Contributed by
Jan 5, 2006


If someone were to ask me to ignore all of physics, and pick what I want most in the world, very near the top of the list would be a faster-than-light drive. To be able to fly a starship anywhere in the Galaxy, see things up close I've only dreamed about...

But, for the moment, it's science fiction. I have not seen any credible, testable theories about any kind of FTL engine.

But something came up today, and I'm not sure what to make of it. It's a paper that appears to give a description of how to build just such a device. It's written by two German men, and uses a little-known idea by a man who postulated a way of traveling faster than light.

I looked over the paper, and alarm bells went off all kinds of ways in my head. They talk about types of dark energy as if they are real, when we're not sure of that at all. It talks about slipping into "parallel space" without really defining it. It has a lot of math, nearly all of of which is well over my head, so I cannot judge it at all (any takers?). It also posits new particles, new interactions, and all you need to do it is a superstrong magnetic field, one not much more powerful than what you might find in a medical MRI (though the energy density, the amount of energy you can squeeze into a volume, would be far higher).

It claims that a trip to the Moon would take 4 hours, and Mars in about a month. You could even go superluminal, faster than light. More alarm bells.

What's weird is that this paper was chosen as one of the best papers of 2005 by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. I have no knowledge about this organization, but some of the other papers look quite legit to me.

Is this paper for real? Beats me. This type of stuff isn't really my field, and the math is beyond my understanding, as is the physics. It looks fishy, and my instincts tell me it's bunk. But I'll leave it up to wiser heads. I'll just say that I won't be surprised if it turns out to be nonsense, and I will be surprised -- very surprised, but pretty happy -- if it pans out. But I seriously doubt it will.

Incidentally, the authors claim in a newspaper article that a working prototype might be built in five years. That's a falsifiable claim, so I guess I'll just have to wait.

Note: I will be traveling to the Washington DC meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Friday, so this will probably be my only post today. I am very much hoping to be able to do some mo'blogging during the meeting, and report on as much astronomy news as I can-- and there will be a lot of news. No guarantees, as I expect to be very busy! But I'll try.'

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