Warp drive is a concept that has gained popularity over the years and has been used extensively in Star Trek and other popular TV shows, movies, and computer games. According to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, objects cannot travel at the speed of light or faster. Hence there are distances that cannot be covered in a lifetime. The warp drive is a hypothetical device that enables covering such distances in a short time without violating the Special Relativity restriction.

When Einstein developed his General Theory of Relativity, a theory that incorporates gravity into the Special Theory of Relativity, he introduced the cosmological constant in order to accurately describe the universe dynamics as he understood them. What he did not know at the time was that the universe was expanding, and upon Edwin Hubble’s discovery of this expansion, Einstein called the introduction of the cosmological constant his biggest mistake.

When the acceleration of the universe expansion was discovered about ten years ago, the cosmological constant was re-introduced into the equations, this time as the component responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe. The constant is also called dark energy, a mysterious component believed to account for 75% of the mass in the universe.

Accepting this theory, manipulation of the value of the cosmological constant can thus lead to a change in space-time. This manipulation may be achieved through an extra dimension of the universe. According to the String Theory, there are additional dimensions in our universe on top of the four space-time dimensions. The reason we do not see these dimensions is due to their miniscule size. It is like looking at a pipe from a distance and seeing a one dimensional line. Only upon getting closer do the additional space dimensions become apparent.

The new approach, developed by Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver from Baylor University in Texas, suggests influencing the size of the extra dimension in the vicinity of a travel vessel, thus adjusting the cosmological constant. This would be done in two ways. In front of the vessel the dimension would be expanded, leading to a contraction of space. Behind the vessel the dimension would be shrunk leading to an expansion of space. Directly surrounding the vessel no changes would be made. This warp bubble would create an effect of motion when in fact the space around the vessel would itself be moving. The vessel would remain stationary, therefore not violating the Special Theory of Relativity, which doesn’t limit the speed at which space itself can move.

Clearly a large amount of energy would be needed to produce the changes in the extra dimension. Just how much is necessary is probably one of the main obstacles to realizing this warp drive. Initial calculations show that for a vessel with a volume of 1000 cubic meters an energy investment of 10 to the power of 45 Joules would be needed. This is roughly the amount of energy contained within Jupiter, obtained using the E=mc^{2} equation.

This new approach is currently purely theoretical and much more work is needed to achieve, if at all possible, the goal of creating a warp drive. The curiosity regarding the possibility of intelligence life in outer space, in places currently beyond our reach, will continue serving as fuel for such work. Till then, stick to the speed limit.

TFOT reported on the first practical model of a time machine developed at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. TFOT also reported on the progress of the construction of a large camera intended to detect dark energy, the mysterious substance believed to cause the accelerated expansion of the universe.

Further information on the new approach to creating a warp drive can be obtained at the arxiv website (PDF).