need to stop thinking in terms of a single solution and start combining all the ways we know about that can actually move a spacecraft. If you had this starshot thing, solarsailing, nuclear thermal rockets, EM drive, gravitation assist or 2(maybe idk), etc, all on one small unmanned spacecraft. Like a "best effort" attempt, that's gotta do something. Has anyone ever done the math on that?

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Start combining ways maybe?

      Getting all of these technologies on a spacecraft is sort of possible. Getting it on a *small* spacecraft is not.

      Accelerating a spacecraft to a noticible percentage of lightspeed is technically possible with existing technology using the "bigger hammer" method of engineering (just assemble a rocket at Lagrange 2 the size of a modern cargo freighter, it might take a few (hundred) thousand rocket launches but it's not impossible to do)

      But even if you got up to 20% light speed with your launch assist then a journey of 5 lightyears is still going to take 25 years. And while you might get there, your not going to be able to stop. (obligatary reference to Poul Anderson's novel "To Outlive Eternity")

      1. Darryl

        Re: Start combining ways maybe?

        ...and I suppose adding a big honkin' anchor on a really strong chain would defeat the 'small spaceship' idea, huh?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Start combining ways maybe?

      Has anyone ever done the math on that?

      Gaston Lagaffe probably did.

      SPACEGAFFOPHONE DRIVE!!

    3. Robert Moore
      Thumb Up

      Re: Start combining ways maybe?

      > Has anyone ever done the math on that?

      I did the math many times. No matter how I do the math the answer keeps coming out 42. Not sure why.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Start combining ways maybe?

        You're a mouse and I claim my 5 pounds.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Inverse spanish inquisition

    “There are four methods for changing speeds in space: using a chemical engine, an electric engine, gravitational assists, and solar sailing"

    Er, hang on a minute, there are actually 3 methods for changing *velocity* in space:- ejecting some mass to increase your momentum, gathering the momentum from something else (solar sail and gravitational assist... oh wait a minute, that's two methods...

    Of course, solar sails gather the momentum from the particles forming the solar wind, and gravitational assists "steal" some of the planet's momentum, so there is really only one way of changing velocity; and that is to exchange momentum with something else...

    Can I have the comfy chair now?

    Oh, and please refer to "They Might Be Giants" for an education on Speed vs. Velocity:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRb5PSxJerM

  11. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Alien

    The Mote in God's Eye

    Incoming spaceship propelled by remote lasers? The view from Alpha Centauri is going to be spectactular, for a few minutes...

    Just watch out for Moties.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Mote in God's Eye

      ..on the third hand

  12. W4YBO

    I hold hope that discovery of the Higgs boson will eventually lead to being able to "turn off" the mass of an object.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      That is unlikely but it wouldn't help you.

      With every particle of your transport thingamabob suddenly leaving your docking bay at lightspeed in all directions, you might as well blow yourself up with a fusion bomb.

      Also note that the Higgs is only responsible for the rest masses. Most of the mass in matter is in the energetic glue fields.

  13. deconstructionist

    It is all wishful thinking

    Unfortunately special relativity , general relativity, distance and scale mean the man from del monte he say "no".

    FTL travel not happening there is not enough energy potential in the entire universe just to get my little body to the speed of light ....Strike 1

    Even if you could say travel at 10x speed of light and traveled to a star say only 40 light years away yeah you get there in 4 years but 38000 years would have passed here on earth go to the other side of the galaxy which 110000 -120000 light years across then 4.5 million years would have past . strike 2

    Warp drives even though energy potential does not exists or exotic matter if you could get it working you would sterilize where every you stopped for a very very large distance strike 3

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: It is all wishful thinking

      Pity all those PhDs at NASA Eagleworks are apparently wasting their time looking into questions like these without assumptions that they already know everything about how physics actually works, when some random commentard on The Register could have saved them the effort by informing them of what he learned in his first year Physics class.

      1. deconstructionist

        Re: It is all wishful thinking

        Got a myself a PHD in Physics (non linear optics) does that count , Einstein and bohr both agreed warp drives where not science and just wishful thinking. maybe I have burst your sci-fi bubble so sorry.

        It is all about energy potentials and there is just not enough of it is the universe to do the thing suggested here, it is all about the maths ...the language of the universe and it say "not you don't"

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: It is all wishful thinking

          Well, that's the comment section of the register. It's a mix of youthful know-nothings full of hope and old curmudgeons who assume they know what the deal is.

          The latter are probably right.

          Pity all those PhDs at NASA Eagleworks are apparently wasting their time looking into questions like these without assumptions that they already know everything about how physics actually works

          I never understood how that actually works. It's probably just a weekly get-together of the young lions and all in good fun. They have never produced anything beyond flashy CGI either.

          Yeah, it looks like we pretty much know how the universe works at the lowest levels. Much work has to be done in fleshing out the mathematics and there may be some additional surprises but easy & fast interstellar travel at least by fleshies is not likely to be among them. Machines at sub-c sent out by the millions so that one may arrive once there is enough spare capacity in the economy for such fun? Possible, but that's too vanilla for TV.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. DougS Silver badge

            Re: It is all wishful thinking

            The latter are probably right.

            Perhaps so, but do you think it isn't even worth checking into if some smart guys think it is? There have been many times in the past when science thinks they had things figured out and then someone or something came along to prove them wrong. I don't know why that's no longer valid just because we're living in the 21st century.

            If the Eagleworks crew really have got their paper peer reviewed and will publish something showing that the EM drive works, then it is worth investigating further. Maybe the power requirements make it something pointless for human travel, but it could be very useful for satellites to maintain their positions or slowly adjust orbital location using just the power from their solar cells and not needing to carry any reaction mass. If we ever do figure out a way of getting orders of magnitude more energy, then maybe it does become useful for human travel.

            I'm pretty skeptical of warp travel too, but if we have some scientists who think it can't be completely ruled out yet then it can't hurt to try. Worst case they find more ways it can't work - and often that's where you learn the most in science. Maybe it doesn't work, but there's a "that's interesting" moment where something totally unexpected is discovered.

            1. Chemist

              Re: It is all wishful thinking

              "but if we have some scientists who think it can't be completely ruled out yet then it can't hurt to try."

              Whilst I agree in principle in practice there are an awful lot of possibilities - without some framework to prioritize where the effort goes it remains up to those keen on the idea to show some evidence ( real or even theoretical) to support what, in most cases, is speculative.

              Unfortunately there is a a view that "anything is possible " - no, sorry it's not. Just because human imagination can visualize something doesn't mean the physics of this universe allow for it. ( Ask Scottie if you don't believe me ).

              ( Nothing, BTW, would give me more pleasure than for there to be a way to travel far & fast but .....

          3. Captain DaFt

            Re: It is all wishful thinking

            "Yeah, it looks like we pretty much know how the universe works at the lowest levels."

            Hubris much?

            The same thing was said in Victorian times, the Renaissance, and in Ancient Greece, Egypt and Sumeria.

            Yet we still keep saying, "This is odd...", and finding something novel to us.

            1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
              Holmes

              Re: It is all wishful thinking

              Hubris much?

              I think the guy with the Hubris problem is the one who thinks that there is an undiscovered and cunningly hidden principle in Nature that allows one to attain *literally* Godlike powers. That kind of juvenile dreamer is bound to be disappointed. Maybe entrepreneurship (honorable) or politician (dishonorable) are career choices to look into for such a person?

              Note that all the discoveries in recent centuries have about KNOWING YOUR LIMITS -- not about Yet Another Comic-Strip Worthy Powerdiscovery.

              1. DougS Silver badge

                Re: It is all wishful thinking

                It is one thing for commentards on the Reg who have no qualifications to say "why not reactionless drive?" or "why not warp drive?" and quite another for experts in the field to do so. There are experts in the field at NASA who have decided to look into things you somehow equate with "godlike powers", though on what basis I can't imagine. Let's give them that chance, NASA is not hiring people based on Electric Universe postings after all, so I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt if they think it is worth further research.

                If they are successful with EM drive, even in a limited way only useful for satellites, then had we listened to those who say "it is a waste of time, Newton's Laws say so" we would have missed out on a revolutionary breakthrough. Warp drive is pretty out there, I'll be the first to admit, and even if it could be shown to be theoretically possible we might be unable to ever come up with enough power to make it happen. But what's the harm in at least doing a little research to see if it is even theoretically possible? So long as they aren't spending ridiculous sums of money on something that has a tiny chance of being real and an even tinier chance of ever being practical, the work they do expands the frontiers of knowledge. Maybe they discover some odd effect that leads to something useful in a totally different field.

                1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
                  Holmes

                  Re: It is all wishful thinking

                  somehow equate with "godlike powers", though on what basis I can't imagine

                  I will just pithyly say that if you don't understand why, you need to read more.

                  But what's the harm in at least doing a little research to see if it is even theoretically possible?

                  That's what I am saying - it's all in good fun. Go ahead, surprise me!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

    Surely it was Star Wars that had hyperspace - H2G2 had infinite improbability drive?

    1. Justicesays

      Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

      Given the earth was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, they also had hyperspace. Apparently travelling in hyperspace is unpleasantly like being drunk.

      The infinite improbability drive was invented to allow interstellar travel without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace.

      1. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

        Bistromathics was invented to prevent all that tedious mucking about with Improbability.

        Bistromathics is the most powerful computational force known to parascience. A major step up from the Infinite Improbability Drive, Bistromathics is a way of understanding the behavior of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that time was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement through space, so it was realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

          I've been looking for years for a course in Bistromathematics, turns out no-one could schedule one properly to the point where everyone turned up at the same time, or even paid for their share of the course material!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

            That's all old hat. Metabistromathematics is where it's at now.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

        what's so unpleasant about being drunk?

        1. D@v3

          Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

          ....you ask a glass of water.

          I was hoping someone would point out the use of improbability and bistromatics, so I wouldn't have to. Also, not to forget the experiments with travelling at the speed of bad news, but always being very unwelcome when you arrive.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

            I believe Arthur and Ford once (in one version of HHG2TG that is) managed to hitch a ride through time itself via one Chestfield Sofa if I recall, it was only then that they decided to travel onwards via BistroMaths.

            So I suppose we can deduce that Chesterfield Sofa's are the vehicle of choice for really long journeys, whilst your mobile French Cafe would do for a little runabout for the wife?

            1. Chemist

              Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

              "So I suppose we can deduce that Chesterfield Sofa's are the vehicle of choice for really long journeys"

              Certainly more comfortable than A Perfectly Normal Beast !

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace..."

              Eddies in the space-time continuum...

              Ah. Is he, is he?

  15. Fading Silver badge

    Faster than light....

    Easy enough if you slow it down first.....

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherenkov_radiation

  16. Yugguy

    Never mind FTL

    The concept of intertial dampeners always got me - that really WAS an unscientific plot device.

    1. Mutton Jeff

      Re: Never mind FTL

      Heisenberg compensators! Now there's something you can't buy at Firebox.

  17. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    terajoule laser?

    Forget about this space sailing tech. Tell me more about your laser.

  18. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Boffin

    EM Drive is an impossible idea

    The paper has met with criticism, however. The naysayers believe EM Drive is an impossible idea, as the lack of propellant violates Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Is there a degree or doctorate in "naysaying" ? No. Then who gives a shiny shit what they say ?

    Even in the quote above, there is no inconsistency. For a start, the EmDrive definitely uses *energy*. So a priori there is no reason why movement could not result.

    What is really confusing the scientists is the non-Newtonian nature of any resultant thrust.

    Now, as any fool who actually studies science beyond the Daily Mail headlines knows, there are instances where Newton falls down, and Einstein takes over. In the case of the EmDrive, this could be the place to start looking.

    Now my grasp of relatively is only as far as A level, however from what I recall, the definition of gravity was "a force which distorts spacetime. Other objects move in accordance with the distortion."

    Which means the hypothesis that the EmDrive is somehow causing a subtle distortion in spacetime (by the application of microwave energy) is not unreasonable. And if that distortion were to shift the centre of gravity of the containing structure ever so slightly, then the structure would be forced to move to accommodate the shift. Thrustless motion.

    I have no idea if this *is* how the EmDrive works. But I also know noone has (yet) said it isn't.

    All I know is I hear a lot of "that's impossible" without any depth of explanation - always a sign of prejudice and ignorance in equal measures.

    Remember 20, 30 years ago. It was impossible that stomach ulcers in humans were caused by a virus ? Hello Heliobactor pylorii !

    Knowing there are a lot of top boffins in El Regs readership, what's the thoughts about the above ? I am quite happy to be shown what a bunch of crap it is ...

    Let's do science !

    Incidentally, if you can put up with the lets-make-a-30-minute-programme-fit-into-60-minutes approach of BBC documentaries since the 1990s, there was a fascinating look at the EmDrive as an antigravity drive in a Horizon about Project Greenglow

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0752f85

    (p.s. many years ago, Omni magazine devoted an entire issue to antigravity. One of the more intriguing suggestions was that in the same way electricity and magnetism were linked, gravity and mass were, if you could pump a *really* dense substance around a circuit fast enough, you could "generate" gravity. The problem was because gravity is so weak, the density of the substance was effectively a neutron star. So even if the theory is sound, the practical applications are somewhat restricted.)

    1. TitterYeNot

      Re: EM Drive is an impossible idea

      "Which means the hypothesis that the EmDrive is somehow causing a subtle distortion in spacetime (by the application of microwave energy) is not unreasonable. And if that distortion were to shift the centre of gravity of the containing structure ever so slightly, then the structure would be forced to move to accommodate the shift. Thrustless motion."

      I think the problem with that idea is that with the amount of energy it uses, the EM drive is highly unlikely to be able to warp spacetime enough to cause thrustless motion.

      There are at least a couple of hypotheses (exotic but obeying the laws of physics as we currently understand them) that propose space travel by warping space time around a spacecraft, so that the spacetime containing it is accelerated, not the craft itself.

      Of course these hypotheses do not tell us exactly how you would warp spacetime to such a degree, just that it is theoretically possible. They also predict the amount of energy that would be required to do so; the most energy efficient proposal would require a mass roughly equivalent to one of the Voyager spacecraft (just under 1 metric tonne) to be completely converted to energy, in other words the energy required would be orders of magnitude greater than that released in the most powerful thermo-nuclear reactions we have so far created (the H-bomb.)

      So this stuff isn't impossible, but we might have to wait a while.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: EM Drive is an impossible idea

        The EM drive could be tapping into the 'Universal energy', after all, if the fabric of spacetime is like a tablecloth with things with more mass creating a bigger dip in the fabric than others, then doesn't the concept of having the fabric resting on *something* have enough merit to pursue?

        What if space-time was held together by a sea of energy, and that there is a potential difference between the sea and the fabric (otherwise it wouldn't float on top of it see) then the EM drive could be tapping into this PD to generate a thrust *seemingly* out of nothing, but is in fact running on dark energy :)

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: EM Drive is an impossible idea

      Remember 20, 30 years ago. It was impossible that stomach ulcers in humans were caused by a virus ? Hello Heliobactor pylorii !

      Yeah. It's a bacterium. And what has that to do with the fabulous EM drive?

    3. Chemist

      Re: EM Drive is an impossible idea

      "It was impossible that stomach ulcers in humans were caused by a virus ? Hello Heliobactor pylorii !"

      Not quite - no-one knew but some clues were were there in the literature. Cases often appeared in clusters and especially in immunosupressed groups. Munition workers exposed to certain chemicals is the example I recall.

      When I started work on H2-blockers ~40 years ago some people might have said that it was impossible for the disease to be caused by an infection but really nobody knew the cause although there were a number of pet ideas.

      BTW H. Pylorii is a bacterium. not a virus.

      As regards your comment on gravity -definition of gravity was "a force which distorts spacetime."

      it's rather " a distortion of spacetime is perceived as an apparent force we call gravity

    4. Yesnomaybe

      An approach based on today's technology please.

      Creating faster-than-light travel seems like awful hard work. And for reasons cleverer comentards than me have outlined, relies on technology that probably isn't actually possible, let alone reasonable to achieve (Tame black hole, energy levels equal to a supernova, etc)

      We could still travel to other stars. Two major developments would be needed, both of them possible in our lifetime. A reactionless drive, be it the Cannae/Em drive or lightsails or whatever - that can get a spaceship up to a reasonable % of lightspeed. Let's say 10%.

      Then we need to "tinker" a bit with human DNA. We could try to do two things: Make humans that can survive being frozen. Or. Massively prolong the human lifespan. Suddenly the cruel speed-limit of the universe seems more reasonable. There are obvious other issues to do with free hydrogen and a hundred more, but I think the major problem is really that humans just don't live long enough. So you need to travel quicker than is possible. Let's look at the low-hanging fruit first?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: An approach based on today's technology please.

        "Creating faster-than-light travel seems like awful hard work."

        Compared with having spent 100 years in a tin-can and still being only half-way to the first destination. ?

        1. Yesnomaybe

          Re: An approach based on today's technology please.

          Yes. Even compared to that.

  19. withlovenregards

    Nice idea to do more

    just to get my little body to the speed of light that is nice idea to do more for light speed that discovery of Higgs will be eventually lead in now a days so It is all wishful thinking to us.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice idea to do more

      Why do write so badly?

  20. Michael Habel Silver badge

    Hyperspace is for Plebs!

    Real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri are into Bistromathics frood!

  21. The March Hare

    Gigawatt!

    " A gigawatt (one billion watts) of energy" is that nearly 1.21 jigawatts?

    just send for the DeLorean!

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Gigawatt!

      Yeah, but the DeLorean only has to get up to 88mph, not 'c'.

  22. Gobhicks

    Remember the Guild

    Mutation and powerful psychedelics, that's the way to do hyperspace. Of course you also need a Holtzmann Generator.

  23. Dinsdale247
    Happy

    Nanoriffic!

    Starshot will propel nanocrafts weighing a single gram to a fifth of the speed of light by powerful laser beam, says Avi Loeb, chairman of the Breakthrough Starshot advisory committee, and professor of science at Harvard University.

    I suggested the same thing back in 1998 using magnetic rail guns instead of lasers.

  24. Pete4000uk

    I will be happy

    With a picture of a exoplanet.

  25. criggs

    Actually real warp drive is being actively investigated, with practical engineering tests to see whether it's possible or feasible, by three people in separate unrelated endeavours: Professor David Pares, inventor Marshall Barnes and Professor James Woodward. Those curious can google them; they make for some fascinating reading.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Woodward is not into "warp drives" but into reactionless drives. It could have worked but experiments have shown unfortunately that it doesn't.

  26. Andrew Jones 2

    The warp drive may not be here yet, but ThinkGeek have the com badge up for pre-order (sadly only in the US for now, but I'm hoping they will be available globally after November) and with the news about Majel's voice being recorded phonetically.... it's looking incredibly likely that we will get at least some Star Trek tech soon :) www.thinkgeek.com/product/jmgi

  27. Identity
    Alien

    Random thoughts

    Back in the 70's, I had a girlfriend whose father was working for Battelle Corp. I was told they were working on an ion drive. How fast this would go is beyond me. Perhaps, in truth (and not sci-fi), the method for obtaining those distant reaches will prove to be generational ships (ones in which those who land are the offspring of those who left...).

    However, it seems to me (simple observer that I am) that nothing can travel at the speed of light except light, and that anything that did would become light. (It is indeed said [by someone] that much light is made up of those beings who attained that speed and then lacked the wherewithal to become anything other than light. They were smart buggers and that's why, when we are faced with a difficult problem, we often put light on it...)

    So, back to the beginning. If we are to attain speeds that would allow a 'naut to visit intergalactic space and return to tell about it, we must indeed exceed c without passing through it. There may indeed be a way to do it, but as they say, we don't know who discovered water, but we're pretty sure it wasn't a fish!

    1. deconstructionist

      Re: Random thoughts

      Actually quite a lot of space craft use ION propulsion like deep space one

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_thruster

      the long and short of it is the universe is to big and to dangerous not to mention GR and SR ,all make travel to other planets Disney channel fodder...if we ever go there will be no coming back and it would take generations and you may find the 2nd or 3rd generation of space travelers might want to head back home instead of keep on heading into to the darkness.

      Sorry but truth is it wont happen.

  28. strum Silver badge

    Mythic

    One of the fundamental myths propagated by ST (and others) is that there are tons of destinations out there, where we can wander about in casual knitware, breathing oxygen.

    In fact, the universe is almost entirely lethal to humans (apart from a thin veneer on one little pebble).

    The universe is a dangerous place, even without Klingons.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Mythic

      The universe is a dangerous place, even without Klingons.

      Fleshers! They suck at everything.

      (The metronomic cackle of what passes as laughter of an AI, heavily entropized by noise, is heard over the radiowaves at 1'666 MHz)

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Angel

    More random thoughts

    To get elsewhere using STL I always liked the idea of robotic slow-ships that used nano-tech to rebuild you (and hopefully your mind) (or raised children) at the destination - a bit of a one-way trip but there are always people who will do such things.

    Also the machines could build comunications devices to let the homebodies know what if anything happened (using entangled particles maybe)

    Still it remains SF/fantasy up to the point someone proves it is possible, only then it is Science. When they suceed in doing it - it is then just Engineering, and of course someone will dream up some more impossibles which are then SF/fantasy. A possible Ring Cycle....

  30. WereWoof

    Personally I am still waiting for the DoubleKay drive ((KK or Kurita - Kinoshita Drive):

    http://www.alandeanfoster.com/version2.0/spacecraftouterframe.htm

    See also http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/antigravity.php for a description

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Tramlines" in the Jerry Pournelle Universe were the best.

      They instantly transformed Open Space into a changing tunnel maze that may or may not have a path to the place you want to go to.

      To us humans - who are just evolved rodents with a larger concept-processing hardware - this would be pleasing. The Galaxy would feel safe, like home.

  31. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Pint

    So many things have come true..

    So many things predicted by the most prescient science fiction are now commonplace:

    The cell phone, the Internet, geostationary satellites, "smartphones" (the 'minisec' in Clarke's world), interactive computers that can be voice controlled and answer back. Virtual reality (thanks again Mr. Clarke) Just to name a few. (I'm grateful we don't have flying cars)

    A lot more are on the verge of reality or almost possible: a space elevator, self-driving cars, and true artificial intelligence come to mind.

    I would love to see mankind invent some means of travelling FTL and reach another star in my lifetime. (if it's even possible) It might not be easy with what we have now, but give it another 20-50 years and it too may be taken for granted. Did anyone think in 1960 that we'd all carry a constantly-connected supercomputer that can make phone calls too? And use them to hunt fictional 'creatures' for fun?

    But of course no one will make the commitment outside of a few driven, visionary enthusiasts to spend money and effort on such 'nonsense'. Not with wars to be fought, petty political power grabs, people living in squalor in our own countries, and all the other mundane concerns of life that aren't being intelligently dealt with now.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. Hawking drive

    He probably has something up his sleeve(s), probably involving stabilized micro-singularities or similar.

    In fact it was a Robert L Forward who originally proposed using degenerate matter (broadly similar to neutronium) to compensate for gravitational forces near a neutron star, the side effect of which would be a way to go near the speed of light without actually going anywhere near it in normal space.

    Essentially an Alcubierre drive with very *very* heavy rapidly spinning normal matter.

  33. weegie38

    "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace"

    Oh come on El Reg, don't be so tedious. DNA had invented at least 3 more interesting/feasible methods of space travel: the Infinite Impossibility Drive, the Bistromathics Drive, and the Bad News Drive

  34. Fermer

    lnertial propuision https://youtu.be/GnG7G56f4dg

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