A negative energy problem
Alcubierre’s warp drive would work by creating a bubble of flat spacetime around the spaceship and curving spacetime around that bubble to reduce distances. The warp drive would require either negative mass – a theorized type of matter – or a ring of negative energy density to work. Physicists have never observed negative mass, so that leaves negative energy as the only option.
To create negative energy, a warp drive would use a huge amount of mass to create an imbalance between particles and antiparticles. For example, if an electron and an antielectron appear near the warp drive, one of the particles would get trapped by the mass and this results in an imbalance. This imbalance results in negative energy density. Alcubierre’s warp drive would use this negative energy to create the spacetime bubble.
But for a warp drive to generate enough negative energy, you would need a lot of matter. Alcubierre estimated that a warp drive with a 100-meter bubble would require the mass of the entire visible universe.
In 1999, physicist Chris Van Den Broeck showed that expanding the volume inside the bubble but keeping the surface area constant would reduce the energy requirements significantly, to just about the mass of the Sun. A significant improvement, but still far beyond all practical possibilities.
A sci-fi future?
Bobrick and Martire realized that by modifying spacetime within the bubble in a certain way, they could remove the need to use negative energy. This solution, though, does not produce a warp drive that can go faster than light.
Independently, Lentz also proposed a solution that does not require negative energy. He used a different geometric approach to solve the equations of general relativity, and by doing so, he found that a warp drive wouldn’t need to use negative energy. Lentz’s solution would allow the bubble to travel faster than the speed of light.
It is essential to point out that these exciting developments are mathematical models. As a physicist, I won’t fully trust models until we have experimental proof. Yet, the science of warp drives is coming into view. As a science fiction fan, I welcome all this innovative thinking. In the words of Captain Picard, things are only impossible until they are not.
This Article firstly Publish on astronomy.com