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Traveling at the speed of light: When science fiction challenges scientists

“Now, if we add a charge, which would make electrical energy in addition to gravitational energy, it would make it possible to circumvent this problem and fend off this problem. [de l’autre côté du trou de ver]. Like a giant magnet, we will be attracted to the North Pole and then encounter the South Pole. Once you do that, you can’t go back the other way. In the context of the narratives of the return journey, this initial shortcut would certainly make it possible to move quickly, but it would force us to wander the universe back to the starting point. “It’s as if you took a shortcut to go to church, but in order to get home you had to walk around the village” Portrait of Marie-Christine Angonen.

To be able to travel back and forth through the wormhole, as in Interstellar, we will need energy whose density is weaker than a vacuum, a mass that could push us towards the white hole when we approach it. “For that, we have to have a negative mass somewhere,” notes Marie-Christine Angonen. “It would be antigravity, a place we are rejected from rather than attracted to. Antigravity is very present in science fiction, but in everyday life, it has never been brought to light, even in vacuum energies.”

Concepts that are difficult to explain by beginners, may be a fan of science fiction. This is the reason for developing a narrative justification for hyperspace. Ships piloted by fictional characters pass between the ends of a wormhole at faster than the speed of light, which justifies a quick movement that does not delay the plot. Note that hyperspace in science fiction only borrows certain terms from science, but it does not correspond to any scientific theory.

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Deformation and cubiere scale

In 1994, Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre developed a theoretical method for hyperluminescent motion that does not violate the physical principle that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. The Alcubierre scale, which is theoretically compatible with the special theory of relativity, envisions the possibility of space-time bending. The spacecraft itself does not move faster than light, but is stuck in a “bubble” that allows it to move from point A to point B faster than light. Said bubble consists of the expansion of the space behind the bowl on the one hand, and the contraction of the space in front of the bowl on the other.

Only here, if this theory is respected probably The laws of physics, and thus the bending of space-time to travel faster than light, require energy that is less dense than a vacuum. However, the principle of negative mass, which Einstein imagined, remains to this day only an unverified and difficult to verify hypothesis.

“The problem is that a particle traveling faster than light will always stay faster than light, because slowing it down requires infinite energy,” says Marie-Christine Angonen. Conversely, bringing a massive object to the speed of light requires infinite energy. And this is not a theoretical infinity, it has been proven by experience. For this reason, in particle accelerators, cubes of matter are not sent, but rather a single particle, because an already huge amount of energy is needed to be simply relativ. »

It is theoretically possible for bubbles in spacetime to travel at the speed of light, or even faster than light. But the main problem is putting a ship in one of these bubbles. “We would have to stop the bubble, and make it move at slower than the speed of light, which is not possible. Technically, there is no physical way to cross this barrier to the speed of light “supports Marie-Christine Angonen.

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But then, if we consider that a file Distortion Engines – It has long been theorized by screenwriters Star Trek – It cannot be developed due to a strong need for negative energy, could it be a fantasy? not necessarily. Research by an international group of scientists on other classes of “warp drives” was published in 2021 in the journal Classical and quantum gravity.

Scientists in this group, called Applied Physics, have looked at a theoretical “distortion motor” that does not require negative mass. For this to be physically possible, they say, the ship must look like a shield, flat in front and aft. Their presentation, although incomplete, is distinguished by showing that, from a mathematical point of view, a warp drive can be built.

The Alcubierre scale was an unrealistic idea and completely impossible to implement in everyday physics for various reasons. […] What these scientists have shown is that the Alcubierre scale is one of many solutions, one that is easy to implement, so to speak. It is interesting, but this does not mean that it can be done,” emphasizes Marie-Christine Angonen. “If we take into account vacuum fluctuations, this type of experiment would only exist in quantum space-time theory with very small energies and therefore very small particles. A spacecraft at the speed of light is completely unrealistic nowadays. »

Although scientists have been interested in these questions for many years, ultra-luminous travel should remain, for a long time, the prerogative of science fiction authors.