Will we ever travel in space at speeds close to the speed of light?

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Traveling at the speed of light will save time in a deep space journey, reducing it to a few years or even minutes instead of a few thousand years depending on the destination. If such a technological breakthrough comes against many difficulties and is not predictable for a long time, many options have been raised: the use of a nuclear propulsion engine, a warp drive, or a wormhole or well photonics. Something to make you dream.

Light is an electromagnetic wave whose speed in space is about 300,000,000 meters per second (equivalent to 300,000 kilometers per second). In fact, it is a stream of zero-mass protons, and so it is hard to imagine that we would one day be able to travel at this same speed, on a ship of a certain weight.

Moreover, Einstein’s theory of relativity in the early 20th century explains the impossibility of achieving this. In principle, an object acquires mass with its acceleration. At a speed of 300,000 kilometers per second, so it would have a huge, almost infinite mass. Since it takes a lot of energy to accelerate a heavy object, the fuel needed to reach the speed of light will reach infinity!

Nuclear power requires an infinite amount of energy

However, the possibility of superluminal travel (more than the speed of light) fuels the study of advanced space technology that may allow it. In 1947, Stanisla Ulam (a pioneer of the atomic bomb) wanted to build a nuclear-powered spacecraft, since nuclear explosions create very powerful thrusts. In the 1950s, the Orion Project studied the technique, proposing the possibility of a highly specific emotion that could already reach 7% of the speed of light.

Orion artist impressions of the Orion nuclear-powered spacecraft. NASA

The power of a nuclear explosion, according to researchers, makes it possible to meet such thrust requirements related to the mass of the ship. This is the first time such an idea has been considered, but the Orion project will not be successful because of the risks associated with radioactivity. If other projects have emerged since then, ” They were only intended to significantly increase the speed reached by a chemical-powered rocket “, Explains Yusbek and Rika Roland Lehuk, Astrophysicist, Atomic Energy Commission. ” The observed speed was 1 to 10% of the speed of light, which is already sufficient for current thrusters, which caps less than 0.01% of the speed of light. “Today, there is only one organization left (the Tau Zero Foundation) that dreams of a superluminal ship.

In reality, the technique of running with conventional engines seems to be quite weak in terms of the amount of power. ” It will require an infinite amount of energy to move a large object at the speed of light The researcher added. ” For example, the average energy of a 1000-ton ship launched at 10% of the speed of light is equivalent to the energy used by humanity in one year.

The warp engine (or warp drive) will distort space-time to reach superluminal speeds.

So the type of engine must change, and so in 1994, Miguel Alquier planned to design a ship equipped with a distortion engine, the theory of which does not violate Einstein’s law of general relativity. The Warp Drive engine is said to be able to use dark energy (possibly causing the universe to expand rapidly) and space-time to work using extra dimensions, according to a U.S. Defense Department report.

Warp Drive is a theoretical method of superluminal propulsion using space-time distortion. © ElixirOf Knowledge

Controlling these additional spatial dimensions may allow the dark energy concentration to be technically manipulated and this may lead to the development of external propulsion technology; Especially Warp Drive “, Can we read there.” Traveling between the planets in our solar system would take hours more than a year, and traveling in the local star system would take weeks more than a few thousand years.

To better understand how this works, we must understand that if the velocity of a particle cannot exceed the speed of light, then space-time wave distortion (which is compressed on one side and propagated on the other) can change the situation. In fact, this would allow the speculative spacecraft to “surf” space-time waves, as the particles carried by its fabric would move away from each other at high speeds.

Only, a warp drive must use “external” energy which behaves like a negative energy (through the quantum effect). It would be a question of “enforcing” the dark energy to expand an extra dimension, creating a pot or a bubble capable of holding a volume of 100 m³. But even here, creating such a bubble would require a large amount of dark energy whose mass would be almost infinite, and physicists still do not know the nature of this energy, or how to produce or store it.

Then we must move on to other options, such as using wormholes created after the death of a star. In astrophysics, a wormhole refers to a hypothetical object that connects two distinct regions of spacetime (a black hole on one side and a white hole on the other) to create a shortcut faster than light through space-time. In order to reach this wormhole away from us, we must find a solution for speeding in space …

Consider other technical solutions

In 2020, astronomers have discovered the invisible structure created by gravitational interactions in the solar system: the “cosmic highway” that allows rapid movement. In terms of efficiency, the network could, for example, transport objects (excluding propulsion) from Jupiter to Neptune within decades, which is usually required instead of thousands of years.

Alternatively, a technology called Mega (Mac Effect Gravity Assist) Includes other types of systems that do not require any fuel, only power sources. One possible project, however, could involve designing an interstellar photonic sail that would propel the spacecraft at 20% of the speed of light, fast enough to travel to the nearest star and planet in about 20 days. Just a few years (instead of a few millennia)), for example. As part of the Breakthrough Starshot project, researchers have already begun to optimize its design, taking into account the pressure of the photons in the sails and the possibility of cracks in its structure.

According to records, the search for Helios 2 solar system still reached 253,000 km / h. But the Parker Solar Probe has passed it at a speed of 700,000 km / h, which is still a long way from the speed of light.

Constantly increasing the speed of a spacecraft is a difficult challenge that requires a lot of time and resources and to achieve this research and development of new technologies is a field whose progress is difficult to predict, as it is highly dependent on research work. Theoretical. While technologies under development promise to come closer soon, they may take decades or even centuries to mature.

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