Ep. 60: Supplemental Science Corner

As promised, here is the lost science corner from last week’s episode! Not only is the ability of the human body to regenerate blood fascinating, but it also leads to some extremely questionable search history. I swear I’m not a serial killer. Really.

But hey, as interesting as blood science (is that like blood magic?) is, that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. I’m here to tell you about something far more interesting, and far less wet. Warp Drives. You know ’em, you love ’em, you’ve seen them in just about every science fiction space opera ever, but the question still remains: are they even possible? As it happens, around May of 2020, a gentleman by the name of Harold “Sonny” White, PhD, published some research on that exact topic. And that, my friends, is rather lucky for me.

At the time, White worked for NASA and decided to take a bit of a deep dive into the feasibility of something called the Alcubierre warp drive. The Alcubierre warp drive is a method of superluminal travel developed by Miguel Alcubierre in 1994. Without going too deep into the nitty-gritty-physiccy details, the drive operates on one core assumption: There’s a rule that matter can’t travel faster than light, but there’s no rule saying SPACE-TIME can’t travel faster than light.

That’s kind of a crazy concept, but let’s do a little thought experiment to try to visualize it. Let’s say you want to travel somewhere. Due to certain limitations, you as a human can’t travel more than 23.35 mph. At that speed, you can’t really make it across the country in a reasonable amount of time. Now let’s put your slow human body in a car. That car can travel much faster than you: over 300 mph in fact. If you’re sitting in the car, all other parts of the car are moving the same speed as you. That means that, relative to the car, you are stationary. However because the car plays by different rules than your body, you are able to move much fast relative to the ground that the car is travelling on. In this analogy, you are the spaceship, and the car is the bubble of space-time around you. The problem then becomes, how do we move our own bubble of spacetime?

According to Alcubierre, in order to do this we need to compress space-time on one side of us, and expand space-time on the other side. Kind of like pushing and pulling an object at the same time. In order to do this, we need a lot of energy. Like a lot a lot. Don’t worry though, Alcubierre has a solution for that too. His solution involves the use of “exotic matter”. This “exotic matter” would interact with gravity in the exact opposite way that your regular, garden-variety matter does. Rather than being attracted to massive objects, it would repel. It’s a pretty cool idea, but there are unfortunately just a few problems with it. Not the least of which being that we have absolutely no way of creating this “negative energy”, and at the moment aren’t even sure it exists. This, however, is where we roll back around to our friend Dr. White.

White’s report from early last year took a deep dive into the feasibility of a warp drive. Unfortunately, due to a pesky thing called “math”, we can’t exactly get away from our negative-mass-negative-energy problem, however White was able to theorize a way of bringing the energy requirements of a such a theoretical powerhouse down to Earth, so to speak. Rather than creating a bubble of space-time around the ship, White proposed instead creating a “donut” of space-time instead. This would dramatically reduce the amount of power needed to keep our souped-up space car moving at superluminal speeds. Now here’s the craziest part: He’s doing experiments. It’s nothing crazy, and certainly isn’t going to be propelling us into space any time soon, but White is working on generating little mini fields in order to cause tiny warps in space-time. We’re talking on the order of “one part in 10 million”, according to White, but that’s still pretty darn cool.

Additional Resources

Black Holes

“What is a Black Hole?”, NASA

Black Hole Math, NASA

Image of a Black Hole, NASA

Worm Holes

“What exactly is a ‘worm hole’?”, Scientific American

Human Blood

How Much Blood is in the Human Body, The Red Cross

What is a red blood cell?, Encyclopedia Britannica

How your body Replaces Blood, NHS

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