Holes and Wrinkles

There is a lot of misconception about two of the more arcane forms of proposed space travel: Warp Drives and Worm Holes. They work on the same principles but function in wholly different ways.

General Relativity explains that any mass or energy can bend space and time. Since there is energy everywhere space and time are already curved. We can there fore tweak with the curvature of space-time in different ways to produce different effects.

For example, Worm Holes are analogous to tunnels. When there is enough mass or energy concentrated at two points, the space-time bends to form a tunnel between the two locations.



This means that we can reach another point before light, not because we are faster, but because we have a lesser “distance” to travel. So for example if a wormhole were to connect earth to the moon, you could step into the wormhole and go to the moon, and then quickly get back. But since light had to travel a longer distance, your image on the moon might reach you when you came back to earth. You would literally be able to make a thousand virtual copies of yourself. However, wormholes are extremely unstable. Some equations predict that they will immediately collapse as soon as something passes through. Negative energy and negative matter will be needed to stabilize a wormhole. Mankind is still far away from producing and using antimatter at a large scale, so worm holes will remain, for the near future, a fantasy.

Warp Drives also use the same principle. However they only distort space and time around the traveler while keeping him in a “bubble” of normal space-time. Imagine a small toy car on a bed sheet. The car can only travel a few centimetres per second. But you want to reach the other end of the bedsheet quickly. So you scrunch up the sheet in front of the car, effectively reducing the distance it has to travel. Once the car has traversed the wrinkles, you stretch out the sheet again. In a sense a Warp Drive is a less extreme version of the Worm Hole. A worm hole is just like the portals in the game Portal: the distance between destinations is effectively zero. But in a warp drive, you still have to cover some distance. Consequently it is also easier to make. But where worm holes can facilitate inter-galactic travel, warp drives are only viable for interstellar journeys.



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Things You can Do with a WMD

If your knowledge is lacking, historically…

A WMD stands for a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Commonly they refer to nuclear weapons: fission based and fusion based. Fusion based weapons are more powerful. I will talk about fusion based weapons. Because they make a bigger bang. I like big bangs.

Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Exactly. But fusion reactions are three to four times more energetic than fission. Therefore their destructive output is significantly larger. Add this to the fact that unlike fission that requires a critical reactant mass to happen, fusion can happen for an indefinite time, given that the right conditions are present. Therefore a fusion based weapon can lead to a potentially cataclysmic, near-apocalypse outcome.

But Lets think positively: Infinite Energy

That was an overstatement. But for humans, there is no difference. Fission (usually) requires Uranium-235. That isotope is only 0.72% abundant. On earth, there are an estimated 5.5 million tonnes of Uranium, which means about 36,000 tones of fissile Uranium. Compared to this we have about 4.68 trillion tonnes of oil reserves. Fusion, however, requires hydrogen atoms. Most of the hydrogen atoms on earth are tried up in water in the oceans. Compared to these two, we have 15 million trillion tonnes of hydrogen in the oceans. How’s that for unlimited?

…and Exploring the Ends of our Galaxy

Another overstatement. Poetic licence, you see. Anyways, NASA came up with a proposal about explosion propelled space ships.

Project Orion

Project Orion

They would have a thick metal shield at the back. At set intervals a nuclear explosion would be set off and the shock waves would accelerate the space ship. With each explosion, the mass of the ship would decrease and it would accelerate even more , eventually reaching relativistic speeds. That would technically allow us to access the stellar neighborhood, if not the entire galaxy.

Alas! Fusion’s too Good for our Technology…

Fusion requires extremely high temperatures (millions of Kelvin) to occur. And no material known to man can withstand the heat. Scientists are still experimenting with magnetic  and inertial confinement. In magnetic confinement, the hydrogen plasma is confined within a solenoid so that it does not touch the surface or the container. In inertial confinement, beams of lasers heat up the particles in suspension to cause fusion. you can read more about these two methods here.

Fusion Reactor

Fusion Reactor

In the end, we’ll have to just wait for and see,

For a Genius of a Man to Solve the Mystery.

But if you really think that you are Worthy,

Step forth, Champion, and Tame the WMD!

Last semester, I took some poetry,

It seems some of it rubbed off on me.

I will stop now.

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