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Will Spacecraft ever Go Faster than the speed of Light?
Various - See Text ^ | 16 FEB 2003 | Various

Posted on 02/16/2003 2:16:44 PM PST by vannrox

Will Spacecraft ever Go Faster than the speed of Light?
Compiled by VANNROX for BlueBay
Source list and references included.
Primary Sources include MSNBC,NASA,Analog, and other online publications.
February 16 2003

 Marc Millis, who manages NASA?s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program, says he?s more interested in ways ?to propel spacecraft farther, faster, more efficiently? than in the grand cosmological questions. ?And my ears perk up more when I hear about new experimental evidence than theories,? he says. There are a number of such theories based on experimental evidence. His top three of interest are:

  1. Photon Tunneling.
    Some experiments have indicated that photons can appear to tunnel through barriers at speeds faster than light, but researchers are still sorting out the quantum physics behind such phenomena.

  2. Neutrino Rest Mass.
    Some experiments have come up with an imaginary number for the rest mass of neutrinos ? a result so baffling that most physicists say the data must be in error. ?If indeed those data are correct, then imaginary mass is a signature characteristic of a tachyon, a faster-than-light particle,? Millis says.
  3. Vacuum Fluctuations.
    Quantum physics dictates that even the vacuum of space contains some energy. In fact, some physicists have said a coffee cup full of empty space contains enough energy to boil away Earth?s oceans. But can that energy be extracted or used to propel spaceships? Millis says the outlook is uncertain: ?Very obviously there?s no free lunch in this scheme, but it does provide new clues from which to search for propulsion breakthroughs.?

Faster-than-light speeds in tunneling experiments: an annotated bibliography

Revision and enlargement of this page are in progress, although currently stalled. I've given up setting concrete dates - a more thorough text is in the process of being written and, say, 70% done (January 2001), and until a more complete overhaul, I'll add some more references in a piecemeal fashion, below.

One central tenet of special relativity theory is that light speed is the greatest speed at which energy, information, signals etc. can be transmitted. In many physics-related internet newsgroups, claims have appeared that recent tunneling experiments show this assumption to be wrong, and that information can indeed be transmitted by speeds faster than that of light - the most prominent example of "information" being a Mozart symphony, having been transmitted with 4.7 times the speed of light. In this document, I've tried to collect the major references on these faster-than-light (FTL)-experiments. If I find the time, I will develop this into a written introduction on the topic of FTL speeds and tunneling, so far it is merely a (possibly incomplete) collection of references. If anyone has relevant additions/comments, I'd appreciate a mail.

Most of the references are to the technical literature, presuming that the reader has at least a basic grasp of physics. However, as usual, those articles have abstracts and conclusions, which give an overview of what the article is about. Some references that are in German are omitted here, but can be found in the german version of this page.

What's this all about, anyway?

In recent years, some physicists have conducted experiments in which faster-than-light (FTL) speeds were measured. On the other hand, Einstein's theory of special relativity gives light speed as the absolute speed limit for matter and information! If information is transmitted faster, then a host of strange effects can be produced, e.g. for some observers it looks like the information was received even before it was sent (how this comes about should be described in elementary literature on special relativity). This violation of causality is very worrysome, and thus special relativity's demand that neither matter nor information should move faster than light is a pretty fundamental one, not at all comparable to the objections some physicists had about faster-than-sound travel in the first half of this century.

So, has special relativity been disproved, now that FTL speeds have been measured? The first problem with this naive conclusion is that, while in special relativity neither information nor energy are allowed to be transmitted faster than light, but that certain velocities in connection with the phenomena of wave transmission may well excede light speed. For instance, the phase velocity of a wave or the group velocity of a wave packet are not in principle restricted below light speed. The speed connected with wave phenomena that, according to special relativity, must never exceed light speed, is the front velocity of the wave or wave packet, which roughly can be seen as the speed of the first little stirring that tells an observer "Hey, there's a wave coming". Detailled examinations of the differences between the velocities useful to describe waves can be found in the classic book

  • Brillouin, L. 1960 Wave Propagation and Group Velocity. NY: Academic Press.

Basic information on quantum tunneling can be found in the introductory quantum theory literature.

Characteristic of the discussion of the FTL/tunneling experiments is that the experimental results are relatively uncontroversial - it is their interpretation that the debate is about. As far as I can see, right now there is a consensus that in neither of the experiments, FTL-front velocities have been measured, and that thus there is no contradiction to Einstein causality or to special relativity's claim that no front speed can exceed light speed. The discussion how much time a particle needs to tunnel through a barrier has been going on since the thirties and still goes on today, as far as I can tell. This discussion is about "real" tunneling experiments, like the ones a Berkeley group around Raymond Chiao has done, as well as experiments with microwaves in waveguides (that do not involve quantum mechanics) like those of Günter Nimtz et al. An overview of the discussion (including lots of further references) can be found in

  • Hauge, E.H. & Støvneng 1989, Review of Modern Physics 61, S. 917--936.

The Berkeley group gives a general overview of their research at

An experiment of theirs, where a single photon tunnelled through a barrier and its tunneling speed (not a signal speed!) was 1.7 times light speed, is described in

  • Steinberg, A.M., Kwiat, P.G. & R.Y. Chiao 1993: "Measurement of the Single-Photon Tunneling Time" in Physical Review Letter 71, S. 708--711
Articles concerned with the propagation of wave packets that happens FTL and is somewhat complicated by the fact that the waves "borrow" some energy from the medium, but does not violate causality, are

  • Chiao, R.Y. 1993: "Superluminal (but causal) propagation of wavepackets in transparent media with inverted atomic populations" in Phys. Rev. A 48, B34.

  • Chiao, R.Y. 1996: "Tachyon-like excitations in inverted two-level media" in Phys. Rev. Lett. 77, 1254.

Aephraim Steinberg, who is a former graduate student of Chiao's, has written two papers especially on the problem of tunneling time, which are available online at

Some other papers of Chiao's Berkeley group are also online, e.g.

Earlier experiments by Günter Nimtz of Cologne University (Universität Kön), with whose experiments most of the later newspaper articles are concerned, have been published as

  • Enders, A. und G. Nimtz 1993, "Evanescent-mode propagation and quantum tunneling" in Phys. Rev. E 48, S. 632-634.

  • Enders, A. und G. Nimtz 1993, J. Phys. I (France) 3, S. 1089

  • Nimtz, G. et al. 1994: "Photonic Tunneling Times"in J. Phys. I (France) 4, 565.
A description of the equivalence between these microwave-experiments and quantum mechanical tunneling is described in

  • Martin, Th. und Landauer, R. 1991: "Time delay of evanescent electromagnetic waves and the analogy to particle tunneling" in Phys. Rev. A 45 , S. 2611-2617.
In reaction to Nimtz' publications, a number of articles appeared which deal with a) why causality is not violated in these experiments, and b) how the results of the experiments come about. These are

  • Deutch, J.M. und F.E. Low 1993: "Barrier Penetration and Superluminal Velocity" in Ann. Phys. (NY) 228, S. 184-202.

  • Hass, K. und P. Busch 1994: "Causality of superluminal barrier traversal" in Phys. Lett. A 185, S. 9-13.

  • Landauer, R. und Th. Martin 1994: "Barrier interaction time in tunneling" in Rev. Mod. Phys. 66, S. 217-228.

  • Azbel, M. Y. 1994: "Superluminal Velocity, Tunneling Traversal Time and Causality" in Solid State Comm. 91, S. 439-441.

Nimtz's reply and general observations on causality and his experiments can be found in

  • Heitmann, W. und G. Nimtz 1994: "On causality proofs of superluminal barrier traversal of frequency band limited wave packets" in Phys. Lett. A 196, S. 154-158.

As far as the more recent experiments of Nimtz are concerned, especially the popular tunneling of parts of Mozart's 40th symphony with 4.7fold light speed, I have not been able to find references to a technical article yet. Heitman/Nimtz 1994 (see above) refer to it as "H. Aichmann and G. Nimtz, to be published", I haven't found it in Physics Abstracts (up to July 1996, I think I should look again soon), though.

the problem of tunneling times is also the topic of some articles I've found in the quantum physics (quant-ph) archive, namely

Supplements: (May 5, 1999 and Jan 29, 2001)

  • Aichmann, H., G. Nimtz and H. Spieker: "Photonische Tunnelzeiten: sunb-- und superluminales Tunneln" in Verhandlungen der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft 7, 1995, S. 1258.
    I'm listing this brief publication (a conference abstract) despite its being in German as it is the only publication directly referring to the tunneling of the Mozart symphony that I know of. The following article has much more content:

  • Nimtz, G. and W. Heitmann: "Superluminal Photonic Tunneling and Quantum Electronics" in Progress in Quantum Electronics 21(2) (1997), S. 81-108.
    Contains an expose of Nimtz' interpretation of his and other tunneling experiments.

  • Chiao, R.Y. Chiao and A.M. Steinberg: "Tunneling Times and Superluminality" in Progress in Optics XXXVII (1997), S. 345-405.
    Good summary of the "conventional" view why there is no faster-than-light information transfer in these tunneling experiments.

  • Mitchell, M.W. and R.Y. Chiao: "Causality and negative group delays in a simple bandpass amplifier" in American Journal of Physics 66(1) (1998), S. 14-19.
    Describes a very simple setup with the help of which one can understand how faster-than-light (or even negative) group and "signal"-velocities can occur without any violation of causality and without any faster-than-light information transfer.

  • Diener, G.: "Superluminal group velocities and information transfer" in Physics Letters A223 (1996), S. 327-331.
    General article about the pulse reshaping which, in the conventional interpretation, explains the faster-than-light (or negative) group velocities.

The following references are from the proceedings of the workshop "Superluminal(?) Velocities: Tunneling time, barrier penetration, non-trivial vacua, philosophy of physics", organized by F. W. Hehl, P. Mittelstaedt and G. Nimtz, which took place in Cologne, June 6-10, 1998.

I. Evanescent mode propagation and simulations

  • A.M. Steinberg et al.: "An atom optics experiment to investigate faster-than-light tunneling" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 593-601.

  • M. Büttiker and H. Thomas: "Front propagation in evanescent media" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 602-617.

  • G. Nimtz: "Superluminal signal velocity" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 618-624.

  • A. A. Stahlhofen and H. Druxes: "Observable tachyons in the tunneling regime?" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 625-630.

  • X. Chen and C. Xiong: "Electromagnetic simulation of the evanescent mode" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 631-638.

  • G. Diener: "Energy balance and energy transport velocity in dispersive media" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 639-644.

  • H. D. Dahmen et al.: "Quantile motion of electromagnetic waves in wave guides of varying cross section and dispersive media" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 645-653.

  • E. Capelas de Oliveira and W. A. Rodrigues Jr.:"Superluminal electromagnetic waves in free space" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 654-659.

II. Superluminal quantum phenomena

  • F. E. Low: "Comments on apparent superluminal propagation" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 660-661.

  • C. R. Leavens and R. Sala Mayato: "Are predicted superluminal tunneling times an artifact of using the nonrelativistic Schrödinger equation?" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 662-670.

  • J. G. Muga and J. P. Palao: "Negative time delays in one dimensional absorptive collisions" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 671-678.

  • S. Brouard and J. G. Muga: "Transient increase of high momenta in quantum wave-packet collisions" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 679-686.

  • C. Bracher and M. Kleber: "Minimum tunneling time in quantum motion" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 687-694.

  • D. Kreimer: "Locality, QED and classical electrodynamics" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 695-699.

  • K. Scharnhorst: "The velocities of light in modified QED vacua" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 700-709.

  • P. Mittelstaedt: "Can EPR-correlations be used for the transmission of superluminal signals?" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 710-715.

  • G. C. Hegerfeldt: "Instantaneous spreading and Einstein causality in quantum theory" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 716-725.

  • G. F. Melloy and A. J. Bracken: "The velocity of probability transport in quantum mechanics" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 726-731.

  • H. M. Krenzlin et al.: "Wave packet tunneling" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 732-736.

III. Causality, superluminality and relativity

  • P. Weingartner: "Causality in the natural sciences" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 737-747.

  • U. Schelb: "On the role of a limiting velocity in constructive spacetime axiomatics" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 748-755.

  • V. Gasparian et al.: "On the application of the Kramers-Kronig relations to the interaction time problem" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 756-763.

  • E. Recami et al.: "Superluminal microwave propagation and special relativity" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 764-773.

  • H. Goenner: "Einstein causality and the superluminal velocities of the Cologne microwave experiment" in Annalen der Physik (Leipzig), 7 (1998), S. 774-782.

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Neutrino Physics: Curiouser and Curiouser

by John G. Cramer

Alternate View Column AV-54
Keywords: solar neutrinos SAGE gallium homestake chlorine tritium endpoint imaginary mass

Published in the September-1992 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact Magazine;
This column was written and submitted 2/15/92 and is copyrighted ©1992 by John G. Cramer.
All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced in any form without
the explicit permission of the author.

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New data on the nature of neutrinos has been appearing recently which is very strange indeed. Second generation solar neutrino detectors and neutrino rest-mass measurements are both telling us that this elusive particle is even more peculiar than had been previously supposed.

Wolfgang Pauli first suggested the existence of what we now call the neutrino in order to preserve the law of conservation of energy. Previously, in 1911, James Chadwick had demonstrated that in the radioactive process called beta decay the emitted "beta particle" (now known to be an electron) was emitted with some random amount of its kinetic energy missing. Instead of the expected sharp spike of well-defined kinetic energy, a sample of many such emitted electrons showed that their kinetic energies were distributed over a broad bump-like distribution.

Following the discovery of the missing energy in beta decay many physicists, Niels Bohr among them, were ready to abandon the law of conservation of energy. But Pauli had a better idea: he guessed that the missing energy was being removed by a new particle that was invisible to Chadwick's detectors. We now know that he was correct.

Like the electron the neutrino spins on its axis like a tiny top, but unlike the electron it has no electric charge, little or no mass, it interacts only very weakly with matter, and it always travels at or near the speed of light. A neutrino can pass through light-years of lead without absorption or scattering.

We now know that neutrinos come in several distinct varieties or "flavors". For each of the three charged lepton flavors, electron (e), mu lepton (µ) and tau lepton ( ), there is corresponding neutrino flavor: the electron neutrino ( e), mu neutrino ( µ), and tau neutrino ( ), and each flavor comes in matter and antimatter varieties.

Neutrinos also play an important role in astrophysics. In stars the fusion reactions are fueled by a medium that is essentially all protons. During the fusion process about half of the proton participants are converted into neutrons through weak interaction processes that involve neutrinos. A proton in some nucleus is transformed to a neutron, and at the same time a positron (anti-matter electron) and a neutrino are emitted and share the available energy. The neutrinos produced in such fusion reactions exit the star at the speed of light, carrying their share of the energy away with them.

The result is that all stars are bright sources of energetic neutrinos. About 610 trillion neutrinos produced about 8.3 minutes ago in fusion reactions at the center of our sun are passing through your body in the second it takes to read this line. If it is night outside as you read this, the solar neutrinos are passing through the earth to reach you. There are so many neutrinos streaming in our direction from the sun that it is possible to detect them, even though the chances of detecting any particular neutrino are extremely small.

The first successful experiment to detect neutrinos from the sun was mounted in 1968 in the Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota by Ray Davis and his group from Brookhaven National Laboratory. This experiment, conducted 850 feet below ground level in a 100,000 gallon tank filled with per-chloro-ethylene cleaning solvent, has been in continuous operation for well over two decades and has produced a famous result. Only about 1/3 of the expected number of solar neutrinos are detected. Either the sun is producing only 1/3 of the neutrinos that it should, or else the Homestake detector is somehow missing 2/3 of them. This neutrino deficiency was later confirmed by the Kamiokande II detector in Japan which, although it operates on a different principle, is sensitive to neutrinos in about the same energy range as the Homestake detector.

This puzzling deficiency of solar neutrinos, usually referred to as "the solar neutrino problem", has prompted a second generation of solar neutrino experiments. The first second generation experiment to produce results is SAGE, an acronym for the "Soviet-American Gallium Experiment". The experiment was initiated as a joint venture, with the Soviet scientists providing the deep underground site and about $25 million worth of gallium, while the Americans provided the computers, detection electronics, and other hardware. The breakup of the Soviet Union has created a problem of nomenclature for the SAGE experiment, which is still in progress. The experiment is located within the territorial boundaries of Russia, and so it has been suggested that perhaps the acronym should be changed to "RAGE".

In the SAGE detection system a large quantity of gallium (element 31) is purified and held in underground tanks, waiting for solar neutrinos to transmute the gallium-71 isotope in the tanks to radioactive germanium-71, which has a half life of 11.4 days. A chemical procedure separates the few radioactive germanium atoms from the gallium and transports them to a sensitive detector where their decays are counted.

If the results of the Homestake solar neutrino experiment were puzzling, the SAGE results are shocking: in over a year of counting, the net number of solar neutrinos they have detected, after subtraction of a small background, is zero. In an operating period during which hundreds of neutrinos should have been detected, none are counted.

This null result from SAGE is very difficult to explain. The system is supposed to be detect neutrinos in a lower range of energies that are not accessible for the Homestake and Kamiokande II detectors. The strong implication of the two results is that there is not only a suppression of solar neutrinos, but that it is greater at lower energies than at high.

I will not, because of space limitations, discuss in detail theories that seek to explain these observations. The most plausible explanations use the concept of "neutrino oscillations", in which electron neutrinos are converted into mu neutrinos or tau neutrinos in flight, neutrino flavors that would be unable to transmute gallium to germanium in the SAGE detector.

Other second generation solar neutrino detectors in Italy and Canada are about to go into operation. We can expect new data from these experiments which should provide new insights on the solar neutrino problem.

An even more puzzling result seems to be coming from several recent attempts to measure the rest mass of the electron neutrino. Why do the three neutrinos species, unlike their charged lepton brothers and their quark cousins, have rest masses that are nearly (or exactly) zero? The standard model of particle physics is silent on this question. Unlike the photon, which must have zero mass because it is the mediating particle of the infinite-range electromagnetic force, there is no fundamental reason why neutrinos should be massless. They just are, as nearly as we can tell from measurement.

The best technique for measuring the neutrino rest mass does so indirectly by examining the energy spectrum of electrons produced in a low-energy nuclear beta decay. The "end-point" or region of the electron energy spectrum where the highest energy electrons are found is most sensitive to the mass of the e-neutrino (or e-anti-neutrino, which should have identical mass). If the neutrino has zero mass, the distribution near the end-point smoothly merges into the baseline. But if the neutrino has a small mass, the distribution at the end-point is chopped off early, producing a "nose" with an abrupt edge at the end of the electron energy distribution.

Measurements performed in this way have indicated that the rest mass-energy of the electron neutrino must be less than about 15 electron-volts. A number of second-generation experiments have recently been initiated to improve this limit by high-precision measurements of the end-point region of the beta decay of tritium, the mass-3 isotope of hydrogen, which because of its 18.6 keV transition energy is the lowest energy beta decay known. The very low energy of the transition enhances the "nose" effect produced by the neutrino mass at the end-point and makes for the most sensitive measurements.

It is not widely appreciated that the end-point technique does not actually measure the mass of the neutrino. Because of the way that the neutrino mass affects the electron energy spectrum, the measured quantity is the square of the neutrino mass.

And this is where the interesting, although statistically shaky, results appear: of the six most recent experimental determinations of neutrino mass, all have given negative values of the mass-squared to within the statics of the measurements. The experimental observation is that in the vicinity of the end point the yield of electrons lies above the zero-mass line, while for neutrinos with non-zero real mass, the electron yield should lie below this line. The measured mass-squared values are negative to an accuracy of several standard deviations in the most recent of these experiments.

These experimenters have been strangely quiet about mass-squared measurements with negative values. If the results had been positive by the same amount, the literature would be filled with claims that a non-zero value for the neutrino mass had been established. But a negative mass-squared is not something that can be easily publicized.

You obtain the measured mass value from a mass-squared measurement by taking the square root of the measured value. However, the square root of a negative number is an imaginary number. Thus the measurements could, in principle, be taken as an indication that the electron neutrino has an imaginary mass.

What are the physical implications of a particle with an imaginary rest mass? Gerald Feinberg of Columbia University has suggested hypothetical imaginary-mass particles which he has christened "tachyons". Tachyons are particles that always travel at velocities greater than the speed of light. Instead of speeding up when they are given more kinetic energy, they slow down so that their speed moves closer to the velocity of light from the high side as they become more energetic. Feinberg argued that since there are no physical laws forbidding the existence of tachyons, they may well exist and should be looked for. This has prompted a number of experimental searches for tachyons which, up to now, have produced no convincing evidence for their existence.

Some theoretical support for the existence of tachyons, however, has come from superstring theories. These "theories of everything" can predict the masses and other properties of fundamental particles. It has been found that some superstring theories predict a family of particles with a lowest-mass member that is "tachyonic", in that it has a negative mass-squared. I should add that such predictions normally lead to the rejection of the theory as "unphysical".

So, are neutrinos tachyons? Probably not. It is far more likely that the negative values found in the neutrino mass-squared measurements originate in some unsuspected experimental effect. Nevertheless, it is interesting to contemplate the possibility that the electron neutrino is a tachyon and to ask whether it is possible in the light of available data.

Supernova 1987A, for example, might be taken as a "test bed" for the tachyonic neutrino hypothesis because both the light and the neutrinos from the explosion had to cover 160,000 light years to travel from the Large Magellanic Cloud to our detectors on earth. We could view SN-1987A as a 160,000 year race between photons and neutrinos, with the fastest particles reaching the finish line first.

In fact, the neutrinos were observed to arrive 18 hours before the photons. However, this is attributed to stellar dynamics rather than FTL neutrinos. The neutrinos can leave the exploding star at once, while the photons must wait until the explosive shock wave travels from the core of the collapsing star to its surface. The more important fact is that there was a 12 second time spread between the arrival of the first detected neutrinos and the last and the apparent grouping of the arriving neutrinos in "clumps" (possibly the result of poor statistics). This could be (but has not yet been) used to place an upper limit on how "tachyonic" the electron neutrino could be.

And so, in summary, the neutrino mysteries continue. Is the electron neutrino a tachyon? Does it change its flavor in transit from the sun to the earth? Watch this column for future late-breaking developments in neutrino physics. The only thing that is clear at the moment is that we do not have the final word on this most peculiar and enigmatic of fundamental particles.

Warp Drive, When?

Some Emerging Possibilities

The following section has a brief description of some ideas that have been suggested over the years for interstellar travel, ideas based on the sciences that do exist today.

Lists of Some Intriguing Emerging Physics

Science and technology are continuing to evolve. In just the last few years, there have been new, intriguing developments in the scientific literature. Although it is still too soon to know whether any of these developments can lead to the desired propulsion breakthroughs, they do provide new clues that did not exist just a few short years ago. A snapshot of just some of the possibilities is listed below:

  • 2001 BPP-Sponsored Papers presented at the BPP Sessions of the July 2001 Joint Propulsion Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. (intended for technical audiences) [This link will take you out of the WDW site and into the BPP Project site.]
  • 1996 Eberlein: Theory suggesting that the laboratory observed effect of sonoluminescence is extraction of virtual photons from the electromagnetic zero point fluctuations.
  • 1994 Alcubierre: Theory for a faster-than-light "warp drive" consistent with general relativity.

Lists of some preparatory propulsion research

These emerging ideas are all related in some way to the physics goals for practical interstellar travel; controlling gravitational or inertial forces, traveling faster-than-light, and taking advantage of the energy in the space vacuum. Even though the physics has not yet matured to where "space drives" or "warp drives" can be engineered, individuals throughout the aerospace community and across the globe have been tracking these and other emerging clues. Most of this work has been fueled purely from the enthusiasm, talent, and vision of these individuals, but on occasion, there has been small support from their parent organizations.

Surveys & Workshops:



General Relativity

This is a snap shot of how gravity and electromagnetism are known to be linked. In the formalism of general relativity this coupling is described in terms of how mass warps the spacetime against which electromagnetism is measured. In simple terms this has the consequence that gravity appears to bend light, red-shift light (the stretching squiggles), and slow time. These observations and the general relativistic formalism that describes them are experimentally supported.

Although gravity?s effects on electromagnetism and spacetime have been observed, the reverse possibility, of using electromagnetism to affect gravity, inertia, or spacetime is unknown.

"Grand Unification Theories"


The mainstream approach to better understand this connection is through energetic particle smashing. Physicists noticed that when they collided subatomic particles together they figured out how the "weak force" and electromagnetism were really linked. They cranked up the collision energy and learned of that this new "Electro-Weak" theory could be linked to the "strong nuclear force". SO.... just crank up the power some more, and maybe we?d understand gravity too. Unfortunately, the collision energies needed are not technologically feasible, even with the Super Conductor Super Collider that got canceled, but its still a thought.

Vacuum Fluctuations of Quantum Physics

"Zero Point Energy"

Zero Point Energy (ZPE), or vacuum fluctuation energy are terms used to describe the random electromagnetic oscillations that are left in a vacuum after all other energy has been removed. If you remove all the energy from a space, take out all the matter, all the heat, all the light... everything -- you will find that there is still some energy left. One way to explain this is from the uncertainty principle from quantum physics that implies that it is impossible to have an absolutely zero energy condition.

For light waves in space, the same condition holds. For every possible color of light, that includes the ones we can?t see, there is a non-zero amount of that light. Add up the energy for all those different frequencies of light and the amount of energy in a given space is enormous, even mind boggling, ranging from 10^36 to 10^70 Joules/m3.

In simplistic terms it has been said that there is enough energy in the volume the size of a coffee cup to boil away Earth?s oceans. - that?s one strong cup of coffee! For a while a lot of physics thought that concept was too hard to swallow. This vacuum energy is more widely accepted today.

What evidence shows that it exists?

First predicted in 1948, the vacuum energy has been linked to a number of experimental observations. Examples include the Casimir effect, Van der Waal forces, the Lamb-Retherford Shift, explanations of the Planck blackbody radiation spectrum, the stability of the ground state of the hydrogen atom from radiative collapse, and the effect of cavities to inhibit or enhance the spontaneous emission from excited atoms.

The Casimir Effect:

The most straight-forward evidence for vacuum energy is the Casimir effect. Get two metal plates close enough together and this vacuum energy will push them together. This is because the plates block out the light waves that are too big to fit between the plates. Eventually you have more waves bouncing on the outside than from the inside, the plates will get pushed together from this difference in light pressure. This effect has been experimentally demonstrated.

Can we tap into this energy?

It is doubtful that this can be tapped, and if it could be tapped, it is unknown what the secondary consequences would be. Remember that this is our lowest energy point. To get energy out, you presumably need to be at a lower energy state. Theoretical methods have been suggested to take advantage of the Casimir effect to extract energy (let the plates collapse and do work in the process) since the region inside the Casimir cavity can be interpreted as being at a lower energy state. Such concepts are only at the point of theoretical exercises at this point.

With such large amount of energy, why is it so hard to notice?

Imagine, for example, if you lived on a large plateau, so large that you didn?t know you were 1000 ft up. From your point of view, your ground is at zero height. As long as your not near the edge of your 1000 ft plateau, you won?t fall off, and you will never know that your zero is really 1000. It?s kind of the same way with this vacuum energy. It is essentially our zero reference point.

What about propulsion implications?

The vacuum fluctuations have also been theorized by Haisch, Rueda, and Puthoff to cause gravity and inertia. Those particular gravity theories are still up for debate. Even if the theories are correct, in their present form they do not provide a means to use electromagnetic means to induce propulsive forces. It has also been suggested by Millis that any asymmetric interactions with the vacuum energy might provide a propulsion effect.

1994 Workshop on Faster-Than-Light Travel

In May 1994, Gary Bennett of NASA Headquarters (now retired), convened a workshop to examine the emerging physics and issues associated with faster-than-light travel. The workshop, euphemistically titled "Advanced Quantum/Relativity Theory Propulsion Workshop," was held at NASA?s Jet Propulsion Lab. Using the "Horizon Mission Methodology" from John Anderson of NASA Headquarters to kick off the discussions, the workshop examined theories of wormholes, tachyons, the Casimir effect, quantum paradoxes, and the physics of additional space dimensions. The participants concluded that there are enough unexplored paths to suggest future research even though faster-than-light travel is beyond our current sciences. Some of these paths include searching for astronomical evidence of wormholes and wormholes with negative mass entrances (searches now underway), experimentally determining if the speed of light is higher inside a Casimir cavity, and determining if recent data indicating that the neutrino has imaginary mass can be credibly interpreted as evidence for tachyon-like properties, where tachyons are hypothesized faster-than-light particles.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: alcubierredrive; explore; fast; faster; ftl; fusion; future; haroldgwhite; haroldsonnywhite; light; lightspeed; nasa; planets; podkletnov; science; solar; sonoluminescence; space; than; timedialation; travel
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To: Physicist
Wouldn't there be a problem with "space junk?" It's mind-boggling to think of even a tiny piece of dust slamming into a spaceship at speeds even close to 186,000mps!
51 posted on 02/16/2003 4:49:36 PM PST by scott7278 (Peace had it's chance, now it's bombs away!)
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To: vannrox
I, for one, would not want to become a tunneling photon until my kids are in college :^D
52 posted on 02/16/2003 4:55:38 PM PST by a_Turk (Ready? Set? Wait!!)
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To: vannrox
What a terrific effort, vannrox. VERY interesting; greatly appreciated.

It's been decades since I was purported to be a physics major in college, but I can only guess that such a compendium would be invaluable to many, many current students of physics.

Bookmarked and bumped.

[As an aside, I certainly cannot prove it, but I remain convinced that we will eventually find ways to achieve FTL speeds and somehow keep Einstein's work intact. Don't ask me how.........just a gut feeling.:) ]

53 posted on 02/16/2003 4:56:54 PM PST by RightOnline
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"Speed is a function of distance traveled in unit time, where background time is considered to be invariant. If every mass is a complex of temporal and spatial quantity, then the possibility of 'different' temporal variable for differerent masses is very possible and is, in fact, the blaise explanation of neutrinos and their 'rest mass'. Put another way, if the universe of our experience is a volumetric/present realm, the masses within that realm may have present, past, or future temporal orientation, combined with linear, planar, and/or volumetric spatial orientation.

"Taking a thought excursion, if one could 'view' the spacetime continuum in which our world exists, from outside that realm, what would be 'observed' would be a volumetric/past-->future realm, in which exist linear, planar, and volumetric spatial phenomena ... so, why not past, present and future temporal phenomena, also, within the realm 'observed'?"

Beats me.

I think you should read Julian Barbour's The End of Time and explain it to me when you're done. I read it twice and it's blinking well baffling, mate.


ADJECTIVE: 1. Uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence.
2. Unconcerned; nonchalant: had a blasé attitude about housecleaning.
3. Very sophisticated. ETYMOLOGY: French, from past participle of blaser, to cloy, from French dialectal, to be chronically hung over, probably from Middle Dutch blsen, to blow up, swell.

54 posted on 02/16/2003 5:15:57 PM PST by boris
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To: boris
How did you make that little mark over the 'se'? ... Explian The End Of Time to you! I couldn't explain Prigogine's End Of Certainty to someone, so the time thingy would be out of the question. [I can't achieve Pioncare resonance for the job. ... I know, I need a little dash up there over the name, but ...]
55 posted on 02/16/2003 5:27:09 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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To: Stefan Stackhouse
"Sorry to bring all you starry-eyed dreamers down to earth, but the real limiting factor in all of this will be economics. Any travel even approaching -- not to mention exceeding -- the speed of light will require enormous amounts of energy. Last I checked energy still cost money. Even if we finally get fusion reactors, energy will not be "free". The economic fact of life is that resources are not infinite, and thus they do have a cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch. So the question thus becomes: what economic benefit will be gained by tooling around the universe to pay for the enormous quantities of energy that will need to be allocated for this project?"

Comment 1: If the human race does not destroy itself or encounter a cosmic catastrophe such as an asteroid, we will have to pack our bags and relocate eventually anyhow (or our descendants will). The Sun cooks everything in about 8 billion years.

Comment 2: "If any of these schemes were feasible, intelligent ETs would have reduced them to practise millions of years ago. We do not observe their traffic; hence either there are no intelligent ETs or none of these schemes are feasible."

Comment 3: Robert Bussard, in Acta Astronautica, described a fusion ramjet operating using the interstellar medium as propellant (rare hydrogen atoms) which potentially can reach very high fractions of "C". Nobody knows how to build a fusion engine--yet.

Comment 4: Neglecting Einstein, a kilogram of mass at "c" has 4.89 times ten to the 17th power joules of kinetic energy. It turns out that one "gee" acceleration is 1.03 light years per square year. If one could accelerate at one "gee" for one year, one would be "near" light speed and 1/2 light year from earth. A year is about 3.15 times ten to the seventh seconds. Thus the kilogram would require about 1500 megawatts delivered continuously for one year at 100% efficiency and directed into propulsive power to reach near "c". To account for various inefficiencies, call it 2000 megawatts. Roughly the output of two large terrestrial generating plants--per kilogram.

If one plans to take the propulsion along for the ride, the problem is to reduce these power plants to a small fraction of a kilogram in mass and volume. (Otherwise there is no room for payload, crew, structure). Scale up as necessary until you hit "Enterprise". Something like compressing the Sun into a small space.

Human beings are not (yet) able to deal with these energies, powers, durations.

Comment 5: One question I have saved up for the Almighty is: "Why the heck did you put everything so bleeping far apart?" It is almost as if the Universe is designed to prevent travel/contact/exploration...


56 posted on 02/16/2003 5:28:05 PM PST by boris
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To: RadioAstronomer
Ping-a-ling ... thought you might find this thread of interest. Stunning links herein
57 posted on 02/16/2003 5:28:48 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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To: vannrox
That's so very three dimensional.
58 posted on 02/16/2003 5:29:36 PM PST by TheHound
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To: luv2ndamend
I'm not a physicist but I imagine that all measurements are getting more precise.
59 posted on 02/16/2003 5:37:13 PM PST by ffusco (Omni Gaul Delenda Est!)
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To: vannrox
None of the articles which you have listed reflect any of my interests and knowledge. I would respectfully suggest that you explore other avenues of investigation than a cousin of "Omni" magazine. Even google on the keywords which I mentioned would get you much further than this balderdash which you have suggested.
60 posted on 02/16/2003 5:37:17 PM PST by Fractal Trader
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Thanks for the ping! Just got back after being gone 4 days. Lots to catch up on!
61 posted on 02/16/2003 5:48:12 PM PST by RadioAstronomer
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To: luv2ndamend
The speed of light actually changes every year,IE they get a better estimation of the speed.Is this true?

False. The speed of light in a vacuum travels EXACTLY at 299,792,458 meters per second.

62 posted on 02/16/2003 5:51:34 PM PST by RadioAstronomer
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To: boris
Boris, this will come as no surprise to you, but I believe in Angels (though I won't agape--second definition in your dictionary reference, not the first regarding 'love'-- the crowd with the 'whys' or hows). From whence come these beings? They exist (as far as I'm concerned) in a realm, a reality; what is the nature of that reality, as it differs from our reality our perception? I have a sneaking suspicion their realm differs mostly in temporal orientation rather than spatial orientation alone.
63 posted on 02/16/2003 5:55:26 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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To: vannrox
Did you know that Thursday was Chuck Yeager's 80th birthday?

According to, you can still send a postcard (hurry):

Send Your Postcard Greetings to:

Happy Birthday General Yeager!

C/O Chuck Yeager Fan Club,

24 Sunnyside Avenue

Mill Valley, Ca. 94941

Postcards only please.
Postcards accepted
through Feb. 20, 2003.

64 posted on 02/16/2003 5:57:59 PM PST by petuniasevan (Free Republic of Katzenellenbogen at
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We humans think of ourselves as existing in the present. In actuality, we 'experience' only the past of events around us. Our existence could be in a flux state, caught between past and future, present to our existence individually but not in the background present of the whole universe.
65 posted on 02/16/2003 5:59:25 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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To: vannrox
Not in my life my answer is no...
66 posted on 02/16/2003 6:02:30 PM PST by Hotdog
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To: vannrox
Even if it were possible to go the speed of light, the human body couldn't practically take it...It would take around 15 years accelerating with 3G's of force (which is a LOT for a constant pressure) to reach the speed of light...another 12 years to slow down...12 to speed up and 12 more to slow down on the way back...50 year minimum journey and no way to communicate with earth?..not practical...unless we find a way to freeze people and forget about them for a hundred years.
67 posted on 02/16/2003 6:06:26 PM PST by Capitalism2003
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How did you make that little mark over the 'se'

Welcome to ASCII codes!

ISO Latin 1 Character Entities and HTML Escape Sequence Table

 #    	Symbol	HTML Code	| #    	Symbol	HTML Code

 32	 	 		|143		
 33	!	!		|144		
 34	"	"		|145	‘	‘
 35	#	#		|146	’	’
 36	$	$		|147	“	“
 37	%	%		|148	”	”
 38	&	&		|149	•	•
 39	'	'		|150	–	–
 40	(	(		|151	—	—
 41	)	)		|152	˜	˜
 42	*	*		|153	™	™
 43	+	+		|154	š	š
 44	,	,		|155	›	›
 45	-	-		|156	œ	œ
 46	.	.		|157		
 47	/	/		|158	ž	ž
 48	0	0		|159	Ÿ	Ÿ
 49	1	1		|160	 	 
 50	2	2		|161	¡	¡
 51	3	3		|162	¢	¢
 52	4	4		|163	£	£
 53	5	5		|164	¤	¤
 54	6	6		|165	¥	¥
 55	7	7		|166	¦	¦
 56	8	8		|167	§	§
 57	9	9		|168	¨	¨
 58	:	:		|169	©	©
 59	;	&#59;		|170	ª	ª
 60	<	&#60;		|171	«	&#171;
 61	=	&#61;		|172	¬	&#172;
 62	>	&#62;		|173	­	&#173;
 63	?	&#63;		|174	®	&#174;
 64	@	&#64;		|175	¯	&#175;
 65	A	&#65;		|176	°	&#176;
 66	B	&#66;		|177	±	&#177;
 67	C	&#67;		|178	²	&#178;
 68	D	&#68;		|179	³	&#179;
 69	E	&#69;		|180	´	&#180;
 70	F	&#70;		|181	µ	&#181;
 71	G	&#71;		|182	¶	&#182;
 72	H	&#72;		|183	·	&#183;
 73	I	&#73;		|184	¸	&#184;
 74	J	&#74;		|185	¹	&#185;
 75	K	&#75;		|186	º	&#186;
 76	L	&#76;		|187	»	&#187;
 77	M	&#77;		|188	¼	&#188;
 78	N	&#78;		|189	½	&#189;
 79	O	&#79;		|190	¾	&#190;
 80	P	&#80;		|191	¿	&#191;
 81	Q	&#81;		|192	À	&#192;
 82	R	&#82;		|193	Á	&#193;
 83	S	&#83;		|194	Â	&#194;
 84	T	&#84;		|195	Ã	&#195;
 85	U	&#85;		|196	Ä	&#196;
 86	V	&#86;		|197	Å	&#197;
 87	W	&#87;		|198	Æ	&#198;
 88	X	&#88;		|199	Ç	&#199;
 89	Y	&#89;		|200	È	&#200;
 90	Z	&#90;		|201	É	&#201;
 91	[	&#91;		|202	Ê	&#202;
 92	\	&#92;		|203	Ë	&#203;
 93	]	&#93;		|204	Ì	&#204;
 94	^	&#94;		|205	Í	&#205;
 95	_	&#95;		|206	Î	&#206;
 96	`	&#96;		|207	Ï	&#207;
 97	a	&#97;		|208	Ð	&#208;
 98	b	&#98;		|209	Ñ	&#209;
 99	c	&#99;		|210	Ò	&#210;
100	d	&#100;		|211	Ó	&#211;
101	e	&#101;		|212	Ô	&#212;
102	f	&#102;		|213	Õ	&#213;
103	g	&#103;		|214	Ö	&#214;
104	h	&#104;		|215	×	&#215;
105	i	&#105;		|216	Ø	&#216;
106	j	&#106;		|217	Ù	&#217;
107	k	&#107;		|218	Ú	&#218;
108	l	&#108;		|219	Û	&#219;
109	m	&#109;		|220	Ü	&#220;
110	n	&#110;		|221	Ý	&#221;
111	o	&#111;		|222	Þ	&#222;
112	p	&#112;		|223	ß	&#223;
113	q	&#113;		|224	à	&#224;
114	r	&#114;		|225	á	&#225;
115	s	&#115;		|226	â	&#226;
116	t	&#116;		|227	ã	&#227;
117	u	&#117;		|228	ä	&#228;
118	v	&#118;		|229	å	&#229;
119	w	&#119;		|230	æ	&#230;
120	x	&#120;		|231	ç	&#231;
121	y	&#121;		|232	è	&#232;
122	z	&#122;		|233	é	&#233;
123	{	&#123;		|234	ê	&#234;
124	|	&#124;		|235	ë	&#235;
125	}	&#125;		|236	ì	&#236;
126	~	&#126;		|237	í	&#237;
127		&#127;		|238	î	&#238;
128	€	&#128;		|239	ï	&#239;
129		&#129;		|240	ð	&#240;
130	‚	&#130;		|241	ñ	&#241;
131	ƒ	&#131;		|242	ò	&#242;
132	„	&#132;		|243	ó	&#243;
133	…	&#133;		|244	ô	&#244;
134	†	&#134;		|245	õ	&#245;
135	‡	&#135;		|246	ö	&#246;
136	ˆ	&#136;		|247	÷	&#247;
137	‰	&#137;		|248	ø	&#248;
138	Š	&#138;		|249	ù	&#249;
139	‹	&#139;		|250	ú	&#250;
140	Œ	&#140;		|251	û	&#251;
141		&#141;		|252	ü	&#252;
142	Ž	&#142;		|253	ý	&#253;
143		&#143;		|254	þ	&#254;

So you can either use the formula &#233; for é, or you can hold down the alt button and type 0233. é

68 posted on 02/16/2003 6:07:13 PM PST by petuniasevan (Free Republic of Katzenellenbogen at
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To: petuniasevan
e ... &#233; blas&#233; ... see how puter challenged I is?
69 posted on 02/16/2003 6:21:12 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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Try the other way. Hold down your ALT key.


Then release the alt key.

You should get this result: é

Don't hold the shift key, and don't have caps lock on.
70 posted on 02/16/2003 6:27:45 PM PST by petuniasevan (Free Republic of Katzenellenbogen at
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To: petuniasevan
Now that is really cool. These guys have got good imagenations. Thanks alot and have a good one.
71 posted on 02/16/2003 6:28:56 PM PST by Captain Beyond (The Hammer of the gods! (Just a cool line from a Led Zep song))
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To: petuniasevan; MHGinTN
ASCII codes!

There are also less memory-intensive HTML codes. The string "&eacute" will produce: é

(It isn't happening when I show it because I'm using a different sequence, "&amp," to force the display rather than the interpretation of an ampersand.)

72 posted on 02/16/2003 6:32:09 PM PST by VadeRetro
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You don't need to go near the "e" key on your keyboard.

ASCII codes are unique to each character.

The letter "e" is code 101. Alt 0101 makes e. &#0101; makes e.

Hope this helps.

I disabled and enabled HTML to show how the codes worked. It's done by using the <XMP> tag. You must close it to restore HTML coding.

73 posted on 02/16/2003 6:36:01 PM PST by petuniasevan (Free Republic of Katzenellenbogen at
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To: Fractal Trader

The Tachyon Drive: Vex = infinity with Eex =0

Light speed, c = 3 × 108 meters per second, is the ultimate speed limit of the universe. The well-tested physics orthodoxy of special relativity tells us that nothing can go faster than c. When any massive object with rest mass M (taken to be in energy units) has velocity v=c (or relativistic velocity ß = v/c = 1), the object's mass-energy becomes infinite. This is because the relativistic mass increase factor g = 1/(1 - ß2)1/2 has a zero in its denominator, and the net mass-energy E is given by E = gM. Therefore, it would require all the energy in the universe and more to accelerate the object to a velocity of ß = 1.

If the massive object could somehow be drop-kicked over the light-speed barrier so that v was greater than c, then both g and E would become imaginary quantities (like [-1]½ ) because ß would be larger than 1 and (1 - ß2) would be negative. This, says physics orthodoxy, is Nature's way of telling us that such quantities have nothing to do with our universe, in which all measurable physical variables like E must have real (not imaginary) numbers as values.

"Not so!" said Gerald Feinberg, the eminent physicist and SF fan who died last year at the age of 59. In a 1967 paper, Feinberg postulated a type of hypothetical particles with a rest mass M that also has an imaginary value (M2<0). Then E = gM, the observable mass-energy of these particles, becomes real and positive and is compatible with other energies in our universe. Feinberg christened his hypothetical particles "tachyons" (from the Greek word for swift) for their characteristic that they always travel more swiftly than c.

Normal particles (or "tardyons" in Feinberg's terminology) have a velocity of 0 when their mass-energy is smallest (at E=M). They have a velocity slightly less than c when their mass energy is very large compared to its rest mass (E>>M). Tachyons (if they exist) would behave in an inverted way, so that when their mass-energy is smallest (E=0) they would have infinite velocity (1/ß = 0) and when their mass energy is very large compared to their rest mass (E >> |M|) they would have a velocity slightly larger than c.

This can perhaps be seen more clearly by considering some equations of special relativity. When any particle (tachyon or tardyon) has rest mass M and mass-energy E, it has a momentum P (in energy units) given by E2 = P2 + M2. For tardyons (normal particles) it should be clear from this equation that E cannot be less than M and is always greater than P. For tachyons, however, we have the peculiarity that M2 is negative, so that the energy equation becomes E2 = P2 - |M|2 or P2 = E2 + |M|2. This means that E can be as small as zero (when P = |M|) and that P is always greater than E and cannot be less than |M|. These quantities are related to the relativistic velocity ß by the equation ß = P/E. This tells us that when a tachyon has its minimum momentum P = |M|, it will also have its lowest possible mass-energy (E=0) and will have infinite velocity.

The theoretical work on tachyons in the 1960's by Feinberg and others, particularly Sudarshan and Recami, prompted a "gold rush" among experimentalists seeking to be the first to discover tachyons in the real world. They studied the kinematics of high energy particle reactions at large accelerators, they built timing experiments that used cosmic rays, and they probed many radioactive decay processes for some hint of tachyon emission. Although there were a few false "discoveries" among these results, all of the believable experimental results were negative in the decade or so after the initial theoretical work. Some cold water was also thrown on the tachyon concept from the theoretical direction when it was demonstrated (by physicist and SF author Gregory Benford, among others) that tachyons could be used to construct an "anti-telephone" capable of sending information backwards in time in violation of the principle of causality, one of the most fundamental and mysterious laws of physics. Tachyons were therefore metaphorically placed on a dusty shelf in the museum of might-be particles for which there is no experimental evidence, and there they have languished for the past 25 years. But this may now be changing: a new and growing body of evidence from an unexpected direction supports the possible existence of tachyons.

There is great fundamental interest in the mass of the electron neutrino (nue), because it is a leading "dark matter" candidate. Several very careful experiments have been mounted to measure its mass through its effect on the beta decay of mass-3 hydrogen or tritium. Tritium, with one proton and two neutrons in its nucleus, is transformed by the weak interaction beta-decay process into mass-3 helium (two protons and one neutron) by emitting an electron and an anti-neutrino (3H -> 3He + e- + nue) with an excess energy of 18.6 keV. This is the lowest energy beta decay known, and therefore the one which is affected most strongly by the mass of the electron neutrino.

If the kinetic energy of the emitted electrons is measured for a very large number of similar tritium decays, one finds a bell-shaped "spectrum" of energies ranging from essentially zero electron energy to a maximum of about 18.6 keV. This maximum-energy tip of the electron's kinetic energy distribution is called the "endpoint", and is the place where the neutrino is emitted with near-zero energy and where the neutrino's mass will make it's presence known. When the endpoint region is made linear (using a plotting trick called a Kurie plot), then the straight-line dependence of the electron's kinetic energy takes a node-dive just before it reaches zero, displaying the effect of neutrino mass.

Because of the relativistic relation of mass, energy, and momentum (E2 = P2 + M2) it is the mass-squared of the neutrino that is actually determined by the tritium end-point measurements. The mass-squared is allowed to vary from negative values (too many electrons with energies near the end-point) through Mnu2=0 (the expected number of electrons with energies near the end-point), to a positive mass-squared (too few electrons with energies near the end-point), and this variation is used to fit the experimental data. The resulting fit is quoted with the measured value of Mnu2 plus-or-minus the statistical error in the measurement plus-or-minus the estimated systematic error in the measurement.

At least five experimental groups have made careful measurements of Mnu2, and several of these groups have published their results in scientific journals. The two most recent published values are:
Zürich (Switzerland) Mnu2 = -158 ± 150 ± 103 eV2 (1986)
Los Alamos (USA) Mnu2 = -147 ± 68± 41 eV2 (1991)

As the numbers imply, both groups find an excess of electrons with energies near the tritium endpoint. There have also been recent informal reports (but no further publications) from these and other laboratories, particularly a group at a well-known weapons laboratory in California, of measurements which continue to give negative values to Mnu2 with even more statistically meaningful error estimates. I was told by one of the experimenters that if the a similar result had been found with the same errors but with the positive of the determined value for Mnu2, there would have been much publicity, with press conferences announcing the discovery of a non-zero mass for the electron neutrino.

We are not scandalized by the possibility that Mnu2 is negative, indicating that the electron neutrino is perhaps a tachyon. In fact, we rather like the idea that a well known particle may routinely be breaking the light-speed barrier. Let us then suppose that the nue is a tachyon with an imaginary mass of, say i × 12 eV. What are the physical consequences of this? The answer is disappointing. The tritium endpoint measurement is so difficult precisely because assuming a small neutrino mass (real or imaginary) has very few observable consequences. The "dark matter" implications are also nil. Since tachyons can have any mass-energy down to zero and are never at rest, they, like photons, cannot contribute to the excess of dark matter in the universe.

The above-mentioned "tachyon anti-telephone" with its violations of causality is also essentially impossible. Neutrinos are fairly easy to produce (using an accelerator to create beta-decaying nuclei) but very difficult to detect. The only successful neutrino detectors use either neutrino-induced nuclear reactions (the Homestake and Gallex experiments) or hard neutrino-electron scatterings (Kamiokande and SNO) to detect neutrinos with extremely low efficiency. But to use the possible tachyonic super-light speed of the electron neutrinos, they must have mass-energies comparable to or less than 12 electron volts. This is about 10-6 of the lowest neutrino energy ever detected, neither of the above detection schemes can be used in this energy range, and there is no known alternative method of detection. Thus, even if the nue is a tachyon, the law of causality is safe from our tamperings for the foreseeable future.

Consider the central problem of rocketry: how can one burn fuel at a high enough exhaust velocity to provide reasonable thrust without an unreasonable expenditure of energy. This is the dilemma that plagues our space program, and the solutions we have developed are not very good.

So let's consider a device that makes great quantities of E=0 tachyons and uses them as the infinite velocity exhaust of a "rocket". Within the constraints of the conservation laws of physics, we can make all the tachyons we want for free, provided we make them in neutrino-antineutrino pairs to conserve spin and lepton number. Momentum conservation is not a problem because we want and need the momentum kick derived from emitting the neutrino-antineutrino pair. This leaves us to deal with energy conservation

The paradox here is that with a high-momentum exhaust of tachyons produced at no energy cost and beamed out the back of our space vehicle, the vehicle would seem to gain kinetic energy from nowhere, in violation of the law of conservation of energy. The solution to this paradox (as can be demonstrated by considering particle systems) is that the processes producing the tachyons must also consume enough internal energy to account for the kinetic energy gain of the system. Thus, a tachyon drive vehicle might be made to hover at no energy cost (antigravity!), but could only gain kinetic energy if a comparable amount of stored energy were supplied.

How could we arrange for an engine to produce great floods of electron neutrino-antineutrino pairs beamed in a selected direction? All I can do here is to lay out the problems and speculate. Neutrinos are produced by the weak interaction, which has that name because is much many orders of magnitude weaker than electromagnetism. Neutrino production of any kind is improbable. On the other hand, in any quantum reaction process the energy cost squared appears in the denominator of the probability, and if that energy is zero, it should make for abig probability. The trick might be to arrange some reaction or process that is in principle strong but is inhibited by momentum conservation. Then the emission of a neutrino-antineutrino pair to supply the needed momentum with zero energy cost would make the process go. A string of similar atomic or nuclear systems prepared in this way might constitute an inverted population suitable for stimulated emission (like light, correlated neutrino-antinuetrino pairs should be bosons), resulting in a beam from a "tachyon laser" that might amplify the process and produce the desired strong beam of tachyons.


"Particles That Go Faster Than Light", Gerald Feinberg, Scientific American, 69-77 (February-1970);
Tachyons, Monopoles, and Related Topics, E. Recami, ed., North Holland Publishing Co., (1978).

Neutrino Mass Measurements:
"Measurement of the Neutrino Mass from Tririum Beta Becay", E. Holzschuh, Rep. Prog. Phys. 55, 1035-1091 (1992).

74 posted on 02/16/2003 6:40:43 PM PST by vannrox (The Preamble to the Bill of Rights - without it, our Bill of Rights is meaningless!)
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To: VadeRetro; MHGinTN
Handy table of "entity references"!

"Special" Character Entity References
   &lt;      -  <      &gt;      -    >
   &amp;     -  &      &quot;    -    " 
HTML 2.0 Standard Entity References 
   &AElig;   -  Æ      &Aacute;  -  Á      &Acirc;   -  Â 
   &Agrave;  -  À      &Aring;   -  Å      &Atilde;  -  Ã 
   &Auml;    -  Ä      &Ccedil;  -  Ç      &ETH;     -  Ð 
   &Eacute;  -  É      &Ecirc;   -  Ê      &Egrave;  -  È 
   &Euml;    -  Ë      &Iacute;  -  Í      &Icirc;   -  Î 
   &Igrave;  -  Ì      &Iuml;    -  Ï      &Ntilde;  -  Ñ 
   &Oacute;  -  Ó      &Ocirc;   -  Ô      &Ograve;  -  Ò
   &Oslash;  -  Ø      &Otilde;  -  Õ      &Ouml;    -  Ö 
   &THORN;   -  Þ      &Uacute;  -  Ú      &Ucirc;   -  Û 
   &Ugrave;  -  Ù      &Uuml;    -  Ü      &Yacute;  -  Ý 
   &aacute;  -  á      &acirc;   -  â      &aelig;   -  æ 
   &agrave;  -  à      &aring;   -  å      &atilde;  -  ã 
   &auml;    -  ä      &ccedil;  -  ç      &eacute;  -  é 
   &ecirc;   -  ê      &egrave;  -  è      &eth;     -  ð 
   &euml;    -  ë      &iacute;  -  í      &icirc;   -  î 
   &igrave;  -  ì      &iuml;    -  ï      &ntilde;  -  ñ 
   &oacute;  -  ó      &ocirc;   -  ô      &ograve;  -  ò 
   &oslash;  -  ø      &otilde;  -  õ      &ouml;    -  ö 
   &szlig;   -  ß      &thorn;   -  þ      &uacute;  -  ú 
   &ucirc;   -  û      &ugrave;  -  ù      &uuml;    -  ü 
   &yacute;  -  ý      &yuml;    -  ÿ      
Entities Added with HTML 3.2
   &nbsp;    -         &iexcl;   -  ¡      &pound;   -  £
   &curren;  -  ¤      &yen;     -  ¥      &brvbar;  -  ¦
   &sect;    -  §      &uml;     -  ¨      &copy;    -  ©
   &ordf;    -  ª      &laquo;   -  «      &not;     -  ¬
   &shy;     -  ­      &reg;     -  ®      &macr;    -  ¯
   &deg;     -  °      &plusmn;  -  ±      &sup2;    -  ²
   &sup3;    -  ³      &acute;   -  ´      &micro;   -  µ
   &para;    -  ¶      &middot;  -  ·      &cedil;   -  ¸
   &sup1;    -  ¹      &ordm;    -  º      &raquo;   -  »
   &frac14;  -  ¼      &frac12;  -  ½      &frac34;  -  ¾
   &iquest;  -  ¿
Additional Widely Implemented Entities
   &times;   -  ×
   &divide;  -  ÷
   &cent;    -  ¢

75 posted on 02/16/2003 6:43:36 PM PST by petuniasevan (Free Republic of Katzenellenbogen at
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To: longshadow; Piltdown_Woman; Junior; edwin hubble; Godel; Condorman; stanz; general_re; Aric2000
FTL Ping.
76 posted on 02/16/2003 6:52:20 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas)
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Note vannrox's post #74.

It's full of special characters. He got the source code from a web page; otherwise he'd have had to type in ASCII, alt, or character entities.
77 posted on 02/16/2003 6:58:56 PM PST by petuniasevan ( ex-lr )
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To: PatrickHenry
Thanks for the ping, Patrick Henry.

This thread contains a gold mine in the link to Cramer's site and the great matrix of cutting edge physics essays.
@ post#43.

78 posted on 02/16/2003 7:05:22 PM PST by edwin hubble
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To: vannrox
No and Yes.
79 posted on 02/16/2003 7:07:43 PM PST by semaj
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To: aruanan
Some interesting links to PDF stuff...

Physics of Exotic Propulsion
Wigner Scale Space Density & Technological Surprise
Introduction to Warp Drive Physics
An extension of Wheeler's "Geometrodynamics"
For a detailed slide show on "Bohmian non-mechanics"
Possible quantum gravity effects in a charged Bose condensate under variable e.m. field
The Role of the Spacetime Diffeomorphism Group Diff(M)
80 posted on 02/16/2003 7:08:08 PM PST by vannrox (The Preamble to the Bill of Rights - without it, our Bill of Rights is meaningless!)
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To: petuniasevan
81 posted on 02/16/2003 7:10:36 PM PST by vannrox (The Preamble to the Bill of Rights - without it, our Bill of Rights is meaningless!)
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To: edwin hubble

Issue 6.03 - Mar 1998

Breaking the Law of Gravity
By Charles Platt

Skeptics had a field day when a scientist claimed in 1996 that gravity could be negated. Now his findings are being investigated in laboratories worldwide.

In 1996, Russian émigré scientist Eugene Podkletnov was about to publish a peer-reviewed article in the respected British Journal of Physics-D - proving, he claimed, that gravity could be negated.

Then a London newspaper publicized his conclusions, and the skeptics had a field day. Everyone knew you couldn't mess with the law of gravity - Einstein himself had said so.

Podkletnov withdrew the article.
His university evicted him.
He retreated from the public eye.

But the controversy hasn't gone away, as his findings began to be investigated in laboratories around the world. Including one owned by NASA.

Now, as Charles Platt discovers, Eugene Podkletnov is back and unrepentant.

Shortly before dawn on a dismal, rain-drenched winter morning I'm heading out of Helsinki along Highway 3, into the heart of Finland. This obscure nation is an underpopulated wilderness sandwiched like a DMZ between Russia and Sweden, extending all the way up into the Arctic Circle. The sun barely sets here in the summer, while in the winter, it barely rises. I can't imagine why anyone would visit Finland in the dark months, unless motivated by some strange need to go skiing in perpetual twilight ... but my grueling pilgrimage has nothing to do with snow. I've come in search of a singular individual, a reclusive, elusive Russian émigré scientist named Eugene Podkletnov, who claims that he can defy the force of gravity.

Five years ago, while testing a superconducting ceramic disc by rotating it above powerful electromagnets, Podkletnov noticed something extremely strange. Small objects above the disc seemed to lose weight, as if they were being shielded from the pull of Planet Earth. The weight reduction was small - around 2 percent - but nothing like this had ever been observed before. If the shielding effect could be refined and intensified, the implications would be immense. In fact, practical, affordable gravity nullification could change our lives more radically than the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Imagine a future in which vehicles can levitate freely.

Highways and railroads become obsolete, airplanes no longer need wings, and oceangoing ships can be broken up for scrap. Industries in which large masses have to be transported or supported - from mining to construction - are revolutionized. Citizens gain unprecedented mobility, transcending all geographical and national barriers.

Meanwhile, space travel is now safe, cheap, and fast. Resources can be mined in the asteroid belt and shipped to factories relocated in orbit around Earth, freeing our planet from pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. Ultimately the old dream of colonizing other worlds may be realized, not just for a handful of highly trained astronauts but for millions of everyday people.

Far-fetched? Indeed. Most physicists laughed at Podkletnov's report. Riley Newman, a professor of physics at UC Irvine who has been involved in gravity research for 20 years, typified the reaction when he commented, "I think it's safe to say gravity shielding is not conceivable." Like many scientists, he felt that Podkletnov must have made a mistake, measuring magnetic fields or air currents instead of genuine weight reduction.

And yet, few of Podkletnov's critics actually bothered to read his description of his work. Their reaction was so dismissive, it almost sounded like prejudice. From their perspective he was an outsider, a nonmember of the "gravity establishment." They couldn't believe that a major discovery in physics had been made by such a no-status dilettante fooling around at some obscure lab in Finland.

True, Podkletnov wasn't a physicist - but he did have a doctorate (in materials science) and he knew how to do careful lab work. When he wrote up his results, his papers were accepted for publication in some sober physics journals, and at least one theoretical physicist - an Italian named Giovanni Modanese - became intrigued. Modanese didn't dismiss the whole idea of gravity shielding, because on the subatomic level, we simply don't know how gravity functions. "What we are lacking today," according to Modanese, "is a knowledge of the microscopic or 'quantum' aspects of gravity, comparable to the good microscopic knowledge we have of electromagnetic or nuclear forces. In this sense, the microscopic origin of the gravitational force is still unknown." At the Max Planck Institute in Munich, he developed a theory to explain the shielding phenomenon.

In the United States, scientists affiliated with NASA were thinking along similar lines. They obtained funding to replicate Podkletnov's experiment - but still the skeptics remained cynical and unimpressed. The concept of gravity shielding has an aura of science-fictional weirdness; it sounds like something out of The X-Files. Indeed, Podkletnov's experiment was actually mentioned in an episode of The X-Files, virtually guaranteeing that most scientists wouldn't take it seriously.

Podkletnov now claims that his results have been verified by researchers at two universities - but he won't name these people for fear that they'll be ridiculed and ruined by the gravity establishment. The team at NASA make no secret of their work - but they have no definite results, yet. And so, at this time, the only credentialed scientist claiming to have witnessed gravity modification is Podkletnov himself.

For almost a year I've been wrestling with this story, which is a journalistic nightmare, because nothing can be verified. Podkletnov may have made one of the great breakthroughs of the 20th century, or he may be suffering from a severe case of hubris coupled with wishful thinking. In darker moments I wonder if he even exists; the whole gravity story could be a prank by a bunch of hackers using a fake email address and a Finnish phone number that autoforwards calls to a dorm at MIT.

These thoughts run through my mind as I pull off Highway 3 into a rest area, crack a screw-top bottle of Vichy water, and check my map. It's now an hour after dawn, but the light is still so dim, the scenery outside is all in shades of gray - as if I'm trapped inside a monochrome TV with the brightness control stuck near zero. In Finland in the winter, when the sky is totally choked with clouds, the country becomes one big sensory-deprivation tank.

On the car radio some nameless station plays authentic American bluegrass, except that the lyrics are in Finnish, which is a head-bending experience, the last thing I need right now. Still, having come 5,000 miles I am determined to see this through. In just a few hours I am scheduled to meet Eugene Podkletnov in person, in the town of Tampere, where his gravity-modification experiments took place. I will verify, if nothing else, that he does exist ... assuming of course that I can find Tampere in this drizzle-soaked wilderness of undifferentiated gloom.

Gravity shielding isn't a new idea. H. G. Wells explored its potential for spaceflight almost a century ago in his classic novel The First Men in the Moon, and Wells also foresaw an avalanche of applications on Planet Earth, creating an uneasy conflict between pure science and pure greed. In his novel, a lone mad scientist says he isn't in it for the money; he just wants some recognition, and maybe a prize or two. But then he starts to realize just how much money could be involved. "I suppose," he says thoughtfully, "no one is absolutely averse to enormous wealth."

Eugene Podkletnov must be aware of this - but so far, he has reaped more pain than profit. After publishing a preliminary paper in 1992, he wrote a more thorough paper that was rejected by more than a dozen journals till finally it penetrated the peer-review process at the respected British Journal of Physics-D. This seemed to offer the recognition he was hoping for, yet instead it initiated a career-destroying nightmare.

The trouble started when Robert Matthews, science correspondent to the British Sunday Telegraph, got hold of the story. Matthews, like any journalist, relies on contacts, and he's disarmingly honest about it. "You don't get stories by digging for them," he now says with a laugh. "This isn't like Sherlock Holmes, that's a lot of bollocks. It's like, you hope a little brown envelope turns up in the post, and if it does, you're in luck."

In his case the little brown envelope contained page proofs of Podkletnov's paper, leaked by a man named Ian Sample who worked on the editorial staff of the Journal of Physics-D. Although Podkletnov's paper hadn't been published yet, Sample and Matthews decided to break the story in the Sunday Telegraph, which printed it on September 1, 1996. The first sentence was key: "Scientists in Finland are about to reveal details of the world's first antigravity device."

Antigravity? Podkletnov never used that word; he said he'd found a way to block gravity. Maybe this seemed a trivial distinction, but not to the staid professors at the Institute of Materials Science in the University of Tampere, to whom "antigravity" sounded like something out of a bad Hollywood movie.

The director of the institute promptly denied any involvement and declared that Podkletnov was working entirely on his own initiative. Then the coauthor of Podkletnov's paper claimed that his name had been used without his knowledge - which was highly implausible, but he stuck to his story, presumably because the institute told him to. In the end Podkletnov had to withdraw the paper from publication in the journal, he was abandoned by his friends, and his credibility was impaired.

At this point I obtained Podkletnov's phone number in Tampere and gave him a call. He turned out to speak fluent English but was reluctant to say anything, claiming that irresponsible journalism had ruined his career. I gave him various assurances, faxed samples of my work, made more calls - and finally, on November 10, 1996, he gave me a telephone interview.

He told me how he had made his discovery. "Someone in the laboratory was smoking a pipe," he said, "and the pipe smoke rose in a column above the superconducting disc. So we placed a ball-shaped magnet above the disc, attached to a balance. The balance behaved strangely. We substituted a nonmagnetic material, silicon, and still the balance was very strange. We found that any object above the disc lost some of its weight, and we found that if we rotated the disc, the effect was increased."

I had no way to evaluate the truth of this, so I contacted John Cramer, a physicist who was familiar with the story. "I don't believe he has discovered a shield for gravity," Cramer told me, insisting that huge amounts of energy would be required.

I checked back with Podkletnov. "We do not need a lot of energy," he said, sounding irritable, as if I were wasting his time with dumb, obvious questions. "We don't absorb the energy of the gravitational field. We may be controlling it, as a transistor controls the flow of electricity. No law of physics is broken. I am not one crazy guy in a lab, we had a team of six or seven, all good scientists."

So who should I believe? Maybe if I met Podkletnov in person, I could assess his plausibility - but a few days later, he told me this was impossible. In fact, he said, he had decided that he wanted no further publicity of any kind.

This put me in an impossible position. Podkletnov had talked to me, originally, because I pledged to publish nothing about him without his consent. Now that he had withdrawn his consent, I simply had to honor my pledge. Temporarily at least, I abandoned the story.

Months passed. Once in a while I sent email to the Italian physicist, Giovanni Modanese, who seemed to know where Podkletnov was hiding, but Modanese just confirmed that the reclusive Russian still wouldn't talk. Finally, by chance, I read a Usenet message from a 34-year-old software developer in Oregon named Pete Skeggs, who turned out to be a pivotal figure in a newly emergent Net phenomenon: the gravity-enthusiast underground.

Skeggs had a BS in electrical engineering, a BS in computer science, and he loved to tinker with things. In his own little workshop he had tried to replicate Podkletnov's experiment using some homemade electromagnets and a 1-inch superconductor that he ordered from the Edmund Scientific mail-order catalog for US$24.95. He didn't get any results, but decided to start a gravity-modification Web page. Soon it was a huge repository of abstracts, speculation, and references, along with reports of work by other amateurs, some of whom claimed amazing results. A man named John Schnurer, at Antioch College, Ohio, said that his homemade setup could reduce the force of gravity by 2 percent on a reliable, repeatable basis.

I sent email to Schnurer; he replied enigmatically, refusing to divulge his home or office phone numbers and insisting that I must page him, after which he would call me back. On September 17, 1997, he returned one of my calls.

Aged 45, Schnurer said he had a "strong science background," though he admitted he had no college degree. He claimed to have coauthored "more than 12 peer-reviewed papers" and had spent "more than nine years providing tech support for Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research Labs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base," where they had been trying to find ways for pilots to control airplanes via brainwave sensors. "We had a flight simulator," Schnurer said. "You could sit in it and make it roll with your brainwaves." However, he'd been laid off in 1995 because of budget cuts, and he was frank about his current problems. "I don't have any money," he said. "Most of my equipment I built myself, or borrowed, or resurrected." Still, he claimed that his redesigned version of Podkletnov's setup was working on a routine basis and could be used onboard Earth satellites to make small orbital corrections.

Was Schnurer for real? He agreed that I could visit him, so I arranged for Wired photographer Norman Mauskopf to meet me in Ohio. A couple of days before my trip I contacted Schnurer just to check that there were no snags, and he assured me his apparatus was still up and running. "I have enough liquid nitrogen for one run, maybe two," he said.

This made me suspicious. Two demos would be just enough to show some results, while preventing a more thorough investigation. I sent email asking Schnurer to obtain more liquid nitrogen. I even told him that if he didn't have enough money, I'd pay for it myself.

Two hours later, he called me. "Can you wire me the cash via Western Union?" he said. "I need $150."

Well, I'd been dumb enough to make the offer, and I was determined to witness a thorough trial; so I sent the money. Two days later I was in a rented car with Norman Mauskopf, driving across the flat farmland of Ohio to Antioch College, just south of Dayton.

We found Schnurer in a fine old red-brick residence with white-painted casement windows and a big front porch. This turned out not to be his home; the place had been divided into offices. Schnurer's workshop was in a long, thin sunroom where a white-painted wooden bench left barely enough space for people to squeeze past each other. The bench was strewn with components, tools, computer circuit boards, books, and looseleaf binders. At the far end stood the Gravity Modification Machine.

A long wooden rod was pivoted on a nail, supported by a wooden yoke glued to a block of plywood. A piece of string dangled from one end of the rod, tied around a lump of scrap metal. At the other end a tangle of fine wires ran down to some coils underneath a 1-inch black disc - a superconductor that had been donated by a local manufacturer, thus saving Schnurer the $24.95 charged by Edmund Scientific. When I asked why he had to economize so stringently, he muttered something about his family not fully sharing his enthusiasm for gravity research.

The wires from the electromagnets snaked back to a 12-volt power supply, via a "switching system" consisting of bare copper contacts that had to be maneuvered by hand. "You can't photograph that," Schnurer said firmly. "That's an integral part of my patent application."

I stared at his apparatus in dismay. Even straining my creative powers to the limit, clearly there was no way to portray this as cutting-edge science. The components looked as if they'd been salvaged from a dumpster.

Schnurer, however, was eager to begin. He showed me his "target mass" (a bundle of seven glass rods), which he placed ceremoniously on a borrowed digital scale. He noted the readout: 27 grams. Then he picked up a small tank of liquid nitrogen - my liquid nitrogen, I realized, feeling a bit pissed about it - and he poured a portion into a Dewar flask. The liquid hissed like oil in a hot frying pan as it boiled violently at room temperature. We waited a few minutes for the clouds of white vapor to die down.

"Now!" said Schnurer. He lowered the electromagnets, disc, and target mass into the Dewar flask, to cool the disc so that its electrical resistance would diminish to zero. Then he placed the lump of scrap metal on the scale, to read the difference in weight between it and the assembly in the Dewar flask. The numbers flickered wildly, responding to thermal currents in the liquid, air currents in the room, vibration from a truck passing on the road a couple hundred feet away, and a dozen other random factors. Still, a substantial weight reduction would make these small fluctuations irrelevant. "We'll call the weight 20.68," Schnurer said, scribbling the figure.

He went to his copper contacts and started manipulating them to send pulses to the electromagnets. I watched the scale - and suddenly felt as if reality was warping around me, because the numbers began changing. According to the scale, the target mass was getting lighter.

"Write down the peak value!" Schnurer alerted me.

The numbers were still jumping, but I averaged them as well as I could. Schnurer grabbed his scrap of paper, did a subtraction, divided the result by the original weight of the target mass, and got his answer: here in this funky little workshop, the force of gravity had just been reduced by 2 percent.

"Let me try that," I said, pointing to the copper contacts. Schnurer stepped aside, looking somewhat reluctant; but when I did what he had done, the results were the same.

"Maybe you should take a look over here," Norman Mauskopf remarked, nodding toward the superconductor where it dangled in the liquid nitrogen. I realized with chagrin that I had been totally hypnotized by the red LEDs on the scale. When I turned my attention to the flask, I saw what I should have seen before: electricity flowing through the submerged coils was creating heat that made the frigid liquid boil. Just as eggs bounce around when you boil them in a saucepan, the superconductor and its target mass were being lifted by bubbles. We weren't measuring gravity reduction, here, we were conducting an experiment in cryogenic cookery!

I pointed this out to Schnurer. He looked annoyed - then indifferent, and I realized that there was still no doubt in his mind, because he was a True Believer. He knew he was modifying gravity. "So we'll lift it out of the liquid nitrogen," he said. "It'll stay cold enough for the effect to work for 15 or 30 seconds. And you'll see, it will still get lighter."

We tried it, and sure enough the assembly lost weight. But it had dragged some liquid nitrogen with it from the flask, and was steaming madly. This was now the source of weight loss, just as damp clothes become lighter as they dry on a washing line.

"John, you're not measuring gravity fluctuations," I told him. "You're measuring the effects of boiling and evaporation."

Schnurer was now visibly agitated. He wanted to run the experiment again. And again. He varied the target mass, scribbled more numbers on odd scraps of paper - after a while there were so many scraps, he lost track of which was which. For several hours he tried every conceivable configuration.

While waiting patiently to see how long it might take him to admit defeat, I noticed a page from Business Week lying on his workbench. It was an article about gravity modification, mentioning Schnurer's work, illustrated with a photograph taken right here in this cramped little hobby-den - although false color and a wide-angle lens made the place look like a futuristic laboratory. Then I scanned the text and realized that this writer possessed the creative powers that I so sadly lacked. He seemed cautious and objective yet made Schnurer sound like a fully qualified scientist, even identifying him as "director of physics engineering at Antioch College."

I queried Schnurer about this. Gruffly he told me that he has never been employed by Antioch University; his workshop just happens to be near Antioch. With several partners, he runs a very small company named Physics Engineering, of which he's a director. Only in this sense can he be termed a director of Physics Engineering.

Around 9 p.m., we called it quits. I didn't enjoy being a heartless skeptic, questioning John Schnurer's credentials and debunking his dreams of refuting Einstein. I just wanted to go home.

Back in New York, three pieces of email from John Schnurer were already waiting for me. With urgent sincerity he claimed there had been a series of unfortunate errors. The superconductor had become degraded! The results I'd witnessed were invalid! He begged me to return to Ohio right away, to witness a whole new series of experiments with a brand-new disc.

Well - thanks, but no thanks. I didn't relish another session of Skeptic versus True Believer. I felt sure that it wouldn't work out any better the second time around, and it wouldn't make either of us very happy. Instead, I followed up another reference from the indefatigable Pete Skeggs, and learned the strange history of NASA's involvement in gravity-shielding research.

In 1990 a senior scientist at the University of Alabama named Douglas Torr started writing papers with a Chinese woman physicist named Ning Li, predicting that superconductors could affect the force of gravity. This was before Eugene Podkletnov made his observations in Tampere, so naturally Li and Torr were delighted when they heard that Podkletnov had accidentally validated their predictions. Their university enjoyed a good working relationship with the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, where they eventually persuaded NASA to start a serious long-term investigation. Ning Li remained involved, while Douglas Torr relocated to South Carolina.

Skeggs now forwarded to me an amazing document suggesting that Torr had ventured into even stranger territory. The document was Antigravity News and Space Drive Technology, an amateur zine that looked like a 1970s counterculture manifesto, generated on an old daisywheel printer, pasted into pages, photocopied, and stapled down the left edge. This science-oriented samizdat was a hopeless muddle of wacky ideas and grandiose claims, but on its back cover it reproduced an announcement from the Office of Technology Transfer at the University of South Carolina.

Incredibly, this text described a "gravity generator" that would create a force beam in any desired direction. The announcement concluded: "University seeks licensee and/or joint development. USC ID number: 96140." At the bottom of the page was a phone number for William F. Littlejohn at the Office of Technology Transfer, so I called it, and reached an assistant named Frances Jones. Sounding not very happy, she confirmed that the announcement was genuine. "But Mr. Littlejohn says it was presented prematurely, it got wider distribution than we intended, and we're - still working on the technology, and would prefer not to receive any publicity."

She refused to say if Douglas Torr was involved, but on the university's Web site I found an Annual Report to the Faculty Senate which listed his name on a patent application for the gravity generator. This was totally bizarre; a respected university supposedly looking for commercial partners to develop a gadget straight out of a 1950s science-fiction novel. Surely, nothing could be weirder than this - but no, there was more in store. Through my physicist friend John Cramer I learned of a scientist named James Woodward who claimed to have found a way to reduce the mass of objects.

"Mass" doesn't mean the same thing as "weight." You'd weigh less on the moon than on the Earth, because weight depends on the force of gravity. Mass, on the other hand, is an innate property of matter; it exists even when an object is in free fall. Nevertheless, Woodward had written a paper claiming that he could adjust the mass of an object (Foundations of Physics Letters, vol. 3, no. 5, 1990), and he even managed to get a US patent for his device (number 5,280,864, issued January 25, 1994).

I called him at his office at Cal State Fullerton, where he's been affiliated for 25 years and is currently an adjunct professor of physics. He turned out to be a jovial, amiable man who was more than willing to talk on the record, probably because his work has remained so obscure, no one has had a chance to ridicule it yet.

The equipment he uses is relatively simple, which is just as well, since he's had to pay for a lot of it himself. If you want to reduce the mass of an object in the privacy of your own basement workshop, here's how it's done: Obtain a high tech ceramic capacitor (a standard electronic item) and attach it to the speaker terminals on a stereo amplifier. Feed in a steady tone (perhaps from one of those stereo-test CDs) while using some kind of electromechanical apparatus (maybe the guts from an old loudspeaker) to vibrate the capacitor up and down. According to Woodward, the capacitor's mass will vary at twice the frequency of the signal, so you will need a circuit called a frequency doubler to drive your vibrator at the correct rate. If the vibrator lifts the capacitor while it's momentarily lighter and drops it while it's heavier, you achieve an average mass reduction - which sounds as if you're getting something for nothing, except that Woodward believes that in some mysterious fashion you are actually stealing the energy from the rest of the universe.

I asked him why no one had ever noticed that the weight of capacitors varies in rhythm with their energy level. "Well," he said, "people don't normally go around weighing capacitors."

He claimed that so far he's measured a reduction of up to 150 milligrams; just a fraction of an ounce. Still, practical applications could be developed. "If someone decided to put substantial amounts of money into this, you could have something within three to five years. For spacecraft, all you'd need would be big solar arrays instead of rocket fuel."

I asked him if there was any chance that his discovery might turn out to be bogus, like cold fusion. "Of course!" he said, laughing cheerfully. "I have biweekly paranoia attacks, and then I try something else to see if I can make this effect go away. But, it won't go away."

I asked his opinion of the team at NASA. "Serious and competent, sensible folks," he said - though he seemed to find gravity shielding a bit implausible, even compared with mass reduction.

Clearly, it was time to call NASA. I contacted David Noever, a theoretical physicist and former Rhodes scholar who started working with NASA in 1987 after getting a PhD at Oxford University, England. He seemed to be the key figure trying to replicate Podkletnov's work, and he invited me to see for myself.

The Marshall Spaceflight Center is a box-shaped 10-story office building with a 1960s pedigree. The closer I came, the shabbier it looked; when I walked up the front steps, I noticed cracks between the faded gray panels of its façade. Alas, poor NASA! Formerly the favorite child of federal legislators, now nickel-and-dimed half to death. Upstairs I found utilitarian government-style offices with cheesy rubberized floor tiles, ancient gray steel desks, and file cabinets that seemed to have been repainted by hand. The place was almost Soviet in its austerity.

I entered the office of Whitt Brantley, chief of the Advanced Concepts Office, and found five people waiting around a wood-grain formica conference table. David Noever was one of them: a tall, brooding figure with intense eyes and dark brown hair in need of a trim. Behind a desk at the far end sat Brantley, a genial Santa Claus who joined NASA back in 1963, when he worked on von Braun's wildly ambitious scheme to put men on Mars, before the Apollo program had even test-launched its first capsule. Even this seemed relatively normal, though, compared with gravity shielding. I asked him how he had raised the money for such a wacky idea.

"The first research proposal I wrote didn't have the word 'gravity' in it anywhere," he said with a grin. "Then the Sunday Telegraph article came out, and our administrator, Goldin, was going to a Star Trek convention where the Trekkies might ask him about gravity modification, so we decided to tell him what was going on. He backed up a step or two, then said he thought NASA should spend a little money on work like this. So, we wiped the sweat off our brows and continued."

Tony Robertson, another member of the team, leaned forward, a lot younger and more earnest that Brantley. "The way I see it," he said, "NASA has a responsibility to overcome gravity."

"Right," said Brantley. "We've been building antigravity machines since day one - it's just that they're not as efficient as we'd like them to be."

Everyone chuckled at that.

"It's true we're pushing the edge," Brantley went on. "But the only way to guarantee you don't win the lottery is, don't buy a ticket."

I turned to David Noever, who looked tense and restless, as if he'd rather be in his laboratory. I asked how he felt about amateur gravity enthusiasts. "Well, we went to visit John Schnurer," he said. "But he wouldn't let us in. We had to meet him outside on a park bench. We also invited Podkletnov to come to Huntsville, back in January 1997. We said we'd pay his way, but he said he didn't see any value in it."

"It's not uncommon for people to distrust NASA," said Brantley, "because we're part of the government. They think even if we did discover something, we'd cover it up. You know, Roswell and all that -"

By this time, Noever was definitely ready to go. "Let's show you the lab," he said.

He led the way outside to an enclave of austere, ugly concrete buildings that looked as if they might have been left over from World War II. Inside, past massive machinery for pressing ceramic discs, I entered a lab about 20 feet square, with one wall of windows, fluorescent ceiling panels, big white cylinders of liquid helium and liquid nitrogen, and heavy-duty rack-mounted power supplies in rectangular metal cabinets.

Noever explained that the team is trying several different approaches. He showed an assortment of 1-inch superconducting discs, made from every conceivable mix of ingredients. He demonstrated a gravimeter: a beige-painted metal unit the size of a car battery. Across the room was a tall insulated tank about a foot in diameter, with a huge coil wrapped around the base capable of taking 800 amps, though Noever said that the current would create enough heat to melt the floor. The tank had been designed to contain a 6-inch disc rotating in liquid helium, with the gravimeter suspended above.

Meanwhile, the team was still struggling to fabricate 12-inch discs, which tend to fracture into pieces during pressing and a subsequent baking process. "This is what Podkletnov says is the heart of the matter," said Noever, "learning to make the discs. He said it could take us one or two years. He did reveal the composition -"

But not the step-by-step method for production?

Noever laughed sourly. "Of course not. At least, he hasn't told us. He's very adamant about not talking to people about some aspects of this work."

Already, though, Noever said he had achieved some possible results with smaller discs. He showed one graph that suggested significant changes in gravitational force. "We only saw this a couple of times. We have to see it 100 times before we'll allow ourselves to reach any conclusions. And then we'll get the Bureau of Standards in here to check it out, and then, maybe, we'll publish a paper."

Noever suggested that gravity may have a natural frequency, far higher than X rays or microwaves, which would explain why it penetrates all known materials. A superconducting disc could resonate and downshift the frequency to a lower level where it could be blocked by normal matter. "But this is all very speculative," he cautioned, adding that it's just one of three theories that could explain gravity shielding.

Ron Koczor, project manager of the team, had been sitting over at one side of the lab looking amiable but diffident. Koczor's background is in infrared and visible optics; his last project was a space shuttle experiment to measure winds in Earth's atmosphere using specially designed lasers. By comparison, gravity shielding research is a labyrinth of uncertainties.

"In this kind of research you go from depression to elation, sometimes just from hour to hour," said Koczor. "But if this is real, it's going to change civilization. The payoff boggles the mind. Theories about gravitational force today are probably comparable to knowledge of electromagnetism a century ago. If you think what electricity has done for us since then, you see what controlling gravity might do for us in the future."

Before going to Huntsville I had sent yet another message to Giovanni Modanese, asking again if Eugene Podkletnov was willing to talk to me. Naturally I didn't expect a positive reply - but to my amazement Modanese wrote back saying that Podkletnov had returned to Finland and was now ready to cooperate.

I called Podkletnov right away. Yes, he said, it was true; he would talk. I could meet him in person.

Four days later I was boarding a Finnair MD-11. Nine hours after that I found myself in Helsinki Airport, waiting for my baggage to come off a carousel. About 200 Finns were waiting with me, looking stoic and withdrawn, like guests at a funeral. The only sound was the clanking of the conveyor belt, and I remembered a phrase from the Lonely Planet travel guide that I'd read on the plane: "A happy, talkative Finn does not inspire admiration among fellow Finns, but rather animosity, jealousy, or hostility. Being silent is the way to go."

Outside, it was almost noon but looked like dusk. "Winter is the most hopeless time, when many people are depressed," my guidebook warned me. In fact, back in the early 1970s a Finnish scientist named Erkki Vaisanen discovered SAD - seasonal affective disorder, the type of depression caused by lack of sunlight. He was tipped off by the rash of suicides that sweeps through Finland every September. I began to wonder why Podkletnov had chosen to relocate here.

I drove to a grim little industrial park (where all the buildings were painted gray, as if to emulate the weather) and checked in at a Holiday Inn that looked like a small electronics factory. After exiting an elevator paneled in stainless steel, I struggled to open a massive metal fire door, walked past a sauna, and unlocked my tiny Euro-style room. Shortly before sunset, around 4:30 in the afternoon, I did some serious channel surfing in a dutiful attempt to locate and comprehend the core, the quintessence of Finland.

The first thing I found was an ancient episode of hey-hey-we're-the-Monkees resuscitated from some godforsaken video archive and dubbed in French, "parce que nous monkee around." Then there was a 1990 Hong Kong action movie, dubbed in German, subtitled in Finnish - maybe Swedish, it was hard to tell.

Finland's identity was proving elusive, and I could think of at least one reason why. A key factor could be the 1,300-kilometer frontier that the country shares with Russia. How did the Finns cope with the ominous presence of that notoriously expansionist superpower during the fearful decades of the Cold War? They suppressed their separate national identity. They made their political system close enough to communism to placate the Politburo, and they traded actively, selling the Russians cheap wood products and electronic devices such as telephones. Thus, they made themselves far too useful to be worth invading.

Interestingly, the policy of appeasement paid dividends. Finland enjoys steady growth, with inflation down near 1 percent. It exports telecommunications products to the rest of Europe and steals shipbuilding contracts from the Japanese. Its infrastructure looks well maintained. Its people seem healthy. Thus, Eugene Podkletnov's presence here is not such a mystery after all. Compared with Russia, Finland is a land of opportunity.

And so, finally: Tampere.

As I drive in on Highway 3, the first thing I see is a huge smokestack and a rail yard with mercury-vapor lights on steel towers. Another smokestack stands in the distance, trailing a white plume. Although the population is under 200,000, this is still the second-largest city in Finland, and a haven for industry.

Opposite the railroad I find the Hotel Arctia, where Podkletnov has agreed to meet, since he feels that his "modest apartment building" is not suitable.

In a slightly rundown lobby paneled in varnished plywood, I sit on a couch upholstered in drab gray wrinkled fabric and wait as patiently as I can, very conscious that I have come 5,000 miles on this far-fetched, far-flung pilgrimage - at which point a man in a navy blue pinstriped business suit walks into the lobby.

This is Eugene Podkletnov.

He looks strangely similar to NASA scientist David Noever, with sharp features and a restless intensity. Close up, though, his face shows a poignant mix of emotions. His mouth twists quixotically at the corners, as if, at any moment, he may display some unexpected response - pathos, laughter, or resignation.

He sits beside me on the rumpled gray couch, and I ask why he decided to talk to me after almost a year of evasion. "You seem sincere," he says, choosing his words cautiously, "and you are polite, and -" He smiles faintly. "You are very persistent."

But he's not interested in small talk. He pulls out a wad of papers and starts a long monolog.

First, he tells me, his work has been replicated by students in Sheffield, England, and scientists in Toronto, Canada. No, he won't give me their names. He consulted by phone with the Sheffield students, and he went in person to Canada, where he stayed for several weeks. "If people follow my experiments exactly," he says, "they succeed. But if they want to follow their own way -" He shrugs. "I try to cheer them up, let them do it, they may find things that I missed." He sounds skeptical - sarcastic, even - and I think he's referring to the NASA team. I wonder if there's a trace of Russian jealousy, here; a suspicion that well-funded Americans will stamp "NASA" on the side of the first fully functional grav-modifying flying machine, at which point everyone will forget about Eugene Podkletnov.

He claims, though, he's happy to share the glory. "What we should do is combine our efforts and organize the Institute for Gravity Research. My aim in life is not to get money, not to become famous. I have 30 publications in materials science, and 10 patents, but -" His mouth twists with bittersweet humor. "Russian people are never rich unless they are criminals. I don't dream about big money. I just want a normal existence, working for the Institute for Gravity Research. That is my dream."

He speaks rapidly and shows no hesitation, not the slightest sign of doubt. I get him to stop and back up a little, to tell me about his history.

He says that his father was a materials scientist, while his mother had a PhD in medicine - just as he, now, is a materials scientist with a wife who is studying medicine. "My father was born in 1896, he spoke six languages freely, he became a professor at Saint Petersburg, we had the atmosphere of scientific research at home all the time. I was brought up surrounded by adults, spent very little time playing with friends in school, and even now I feel different from colleagues my own age. My father had several inventions in his life, but at that time the Russians asked him like this: 'Does this method exist in the United States?' My father answered no, so they said, 'Then this must be entire nonsense.'" Again Podkletnov gives me an ambiguous smile, tainted with bitterness. "Finally when he got a patent in the United States and Japan, then they gave him a patent in Russia."

Eugene graduated with a master's degree from the University of Chemical Technology, Mendeleyev Institute, in Moscow; then spent 15 years at the Institute for High Temperatures in the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1988 Tampere University's Institute of Technology invited him to pursue a PhD in the manufacture of superconductors, and after he obtained his doctorate, he continued working there - until the Sunday Telegraph news item appeared in 1996. Suddenly he was abandoned by his friends, unemployed, and fighting the scientific establishment much as his father had fought with the Russian government, except that in his case the stakes were higher, because he believed he had made one of the major discoveries of the 20th century.

Feeling beaten down and alienated, Podkletnov says he gave up in 1997 and drove the 1,400 kilometers back to Moscow, leaving his family in Tampere. But Moscow was not a good place for a scientist to be. In the 1980s he had been able to borrow equipment freely from other scientists; in 1997, when he asked for something they would say, "How much can you pay me?"

"Russians claim they are happy now because they have freedom," Podkletnov tells me, "but they are not happy, and they are not free. If you criticize the government, you may still go to jail. If you call an ambulance, it does not come. If you call the police, they do not come. Even criminals complain that they were better off under communism. College professors are trying to live on $200 a month in a city where prices are almost as high as in New York, and salary payments are delayed by six months. So - I returned here. I have a job, now, in a local company, as a materials scientist. It only uses perhaps 5 percent of my abilities, but -" He shrugs.

He insists that he isn't embittered. "It is good for a person to be unsatisfied in some way," he says. "You should be happy in family life but not satisfied in your surroundings. This is a source of progress. We have a proverb in Russia: The harder they beat us, the stronger we become." He gives me his twisted smile. "The only problem is, maybe they beat me so much, I never have a chance to use the strength."

I ask how people at his laboratory would characterize him.

"They say always that I am too serious. You understand, here today, I am trying to speak with humor to make your job easier. But in general I am a very determined person, very precise in everything. I don't smile when I am working. When I work, I work."

I ask him what happened to his equipment at Tampere University.

"Part of it is still there, but they don't work with superconductors any longer, and I am not allowed to come to the institute. But still, I can show you the outside of the building."

We walk out into the dark gray afternoon. "Now you are going to be a very brave person," says Podkletnov, "to ride in a Russian car." He unlocks a maroon Lada, which looks like a cheap version of an old Volvo. With another key he removes a metal clamp linking the clutch and brake pedals - a low tech security device.

But I've been told that Finland has a low crime rate. "Yes," Podkletnov agrees, "this is true. Still, there may be Russian immigrants around."

I can't tell if he's serious or joking.

The car's seat backs are almost vertical, enforcing a rigid military posture. We drive out to the university campus, which is uncompromisingly modern - and of course, the buildings are all in shades of gray.

Back in the hotel lobby Podkletnov shows me detailed diagrams of the experimental equipment that he used. "We measured the weight in every way," he says, adamantly denying that air currents or magnetism could have caused spurious readings. "We used metal shielding, we used nonmagnetic targets, we enclosed the target in a vacuum - we were very thorough."

He claims that he placed a mercury manometer (similar to a barometer) over the superconducting disc and recorded a 4-mm reduction in air pressure, because the air itself had been reduced in weight. Then he took the manometer upstairs to the lab above his and found exactly the same result - as if his equipment were generating an invisible column of low gravity extending upward indefinitely into space, exactly as H. G. Wells described it almost a century ago.

At NASA, David Noever feels that gravity reduction should diminish with distance. Podkletnov, though, has proved to his own satisfaction that the effect has no limit; and if he's right, a 2 percent weight reduction in all the air above a vehicle equipped with gravity shielding could enable it to levitate, buoyed up by the heavier air below. "I'm practically sure," Podkletnov says, "that within 10 years, this will be done." He gives me a meaningful look. "If not by NASA, then by Russia."

But wait; there's more. He has news that hasn't been reported elsewhere. Despite the hardships in Moscow, during the past year he says he conducted research at an unnamed "chemical scientific research center" where he built a device that reflects gravity. Supposedly it's based around a Van de Graaff generator - a high-voltage machine dating back to the earliest days of electrical research. "Normally there are two spheres," he explains, "and a spark jumps between them. Now imagine the spheres are flat surfaces, superconductors, one of them a coil or O-ring. Under specific conditions, applying resonating fields and composite superconducting coatings, we can organize the energy discharge in such a way that it goes through the center of the electrode, accompanied by gravitation phenomena - reflecting gravitational waves that spread through the walls and hit objects on the floors below, knocking them over."

And this, too, can have practical applications?

"The second generation of flying machines will reflect gravity waves and will be small, light, and fast, like UFOs. I have achieved impulse reflection; now the task is to make it work continuously."

He sounds completely sober, serious, matter-of-fact.

If he really wants knowledge to be freely shared, why hasn't he written more about this? And why hasn't he been more open with the people at NASA?

"I'm a serious person. If someone wants serious work, I can provide this. If I was to relocate in the United States, I would need five or six people and two years in a university or well-equipped technical laboratory. I guarantee, if I am invited, I can reproduce everything. But I am not selling my experiment piece by piece. If your readers are serious, they will be able to find me."

So here's a unique opportunity for the venture capitalists out there. Track down the elusive Eugene Podkletnov, make him an offer he can't refuse, and help to free humanity from its pedestrian existence at the bottom of a gravity well.

Does Podkletnov really believe that this will come to pass? He seems to. Does he see himself playing a central role? "I am not a very religious person," he tells me. "But I do believe in God, and of course there is a soul, you can feel it." He pauses, trying to convey his convictions. "Most of all," he says, "like all Russians, I have a sense of destiny. This is a secret of the Russian soul that can't be explained to foreigners. Even Russian people can't understand it. But - we feel it."

At the end of our meeting he strides out of the hotel lobby, as brisk and purposeful as an ambitious businessman, looking younger than his 43 years. I'm impressed by his intense focus, his strict attention to facts and details, and his sincerity. I wonder, though, if a vague sense of destiny is really enough to get him where he wants to go. The history of science is littered with casualties who ventured too far from the mainstream, or seemed a bit - wacky, for their time. Nikola Tesla is a classic example. Even Robert Goddard, the legendary rocketry pioneer, was scorned and forced to work in isolation and poverty for most of his life.

As one physicist told me, "New ideas are always criticized - not because an idea lacks merit, but because it might turn out to be workable, which would threaten the reputations of many people whose opinions conflict with it. Some people may even lose their jobs."

The man who said this is an eminent physicist who started devising equipment to detect gravity waves 30 years ago. Despite his secure tenure and respected status, he still wouldn't let me quote him by name, because he suffered in the past when he promoted radical concepts of his own.

Bob Park is a physics professor at the University of Maryland. When he's pressed to say something about Podkletnov's work, he comments: "Well, we know that we can create shields for other fields, such as electromagnetic fields; so in that sense I suppose that a gravity shield does not violate any physical laws. Still, most scientists would be reluctant to conclude anything publicly from this." Ironically, Park has made a name for himself by debunking "fringe" science in a weekly column for the American Physical Society's Web page. If scientists are reluctant to "conclude anything publicly," it's partly because they know they may be stigmatized by critics such as Park.

Of course, reflexive conservatism isn't the whole story. Many physicists are skeptical about gravity shielding because they believe that it conflicts with Einstein's general theory of relativity. According to George Smoot, a renowned professor of physics at UC Berkeley who collaborated on an essay that won a Gravity Research Foundation award, "If gravity shielding is going to be consistent with Einstein's general theory, you would need tremendous amounts of mass and energy. It's far beyond the technology we have today."

On the other hand, theories developed by Giovanni Modanese, Ning Li, and Douglas Torr portray a superconductor as a giant "quantum object" which might be exempt from Smoot's criticism, since Einstein's general theory has nothing to say about quantum effects. As Smoot himself admits, "The general theory is widely revered because Einstein wrote it, and it happens to be very beautiful. But the general theory is not entirely compatible with quantum mechanics, and sooner or later it will have to be modified."

He also says that the nonlinear spin of gravity particles - "gravitons" - makes calculations extremely difficult. "When you add a spinning disc," he says, "the equations become impossible to solve."

This means that gravity shielding cannot be disproved mathematically. Even Bob Park, the resident skeptic, shies away from describing it as "impossible," because "there have been things that we thought were impossible, which actually came to pass." Gregory Benford, a professor of physics at UC Irvine who also writes science fiction, echoes this and takes it a step further. "There's nothing impossible about gravity shielding," he says. "It just requires a field theory that we don't have yet. Anyone who says it's inconceivable is suffering from a lack of imagination."

When I first started reading about gravity modification, I was skeptical. Most likely, I thought, Podkletnov's experimental procedures were flawed.

A year later, I'm not so sure. Having questioned him in detail for several hours, I believe that he did his work in a careful, responsible fashion. I'm no longer willing to write him off as an eccentric suffering from wishful thinking. I believe he observed something - although the exact nature of it remains unclear.

And so, frustratingly, there's no conclusive ending to this long, strange story - at least until someone provides independent verification. In the meantime, there's only one thing we can do:


Thanks to John Cramer for factual orientation and Robert Becker for theoretical background. Pete Skeggs participated in my visit to NASA and offered extremely generous help.

For additional information:

Charles Platt (, a frequent contributor to Wired, wrote "Plotting Away in Margaritaville" in Wired 5.07.

Copyright © 1993-2002 The Condé Nast Publications Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1994-2002 Wired Digital, Inc. All rights reserved.

82 posted on 02/16/2003 7:18:44 PM PST by vannrox (The Preamble to the Bill of Rights - without it, our Bill of Rights is meaningless!)
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To: boris
Comment 5: One question I have saved up for the Almighty is: "Why the heck did you put everything so bleeping far apart?" It is almost as if the Universe is designed to prevent travel/contact/exploration...

C.S. Lewis's answer was that if intelligent life has been created elsewhere, it has been kept far away to PROTECT THEM FROM US.

83 posted on 02/16/2003 7:25:19 PM PST by Stefan Stackhouse
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To: vannrox
Interesting article, thanks.

If the human mind can create things out of pure thought, perhaps there are many things that can be done (in this case, space travel) that are outside the physical, as defined by the current set of equations we use to describe the universe. I was thinking particularly of the "empty set", and how the mind creates something out of nothing.

I had to do a little research (it's been a while since I went to school):

"Von Neumann [VON NEUMANN 1923] proposed that all numbers could be bootstrapped out of the empty set by the operations of the mind. The mind observes the empty set. The mind's act of observation causes the appearance another set - the set of empty sets. The set of empty sets is not empty, because it contains one non-thing - the empty set. The mind has thus generated the number 1 by producing the set containing the empty set.

Stated algorithmically the operation is:

> STEP 0 {} Empty set has 0 parts.

> STEP 1 > { {} } Mind generates set containing empty set, which has one part.

> STEP 2 { {}, { {} }} Mind generates set containing two parts, the set and the set containing the empty set.

etc, etc"

Analogies abound in literature, such as the flashing, seemingly instantaneous travel of angels, as fast as a thought. Maybe they don't use the same "set" of assumptions (bad pun, there). Hey, I like to think of myself as a pretty level-headed character: I usually don't go off on these tangents, but you started it! :)

84 posted on 02/16/2003 7:27:42 PM PST by P.O.E. (Liberate Iraq!)
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To: vannrox
And, as you might remember, the X-1 proved what so called "scientists" said couldn't be done...they broke the sound barrier.

Ahhhh, no.

There was plenty of empirical evidence that the "sound barrier" could be broken. The C R A C K ! of speeding firearm projectiles or the tip of a bullwhip being snapped are both sonic booms, and had been long recognized as such. The shape of the X1's fuselage was specifically designed to take advantage of an object known to exceed the speed of sound - a .50 caliber bullet.

The "sound barrier" was a stumbling block for aeronautical engineers trying to design a manned craft that would safely traverse the speed of sound, not scientists who well knew that the "barrier" was being broken by routine objects on a daily basis.

85 posted on 02/16/2003 7:31:08 PM PST by Denver Ditdat
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To: SamAdams76
So then, if a spaceship traveling at the speed of light turns on its headlights, doesn't the beams of the headlights move at twice the speed of light relative to a stationary object and at the speed of light relative to the spaceship?

Your explanation is exactly what Einstein's Theory of Relativity was developed in order to refute. Because, if you measure the speed of light from any frame of reference (and this has been experimentally verified) it always moves at the same speed (ie. ~300,000Km/s) relative to you. Even if you are moving very fast yourself.

This is because, as you speed up, your perception of time slows down. Let's imagine that Observer A is stationary and Observer B is moving at 1/3 the speed of light. IF Observer B was to suddenly turn on his headlights, then Observer A would see the light from them moving away from Observer B at the speed of light. But Observer B would ALSO see his headlights moving away from him at the speed of light, because time would have slowed down for him enough that the light would have moved 300,000Km away in front of him in what he perceived as one second. So the speed of light (in a vacuum) NEVER changes to any observer; only each observer's perception of the passage of time changes as his speed increases (though it's not only the perception... time actually slows down!). This has also been verified with atomic clocks and in particle decay, so it is real.

In fact, because of Einstein's Theories, a new definition of gravity can be proposed: An object moves in a gravitational field in such a manner as to take the longest time between two points. Weird, huh?

Check out Richard Feynman's Six Not-So-Easy Pieces for a great explanation of the details behind the theory...

86 posted on 02/16/2003 7:31:12 PM PST by Charles H. (The_r0nin) (How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No one knows; it's never been tried...)
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To: boris
Comment 1: If the human race does not destroy itself or encounter a cosmic catastrophe such as an asteroid, we will have to pack our bags and relocate eventually anyhow (or our descendants will). The Sun cooks everything in about 8 billion years.

I rather doubt that things are going to go on for that long, but in any case we do not need travel at speeds anything close to c in order to colonize potentially teraformable planets. If the colonists are going to be taking a one-way trip anyway, then what's the rush? The exploration, teraforming, and colonization of other planets would be an enterprise spanning many centuries, if not millennia -- totally unprecedented in human history up to now. It would take a very, very long time before we would be up to it, but still just a fraction of your 8 billion years. And again, we get back to economics -- it isn't going to happen unless and until someone can figure out how to provide a "return on investment" to planet Earth for the interstellar colonization ventures. Probably the real need will be to find a way to send cargos of very rare minerals back to earth both quickly and inexpensively. There is probably a tradeoff between those two, and the realities of economics will probably put the premium on "inexpensively" rather than "quickly."

87 posted on 02/16/2003 7:35:01 PM PST by Stefan Stackhouse
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To: vannrox
bump - so i can find this and mess with somebody's head tomorrow at work.
88 posted on 02/16/2003 7:41:49 PM PST by error99 ("I believe stupidity should hurt."...used by permission from null and void all copyrights apply...)
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Boris, this will come as no surprise to you, but I believe in Angels (though I won't agape--second definition in your dictionary reference, not the first regarding 'love'-- the crowd with the 'whys' or hows). From whence come these beings? They exist (as far as I'm concerned) in a realm, a reality; what is the nature of that reality, as it differs from our reality our perception? I have a sneaking suspicion their realm differs mostly in temporal orientation rather than spatial orientation alone.

Time, as well as our three dimensions of space, is a created dimension. Einstein helped us to understand that time is not something apart from space, but is intimately connected with it, as is matter and energy. Thus the Creator exists "outside of" and independently of our space-time continuum, but we do not exist outside or or independently of our Creator. You could do this concept as a Venn Diagram: you would have a rectangle with diagonal lines, and then a circle within having both the diagonal lines and a different set of diagonal lines.

This suggests that there is some sort of extra-dimensional realm of being outside our own three dimensions. Angels must be inhabitants of that realm, but they must be able to imperceptably interact with our realm, just like a sphere can intersect with a plane at a single, infinitely tiny point.

89 posted on 02/16/2003 7:43:17 PM PST by Stefan Stackhouse
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To: Stefan Stackhouse; Willie Green
Any travel even approaching -- not to mention exceeding -- the speed of light will require enormous amounts of energy.

Say that one day you are sitting in your hotel room in NYC with an energy of one unit. Not moving, just sitting and watching CNN on the monitor. Then the next day you are sitting in LA in your hotel room with an energy of one unit. Not moving, just sitting and watching CNN on the monitor. What is the difference? Same energy, different day.

See, there is hope. The location is different, yet the energy is the same. What has changed? In the meantime there was a great burst of motion and noise, but all that is dissipated along with part of your bank account. You are back to the same energy level. If there were a way to slide soundlessly along a Willie_Green maglev track between NYC and LA, you could have gotten there for next to nothing and just as fast. Friction losses, air resistance losses, all gone, and you just move sideways for free.

The hope is that this idea could be extended to travel between planets and stars. There are levels of identical potential energy and they are equivalent. We should be able to move between these equivalent energy levels with next to zero loss of energy, no noise, no scurrying around. We're here, then we're there, it's the same.

90 posted on 02/16/2003 7:44:27 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: vannrox
A big thanks.
91 posted on 02/16/2003 7:51:06 PM PST by aruanan
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To: Capitalism2003
Even if it were possible to go the speed of light, the human body couldn't practically take it...It would take around 15 years accelerating with 3G's of force (which is a LOT for a constant pressure) to reach the speed of light...another 12 years to slow down...12 to speed up and 12 more to slow down on the way back...50 year minimum journey and no way to communicate with earth?..not practical...unless we find a way to freeze people and forget about them for a hundred years.

Human interstellar voyages, if they ever happen at all, will not be two-way voyages of exploration, but rather one-way voyages of colonization. For exploration, robotics are definitely the way to go. As you explain, why would anyone want to spend their entire lives stuck inside a spaceship just so they could see another planet? The opportunities that go with colonization of new territory, however, will always be attractive to some people.

Since the trip will be one way, there also will be no need for the trip to be quick. Even if a habitable planet is found within about 10 - 20 l.y. or so, you will pretty much be talking about a voyage that will last at least one lifetime, maybe two. So we will be talking about a colonist setting off for a new home planet that they themselves may not live to see, and committing their children or grandchildren to this venture with no choice in the matter. Some interesting and difficult ethical questions there!

92 posted on 02/16/2003 7:55:36 PM PST by Stefan Stackhouse
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To: Stefan Stackhouse
What if space is THE dimension and the three variables of that dimension are linear, planar, and volumetric?
93 posted on 02/16/2003 8:06:56 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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To: RadioAstronomer
"False. The speed of light in a vacuum travels EXACTLY at 299,792,458 meters per second."

I always thought we should redefine either the meter or the second to make it come out even: 3x10^8...


94 posted on 02/16/2003 8:20:19 PM PST by boris
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To: vannrox
95 posted on 02/16/2003 8:27:52 PM PST by Kay Soze
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Spacetime appears to have 'extra' dimensions beyond the 3+1 we usually consider.

Depending on what theory, I've seen 10, 11, 17, and 21 dimensions. Kaluza-Klein theory began with 5. Kaluza discovered to his vast amazement that the Maxwell equations "fell out" of pure geometry if he assumed 5-D spacetime.

Most cosmologists now seem to believe (I'm not certain about the 'most') that there must be extra dimensions since string/M-brane theory seems to require them. The reason you can't 'go in that direction' is that all these extra dimensions are rolled up too tightly (~planck length) that as soon as you start out, you're back where you started! Hmm. Seems pretty weird, but the Universe just keeps getting weirder.

It would be cool to name the extra dimensions. "Widdershins" comes to mind....(?)


96 posted on 02/16/2003 8:29:56 PM PST by boris
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To: boris
"Widdershins" ... I like it! Could we embue them with temporal and spatial quality, as in 'wherewhens'?
97 posted on 02/16/2003 8:34:05 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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embue???? ...

imbue \-byu\ vb imbued; imbuing 1 : to permeate or influence as if by dyeing 2 : to tinge or dye deeply
(C) 1995 Zane Publishing, Inc. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (C) 1994 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

I've got the flu; time to rest.

98 posted on 02/16/2003 8:41:37 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote Life Support for others.)
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To: vannrox
bump .....
99 posted on 02/16/2003 9:03:08 PM PST by Centurion2000 (Chance favors the prepared mind.)
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To: Stefan Stackhouse; Capitalism2003
If a spaceship were accelerated to the speed of light – taking 50 years in your example – we first have to decide “whose” 50 years. That is, as measured by someone on Earth, or by someone in the spaceship.

Let’s assume that we mean 50 years for the ship to go out and return to Earth, as measured by those on the spaceship.

One paradox is that when the spaceship returned, the people on Earth would have measured a much longer time elapsed (perhaps 100 years or longer). "Time" would run more slowly on the spaceship than on Earth. The reason for this is that (as mentioned in another post), clocks, experiences, events and sensations would "run" more slowly on the fast-moving spaceship than on Earth. (Relativity means that the speed between two objects is “relative”; so on which do clocks and events slow? The one that was accelerated slows.)

A second paradox is that neither the people on Earth nor those on the spaceship could tell which is “clocking” slower, if they could see one another. That is because of a phenomenon called Time Desynchronization, where the “clocks” at the rear-end of a fast-moving object are “ahead” of the “clocks” at the front-end of the object.

100 posted on 02/16/2003 10:55:00 PM PST by Diddley
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