Scientists may have figured out how to make a warp drive work

Scientists Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire have submitted a new scientific paper to the peer-reviewed journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, with a proposed plan for a functioning physical warp drive — like the kind of faster-than-light space travel you could otherwise only get in science fiction. As Bobrick explained in a press release:

Many people in the field of science are aware of the Alcubierre Drive and believe that warp drives are unphysical because of the need for negative energy. This, however, is no longer correct; we went in a different direction than NASA and others and our research has shown there are actually several other classes of warp drives in general relativity. In particular, we have formulated new classes of warp drive solutions that do not require negative energy and, thus, become physical.

"While we still can't break the speed of light," added paper co-author Martire, "we don't need to in order to become an interstellar species."

Bobrick and Martire build on previously peer-reviewed work of Miguel Alcubierre, who proposed a warp drive in 1994. But the journal of Classical and Quantum Gravity also published another recent warp drive paper by Erik Lentz at the University of Göttingen, who wrote:

Solitons in space-time capable of transporting time-like observers at superluminal speeds have long been tied to violations of the weak, strong, and dominant energy conditions of general relativity. The negative-energy sources required for these solitons must be created through energy-intensive uncertainty principle processes as no such classical source is known in particle physics. This paper overcomes this barrier by constructing a class of soliton solutions that are capable of superluminal motion and sourced by purely positive energy densities. 

Essentially, all of these scientists have proposed methods of circumventing the need to create the negative-energy that would otherwise be required in order to propel an object at faster-than-light speeds. Lentz suggested that this could — theoretically — be accomplished with a sort of "warp bubble." Although this "bubble" would require an energy output equivalent "hundreds of times of the mass of the planet Jupiter" just to move a standard-size space shuttle. And in order to accomplish that with current knowledge and technologies, we would simply need to find a way to reduce that energy to the output of a modern nuclear fission reactor, which would be about 30 orders of magnitude smaller. But still: not impossible!

Bobrick and Martire propose something similar with their theoretical Alcubierre Drive. "Conceptually, we demonstrate that any warp drive is a shell of regular or exotic material moving inertially with a certain velocity," they wrote. "By a purely local expansion of spacetime behind the spaceship and an opposite contraction in front of it, motion faster than the speed of light as seen by observers outside the disturbed region is possible."

Now all we have to do is uhhhh figure out how to capture spacetime in a contractual bubble with hundreds of times the mass of Jupiter that also fits into a nuclear fission reactor. But we're almost there!

Warp Drives Are No Longer Science Fiction [Applied Physics via BusinessWire]

Introducing physical warp drives [Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire / Classical and Quantum Gravity]

Spacecraft in a 'warp bubble' could travel faster than light, claims physicist [Benjamin Skuse / Physics World]

Breaking the warp barrier: hyper-fast solitons in Einstein–Maxwell-plasma theory [Erik Lentz / Classical and Quantum Gravity]