The Enterprise awaits! Scientists say they've found key to actual warp drive

Physicists have a new theory on space travel, and it feels mighty familiar.

It's no secret that many modern technological marvels draw inspiration from works of fiction. Star Trek is, in many ways, the ultimate science fiction franchise, so we're always trying to emulate it. And why not? Transporters, holodecks, replicators -- who wouldn't want all of the above? And while mobile phones are fast becoming our own version of a tricorder, the most important aspect of Trek still  eludes us -- warp drive.

Thank goodness physicists haven't given up hope. A while back, we mentioned the concept of a warp bubble as a means of traveling quickly through space. But warp bubbles are so last year! What have they cooked up this time?

Imagine this -- a vessel shaped like a football with two huge rings around it. Those rings would use an exotic type of matter that could, in theory, cause spacetime to contract in front of it and then expand behind it. Harold "Sonny" White explains the testing process in more detail this way:

We're looking for a change in path length of the photon on the interferometer, because that would be potential evidence that we're generating the effect we're looking for.

And it would look a little something like the image below.

The other part of White's puzzle involves a kind of electric quantum thruster that would create the negative vacuum energy needed to fuel the engines for warp drive. The thrusters would do in the vacuum of space effectively what the engines of a submarine do under water -- perturb the space around the engine in order to propel forward motion. Again, according to White:

The physics models that tell us how to construct a q-thruster are the same models we'll use to generate, design and build a negative vacuum generator. The quantum thrusters might be a propulsion manifestation of the physics, like the big ring around the spacecraft. If you looked in there, there might be 10,000 of these little cans that are the negative vacuum generators.

We know what you're asking -- can this really happen and how far along in testing are they? White says, "We have measured a force in several test devices which is a consequence of perturbing the state of the quantum vacuum." That's a nice way of saying it's very early days yet.

But this is still very, very cool. What's especially fascinating is that the ship itself would, in theory, never travel faster than the speed of light -- it's the space around the ship that breaks the warp barrier. We just hope they won't be any consequences (like ripping apart spacetime) should we ever actually be able to test this theory on a full scale!

(via Yahoo News)