Light, the Universe and Everything (else)

light burstSo let’s talk about light this week. Light and science fiction of course!

(Disclaimer, I am not a physicist so if something is off, my mistake)

One of the key principles of our understanding of light is that it travels at a constant speed through a vacuum of “c” which is about 299,792,458 m/s. (As an aside: it is possible to slow down the speed of light. Scientists have slowed light to 38mph, which is about 16.988 m/s. That’s a pretty darn big difference in speed. They managed to do this by shooting through ridiculously cold sodium atoms that basically acted as “optical molasses”. They essentially increased the viscosity of air, which is pretty cool I think).

As a traveler approaches the speed of light, time from the traveler’s vantage point seems to slow down around him. So what seems like only a few minute for our traveler will be something like years to the outside observer.

CoverSo I’ve recently been reading a book series by Greg Egan. The first in the series is called the Clockwork Rocket. If any of you have read this book you should know what I am going to talk about, for the rest of you: The main premises is there’s a civilization and their world is going to get hit by something called a Hurtler (think asteroid) and the best way to save this planet is to set a space craft off at a high enough speed that its trip will last an age but return only after a few years have passed on planet. The hope is that the scientists on the space craft will find awesome new technologies and gain new knowledge that will help them save their planet. This seems to be the opposite of what occurs in our universe if you time travel, but in the Egan universe there seems to be no distinction between space and time.

Let me attempt to take my foot out of my mouth.

In our universe space and time are two separate things more or less independent of each other. However, according to my understanding of the Egan universe, if you have enough relative motion you can transform space-like motion into time-like motion. He calls this the Orthogonal Universe. I’m severely cutting short the description of this series, and leaving out a lot of changes to the laws of physics in the Orthogonal Universe. However, I bring this series up to point to the fact that moving fast enough can essentially “give” you more time and both our relatively theories and the Egan model agree on this point; although who “gets” the extra time swaps places.

Back to our reality, it seems that anything with any amount of sizable mass is just doomed toWormhole travel the stars at slower than light speeds. However, NASA is working on a way to break our understanding of physics and create faster than light travel. I might have exaggerated about the breaking bit, but in 1994 a man named Miguel Alcubierre has come up with an Einsteinian valid mechanism for getting an object from point A to point B at faster than light speeds. In a nut shell Alcubierre’s idea is to bend space-time in front of and behind a vessel rather than attempting to propel the vessel itself at light-speeds. This is a completely feasible idea until you start looking at the application of this idea. Once you create the bubble how would you cross the threshold without destroying the ship or how would you reform the space once you finished your trip?

Even if these hurdles are overcome decelerating would release high-energy-particles from the front facing side that would probably blast apart your destination. And on top of all of this you would need what has been dubbed “exotic matter” to distort space-time. And you would need enough mass-energy to power your warp drive that would be on part with the planet Jupiter.

But fear not, hope is not lost! So far one of these obstacles might be possibly overcome. According to NASA physicist Harold White, the energy problem could be dealt with if you tweak the warp drive’s geometry. The reduction in energy requirements would change from a planet with a mass equivalent to over 300 Earths, down to an object that weighs just less than 1,600 pounds. This information comes from two articles one from Time and another from Popular Mechanics. So you can read more at:

With that glimmer of hope, I conclude this week’s article. Moving faster than the speed of light might be possible but would this bubble solve the issue of time appearing to slow down from the traveler’s view point? My best guess is that the space-time distortion might allow the travelers to move out of sync of our time enabling them to “reappear” in our time after what we would perceive as a normal lapse.


One thought on “Light, the Universe and Everything (else)

  1. Terrific article. Thanks. Love your site. I’ll be following YOU! Best wishes!

All these my head! I need to get them out!

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