Skip to comments.The Starship Builders (Speculation on UFO Propulsion methods by Physist)
Posted on 03/14/2003 6:19:01 AM PST by vannrox
In UFOs and the New Physics, we discussed some of the daunting problems in applying terrestrial rocket propulsion principles to any hypothetical models of UFO propulsion. A lot has happened since that article?s publication over two years ago.
It seems we?re getting almost weekly reports of newly discovered extrasolar planetary systems. What was once highly speculative, is now commonplace. Obviously, our previous estimates of the number of stars with possible planetary systems will be revised dramatically upwards.
Then there is the recent announcement from a distinguished British research team, that they also had found unambiguous traces of microbial life in Martian meteorite fragments. Combine that with the proliferation of newly discovered extrasolar planets, and one has the makings of a scientific revolution. In this extraordinary context, the subject of UFOs suddenly takes on significant new meaning.
Despite all this stunning news, we?re still left at the point we were at the end of the last article: If UFOs are real, then how do they get from there (where or whenever that may be), to here?
Since the publication of physicist, Miguel Alcubierre?s, landmark paper "The Warp Drive: Hyper fast travel within General Relativity," in the journal Classic and Quantum Gravity(11, L73, 1994), the idea of hyperfast space travel has become a hot scientific topic no doubt fueled in part by the recent discoveries of Martian microbe remnants and extrasolar planets.
The Alcubierre Warp Drive is purely a consequence of the subtleties inherent in Einstein?s General Theory of Relativity. Spacetime, the union of one time and three space dimensions, is dynamic according to General Relativity. It can be twisted, deformed, and possibly even engineered by concentrations(random or selective) of mass/energy. Alcubierre?s Warp Drive alters spacetime in such a way that the region directly in front of the ship contracts, while the region directly behind the ship expands. The net effect of this is that the ship is propelled on a weightless geodesic path through spacetime.
Alcubierre explains his reasoning in the following paragraphs. I quote them in full because they are essential to the rationale of this article
"The basic idea can be more easily understood if we think for a moment in the inflationary phase of the early Universe, and consider the relative speed of separation of two comoving observers. It is easy to convince oneself that if we define this relative speed as the rate of change of proper spatial distance over proper time, we will obtain a value that is much larger than the speed of light. This doesn?t mean that our observers will be traveling faster than light: they will always move within their own light cones.
"The enormous speed of separation comes from the expansion of spacetime itself. This superluminal speed is very often a source of confusion. It is also a very good example of how an intuition based on special relativity can be deceiving when one deals with dynamical spacetimes."
The next paragraph is the crystallization of his warp drive idea.
"The previous example shows how one can use an expansion of spacetime to move away from some object at an arbitrarily large speed. In the same way, one can use a contraction of spacetime to approach an object at any speed. This is the basis of the model of hyper fast space travel that I wish to present here: create a local distortion of spacetime that will produce an expansion behind the spaceship, and an opposite contraction ahead of it. In this way, the spaceship will be pushed away from the earth and pulled towards a distant star by spacetime itself. One can then invert the process to come back to earth, taking an arbitrarily small time to complete the trip."
Alcubierre does point out in his abstract that "just as it happens with wormholes, exotic matter will be needed in order to generate a distortion of spacetime like the one discussed here." We will return to the subject of exotic matter later in this article.
The key point is that Alcubierre?s drive eliminates the nagging problem of time dilation, also discussed in the previous article. This would go a long way in making interstellar travel a practical reality. You could leave on a Saturday morning to go on a hundred light year journey(or thousand, for that matter), and return the following Saturday(or the same Saturday) to find everyone you know and love has aged no more or no less than yourself. Nice. If it works.
Alcubierre works this seeming bit of gravitational magic by creating what he glibly calls "a simple metric that has precisely the characteristics mentioned above." His paper is actually one of the first theoretical realizations of "metric engineering," an idea first advanced by Russian Nobel Laureate, Andre Sakharov and American Nobel Laureate, T.D. Lee, and further developed by physicist Hal Puthoff and others.
The way to metric engineering and the creation of exotic matter may lie in the energetic quantum vacuum. Modern Quantum Electrodynamics shows that the vacuum is not a void, but rather the opposite: an infinite reservoir of virtual particles and zero point energy. These zero point energy fluctuations of the vacuum lead to such real, measurable effects as the Casimir force, the Lamb shift, the Van der Waals chemical binding forces, and a number of other measurable effects.
Harold Puthoff is one physicist who has been exploring this particular area for some time. Puthoff is a theoretical and experimental physicist specializing in fundamental electrodynamics, and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin. His research ranges from the study of quantum vacuum states as they apply to the stability of matter, gravitation, cosmology and energy research, to laboratory studies of innovative approaches to energy generation. A graduate of Stanford University, he has published over 30 technical papers in the areas of electron-beam devices, lasers and quantum zero-point energy fields, and is co-author of a textbook, Fundamentals of Quantum Electronics (Wiley, 1969).
In a paper published in the Feb 1, 1994 Physical Review A, Puthoff, along with Bernard Haisch of Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory, and Alfonso Rueda of California State University at Long Beach connect zero-point vacuum energy to inertia ? that is, the tendency of moving masses to remain moving, and masses at rest to remain at rest.
You?re a little kid standing up in your red Radio Flyer wagon, when your pal suddenly pulls the wagon forward and you?re rudely flung onto the ground. You might have blamed your friend for his lack of good judgment, but it was actually inertia that catapulted you off the wagon. Scientists have been trying to figure out exactly what inertia is and how it arises ever since Galileo came up with the concept in the 17th century. Even Einstein, who believed that inertia was due to the arrangement of matter in the Universe, was unsuccessful in theoretically describing the true nature of inertia.
In their paper, Puthoff, Haisch, and Rueda propose that inertia is the result of the zero-point fluctuations of the hidden quantum vacuum energy that surrounds us. It is this omnipresent vacuum energy that the researchers believe resists the acceleration of mass, thus giving rise to what we call inertia. Their idea was based in part around an earlier and long forgotten idea of Sakharov, linking the force of gravity to the vacuum zero-point fluctuations. If the nature of inertia can ever be understood, the way will have been paved for it to eventually being controlled. At that point we will have obtained that Holy Grail of science fiction, the inertialess star drive.
This work has additional relevance to the Alcubierre paper. In a more recent publication entitled "SETI, the Velocity-of-Light Limitation, and the Alcubierre Warp Drive: An Integrating Overview" (Physics Essays, volume 9, number 1, 1996), Puthoff extends Alcubierre?s work to show that "Alcubierre?s result is a particular case of a broad, general approach that might loosely be called ?metric engineering,? the details of which provide further support for the concept that reduced time interstellar travel, either by advanced extraterrestrial civilizations at present, or ourselves in the future, is not, as naïve consideration might hold, fundamentally constrained by physical principles." Puthoff?s expression "metric engineering" is not to be taken lightly. Just as the internal combustion engine drove the Industrial Revolution and human expansion around the globe, metric engineering would drive a new human interstellar society into the furthest reaches of the space. Heady stuff.
"The fact that the vacuum constitutes an energy reservoir," as Puthoff says, doesn?t mean it?s going to be easy to tap into it. There are some promising avenues of approach, though. The Casimir force mentioned earlier, is an attractive force between two very flat, conducting plates placed closely parallel to one another. Fewer electromagnetic waves can fit between the plates than outside them. As a result, the electromagnetic zero-point pressure is smaller between the plates than outside them. The result is an attractive force. The total vacuum energy density between the plates is negative, that is, less than compared to that outside them. Anything that has such a lower, or negative energy relative to the overall vacuum density can be considered exotic matter.
Physicist Robert L. Forward published a paper entitled "Extraction of electrical energy from the vacuum"(Phys. Rev., B 30, 1700, 1984), that attempts to exploit the Casimir plate effect. Forward has done considerable work in the theoretical and engineering aspects of matter/antimatter annihilation propulsion, including an ingenious design for an antihydrogen ice crystal powered starship. His vacuum energy extraction paper uses the Casimir effect as a kind of vacuum electrical generator. Again, two identically charged plates are placed close together. Like charges repel something known as Coulomb repulsion. However, the stronger Casimir attractive vacuum force overcomes this Coulomb barrier, and causes the plates to be drawn together in a collapsing motion. This in turn, confines the electrical charge distribution to an ever decreasing volume. The end result is that zero-point energy or Casimir energy is converted into potential electrical Coulomb energy, which can then be extracted in a number of straightforward ways.
The problem with this scheme is that such a Casimir generator is a one shot device. You have to put as much energy into the device to get the plates to return to their original separated positions, as you get from their attractive collapse. Considering the normal operating inefficiencies in any kind of electro-mechanical device, such a device remains a long way from operating in any kind of energy "over unity, " or "break even" mode, for that matter.
Attempts are being made to work around that problem. In a paper entitled "The energetic vacuum: implications for energy research"(Speculations in Science and Technology, Vol 13, No. 4, page 247, 1990), Puthoff extends Forward?s idea of a vacuum energy generator.
"Let us carry this one step further, however. If one could arrange to have an inexhaustible supply of such devices, and if it took less energy to make each device than was obtained from the Casimir-collapse process, and if the devices were discarded after use rather than recycled, then one could envision the conversion of vacuum energy to use with a net positive yield. Although almost certainly not achievable in terms of mechanical devices, a possible candidate for exploitation along such lines would be the generation of a cold, dense, non-neutral(charged) plasma in which charge condensation takes place not on the basis of charged plates being drawn together, but on the basis of a Casimir pinch effect. Such an approach would constitute a ?Casimir-fusion? process, which in its cycle of operation would mimic the nuclear fusion process." Puthoff then goes on to say that he knows of "programs in the United States, the Soviet Union and other countries to explore just such an approach on an experimental basis."
Yet imaginative efforts continue in designing propellant based starships. One of the better examples is the ICAN II web site at -
This ingenious scheme incorporates an enormous hybrid particle accelerator around the actual starship itself, continually generating antimatter fuel while in flight. Again, nice if it works. But that still doesn?t get around the time dilation problem. Try this site -- http://sunsite.unc.edu/lunar/ssdengr.html -- for a good overview of various starship propulsion schemes and designs. Despite all the ingenuity, always boils down to the fact that propellant type "rockets" - no matter what the fuel - don?t cut the interstellar mustard when it comes to truly rapid transit. You have to be able to tweak the spacetime metric itself so you can at least come back and play with the dog.
Of course, this entire discussion centers around some basic human assumptions. It?s still conceivable that interstellar space could be populated with societies who, although incapable of manipulating spacetime, are technologically sophisticated enough to carry their unique, life sustaining environments with them at sub-light speeds, and thrive while doing it. But it would be hard to envision contemporary human society ever adapting to such an alien, nomadic lifestyle.
Another interesting and potentially important propulsion development are the so-called "gravitational shielding" experiments. In these experiments small weights are suspended by extremely sensitive strain gauge devices. Placed closely underneath are rapidly rotating superconducting ceramic discs, which in turn are in a state of levitation due to the superconducting Meissner effect. It has been found in a number of different experiments that a significant fraction of weight is lost from the suspended materials. The effect was first discovered by Tampere University of Technology physicists E. Podkletnov and R. Nieminen, and published in paper entitled "A Possibility of Gravitational Force Shielding by Bulk YBa2Cu307-x Superconductor"(Physica C 203, 1992, pp 441- 444).
Podkletnov later published a second paper with colleague A.D. Levit, "Gravitational Shielding Properties of Composite Bulk YBa2Cu307-x Below 70C Under Electro-magnetic Field"(Tampere University of Technology Report MSU-95 chem, January 1995). This paper provides even stronger evidence for the weight loss effect. In this 2nd experiment, samples of different composition and weight (10-50grams) were placed at distances of 25mm to 1.5 meters from the rotating disk. The resultant mass losses went as high as around 2% -- undeniably a statistically significant amount.
Even more interesting, is the fact that NASA is reported to be conducting, or about to conduct similar gravity shielding experiments. Scientists Ning Li and D.G. Torr at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, have written a number of papers in major journals on the relationship between superconductors and gravitation. It?s not hard to understand why NASA would be interested in the subject. Although other researchers have duplicated these findings, no accepted theory of this new phenomenon has yet to emerge.
More than one reputable physicist has gone on record as saying it?s physically impossible for there to be a direct "electro-gravitic" coupling of such a large magnitude, according to the standard classical General Theory of Relativity when combined with Maxell?s electromagnetic field equations.
"However, there are some hints as to what this effect might actually be," says physicist Jack Sarfatti. "Superconductors have giant quantum wavefunctions. Which means they have large quantum forces exerted on them. The question is: will these large quantum forces distort the spacetime metric in a non-classical way? So, the Finnish experiments might actually be a new kind of giant quantum effect. There is one good phenomenological clue. Thin films of superfluid helium creep vertically up the sides of open beakers, in blatant defiance of the gravitational force. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on the gravitational shielding phenomenon."
NASA?s level of interest in exotic new energy sources and propulsion methods is such that the agency established a landmark research program in July 1996. The following program summary was put out by Marc G. Millis of the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I quote it in its entirety.
"NASA?s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program
Sep 13, 1996
"In July, 1996, a small new NASA research program was established to seek the breakthroughs that could one day revolutionize space travel and enable interstellar voyages. This program, called "Breakthrough Propulsion Physics," is led by Marc G. Millis of NASA?s Lewis Research Center and is a part of the comprehensive Advanced Space Transportation Program managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center.
"Prompted by new possibilities that have emerged in recent scientific literature and by the preparatory research by individuals on how to apply these possibilities to the goal of creating revolutionary propulsion, researchers from various NASA centers, other government laboratories, academia, and industries collaborated to initiate this program. This program looks beyond textbook science and foreseeable technology to seek the solutions required to revolutionize space transportation and make deep space travel practical and affordable. Specifically, the goals of the program are to accomplish three propulsion breakthroughs. They are:
"(1) Eliminate or dramatically reduce the need for rocket propellant. This implies discovering fundamentally new ways to create motion, presumably by manipulating inertia, gravity, or by any other interactions between matter, fields, and spacetime.
"(2) Dramatically increase vehicle speeds to make deep space travel practical. This implies determining and achieving the actual maximum speed limit for motion through space or the motion of spacetime itself. If possible, this means circumventing the light speed limit.
"(3) Discover fundamentally new on-board energy generation methods to power such revolutionary propulsion devices. Since the above two breakthroughs could require breakthroughs in energy generation to power them, and since the physics underlying the propulsion goals is closely linked to energy physics, this third goal is included in the program.
"Since these goals are beyond today?s established science, this program cannot guarantee that the desired breakthroughs are achievable, but it can promise to produce credible and measurable progress that leads toward the breakthroughs -- credible progress toward incredible possibilities.
"As such, this program faces two challenges; programmatic and technical. The programmatic challenges include: (1) advocating such long range research amidst dwindling resources and stiff competition from the nearer-term, more conservative programs, (2) creating confidence that research funded today will lead to the necessary breakthroughs, (3) selecting the most promising research tasks from the large number of divergent and competing approaches, and (4) conducting meaningful and credible research economically. The technical challenges include: (1) focusing emerging physics to answer NASA?s propulsion needs, (2) finding the shortest path to discovering the breakthroughs amidst several, divergent and competing approaches, and (3) balancing the imagination and vision necessary to point the way to breakthroughs with the credible, systematic rigor necessary to make genuine progress.
"A government steering group containing members from the various NASA centers, DOD and DOE laboratories has been established to develop the research challenges. These criteria are to be in place by mid 1997, in time for the next program milestone; a kick-off workshop. The invitation-only workshop will examine the relevant emerging physics and will produce a list of next-step research tasks. If the workshop successfully demonstrates that promising and affordable approaches exist, funding may be granted to begin conducting the step-by-step research that may eventually lead to the breakthroughs."
This new NASA working group adds an exciting dimension to the space program as we head into 21st century. One can only feel encouraged that the agency has chosen to go in this promising direction. It will take the kinds of breakthroughs discussed in this article, and soon to be studied in depth by the NASA working group, to get us to the stars. And one can feel confident that because of this, more startling theoretical and technological breakthroughs lurk right around the corner.
That brings us to the final mind-blowing aspect of this subject. Of course, it will take human imagination and genius to realize the kinds of breakthroughs discussed here. But our consciousness may play an even more fundamental role than in just the metaphorical sense of genius and creativity. It may actually be an integral part of a star drive -- as important as fuel, instruments, and navigation systems. (And navigation is a formidable problem. How does one reliably navigate across such vast interstellar distances in a distorted spacetime metric?)
Jack Sarfatti, never fearful of climbing out on a theoretical limb, has given these ideas considerable thought. "The key to building a practical cost-effective "UFO-like" advanced propulsion system may be in a better understanding of the fundamental meaning of quantum mechanics and its relation to consciousness. If the photos of the Roswell crash fragments are not bogus, then the panels with hand prints provide a major clue that the craft is controlled by consciousness. The late Brendan O Regan, who worked with Astronaut Edgar Mitchell and the Noetics Institute told me in 1973 that he had classified information that such was the case. He very much wanted me to work on that problem when he was Editor of Psycho-Energetic Systems in which he published some of my early premature speculations. Now, more than twenty years later, we have Sir Roger Penrose, Fellow of The Royal Society, and Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, speculating on a direct connection of human consciousness with quantum gravity.
"Quantum gravity refers to zero point fluctuations in the metric i.e. in the four-dimensional fabric of dynamical spacetime itself. The Wheeler-Feynman "action-at-a distance" classical electrodynamics explains electromagnetic zero-point fluctuations and radiation resistance as the effect of advanced waves propagating backwards in time from their future absorption to their past emission. This idea has only recently been extended to quantum mechanics by Fred Alan Wolf and John Cramer and to quantum gravity and the superstring theory of everything by Shu-Yuan Chu. John Archibald Wheeler's "delayed choice experiment", now confirmed in the laboratory, shows that, if we use the traditional Bohr Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, then whether a photon acts as a wave or a particle in the past depends on the future freewill choice of a conscious observer. In other words, the conscious choice acts backward in time. Brain experiments by Ben Libet of the University of California show that if there is free will, then it has to act backward in time for about one second. In other words, our conscious intention seems to depend on Wheeler's quantum delayed choice effect.
"Roger Penrose in The Emperor's New Mind describes Libet's experiments as a quantum teleological effect. Yakir Aharonov and his students show how to build a quantum time machine which, unlike traversable wormhole time machines using exotic matter, can travel back to a time before it was constructed. This depends on quantum nonlocality in time in which what happens now depends on both what did happen and what will happen. John Gribbin, in his new popular book, Schrodinger's Kittens, give an easy to understand explanation of these ideas. Gribbin argues that Cramer?s explanation of quantum mechanics in terms of the Wheeler-Feynman combination of retarded waves of positive energy from past to future with advanced waves of negative energy from future to past is the "best buy" to understand the meaning of quantum theory. Note that exotic matter has negative energy propagating forward in time. This is exactly the opposite of what ordinary antimatter does. There are apparent defects in Cramer's theory that I am now working on. Cramer's theory, according to Gribbin, seems to need the zero proper time of light waves in order to work. That is, a photon gets from here to there in zero proper time. This is not so for quantum waves which need imaginary proper time. Furthermore, Cramer's theory requires particles to emit and absorb their quantum waves.
"But the late David Bohm showed that such quantum emission and absorption violates standard quantum mechanics in a very serious way. There is an extension of quantum mechanics to living conscious matter using "back-action" which permits the Cramer?s theory to work. It is not clear that the Cramer's theory will work for dead matter as Gribbin would like. The back-action may well provide the feedback control mechanism for something very like the power of the Q in the space-opera Star Trek, The Next Generation. This would explain UFO propulsion as a quantum consciousness effect explaining the hand imprint panel of the Roswell wreckage. In other words, one could imagine that there are states of consciousness accessible through meditation, electrical stimulation, and chemicals that would allow the shaping of the spacetime metric using controlled quantum action at a distance. I caution the reader that none of what I say here is established theory and I could well be completely wrong. I am simply giving a very speculative description of my current intuitions on this problem."
Only time will tell if any of these ideas pan out. But if they do, it will certainly give new meaning to the line "When you wish upon a star..."
I used "Cherenkov" as an example of potential traces of FTL travel. That's what "e.g." stands for.
And yes, we have lots of such detectors--they are called eyeballs, and almost everyone has a couple.
exotic matter will be needed in order to generate a distortion of spacetime like the one discussed here
Haven't they ever heard of dilithium?
Wait a bit. I haven't really wound up with the vitriol in quite a while.
Thus the poles for the magnetic field have to be "projected" to a point outside the ship by some sort of field amplifier. The poles have to be reversible to stop.
Also, humans would have to be shielded or isolated from a magnetic field of that strength.
I'm sure this is impossible or someone would have thought of it...but it seems more likely than the other crazy propulsion systems I've read about.
If your interested in near future technology for space travel, look up americium 242m or "Two weeks to Mars" on google. It's 100 times as powerful as plutonium. 1 gram I think was suppose to equal 2 tons of jet fuel. For some reason no one around FR knows about or is interested in it.
One last thought is why do we need matter to transmit momentum? Think about it. If you use a powerful laser, it heats up (i.e. transfers momentum) say a propellant which shoots out the back and the rocket goes forward. Why can't there be just electro-magnetic energy that shoots out the back of the rocket and transfers momentum to the universe in general.