In Hank’s words, “consider this the most basic of primers regarding a device that will probably not ever exist”.
Einstein’s theory of relativity holds that nothing can move faster than light. However, the idea of warp drive is instead of moving the object, we move the space around it, manipulating space-time.
This creates a loophole in Einstein’s theory, because while it is impossible for any object to move faster than light, scientists do not believe that there is a speed-limit imposed on space-time itself.
Alcubierre and The Warp Bubble
Mexican phycisist Miquel Alcubierre suggest that, to achieve warp-drive, the object holds still inside a “warp bubble” while space moves around it.
The “warp” in “warp-time” refers to the idea that it would use gravity to compress space-time ahead of it, and expand space-time behind it. The empty space behind the vehicle expands rapidly, pushing the craft forward. Passengers of the vehicle would percieve this as very fast movement.
However, expanding space-time requires a huge amount of negative energy; according to Alcubierre, it would take the energy equivalent of the mass of Jupiter.
New developments: Harold White
Last September, NASA scientist Harold White said that his team may have discovered a more practical method to build a warp-drive by changing the geometry of the bubble:
"…if you made the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring larger, like shifting from a belt shape to a donut shape, and oscillate the warp bubble, you can greatly reduce the energy required"
It was suggested that using the above method, it was possible to reach ten times the speed of light. This is fast enough to reach Alpha Centuarian, one of the brightest stars in earth’s sky, in six months, using 65 exajoules of energy, approximately as much energy as the USA consumes every year. This means it is now possible, unlike the Jupiter-sized energy requirement of before, but still not exactly a viable option.
Proving the Theory - Laser Interferometry
At the Eagle Works lab (where NASA investigates advanced propulsion) Harold White and his colleagues are using Laser Interferometry to measure the possibility of creating miniscule warp bubbles.
And if they can prove that it works on a small scale, practical options might be a possibility.