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Warp Drive

April 18, 2012

When it left Earth in 2006, New Horizons was buzzing along at more than 36,000 miles an hour -- the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Yet today it’s still three years from its target, Pluto.

The long cruise highlights the vastness of the universe, and our limited ability to explore it. The gap between stars is so immense that it would take New Horizons tens of thousands of years to reach even the closest one. And with conventional rockets, you can’t cut that travel time by much.

Reaching the stars will take tremendous leaps in science and technology -- leaps that sound more like science fiction than science fact. Even so, over the last couple of decades, scientists have dabbled in the theoretical basis for interstellar travel.

One idea is to use warp drive -- the technology that propels the starship Enterprise. Theory says it’s possible to shrink the space ahead of a ship while expanding the space behind it. That would effectively push the ship faster than the speed of light without breaking any laws of physics because you’d be changing space itself. The problem, though, is that you’d need negative energy to do it -- something that may not even exist.

Another idea is to use energy from the vacuum of space. The energy might push a starship like the wind pushes a sailboat. But the vacuum energy hasn’t been confirmed. Even so, there are possibilities for reaching the stars -- and exploring truly new horizons.

More about star travel tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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