Thursday, March 25, 2010


Johns Hopkins University physicist William Edelstein has some bad news for us geeks:

Faster Than Light Travel will kill you.

Edelstein's new study looked at what would happen on a hypothetical starship traveling at 99% of c, the speed of light. At such velocity, the stray hydrogen atoms drifting in deep space would smash into the starship at such speed and in such numbers that protons would be stripped away from the atoms and pass through the metal and the bodies of the crewmen inside. This would create a radiation exposure for those crewmen fatal to human beings. (For the truly geeky, the fatal dose is "6 sieverts" but the crewmen would be exposed to about "10,000 sieverts per second." I have no idea what that means, but the math looks pretty bad.)

I know, I know. The USS Enterprise has "shields" to protect it. Edelstein doubts that an electromagnetic shield could be built to block the subatomic particles in the radiation.

He seems like such a kill-joy, given that an engine capable of producing 99% of c velocities is also considered impossible. Why is he assuming we can have the engine, but no "shield?" Me, I would assume that such technology would require some mysterious, near magical, understanding and control over Unified Force.

Edelstein posits that such extreme radiation doses also would be fatal to all forms of life, thus, no little green men from Alpha Centauri, or reptoids, are visiting us currently.

So, is this the end of our dream of FTL Travel?

We still have wormholes to consider. Star Wars ships utilized "hyperspace" for FTL travel, and while it was never clearly defined, it was supposedly another dimension. WH40K gives us the Warp or Empyrean sea -- also an alternate dimension, though considerably more dangerous. What about folding space?

Ultimately, the problem with all forms of Hard-Sci Fi or realistic FTL travel is the resource expenditure. Even the best theories require an almost inconceivable amount of energy to effect the travel.


James T. Kirk said...

Bummer! I always thought the warp field would work. Wait until I tell Spock!

srb said...

Nice ship poster. Of course not all of the artifacts shown are imagined to be capable of FTL travel. But still a nice picture to use.

As far as using brute force to push yourself past c, you are correct. The amount of energy required is unimaginable. Plus the effects on your body that you mention. Thus the need for some kind of transition to another dimension of space. Unknown today, but required to tell a really interesting Galactic Empire kind of story.

Where would Honor Harrington be without an FTL hyperspace propulsion system?

Let us hope that someday we discover path to hyperspace, or the human domain will remain pitifully small.

The dream remains.

mlk said...

You douchfags don't get laid much, do you?