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Trek Prize

Mathematics x-prize for solution to Miguel Alcubierre tensor problem
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  [vote for,

A scientific/technical contest to compose a metric with reasonably economical energy requirements for an Alcubierre-style "warp drive". Specifically, what I'm suggesting is a prize for whomever formulates a "usable" warp bubble geometry. The winner would receive, say, a billion euros. Or less.
cloudface, Mar 09 2009

Alcubierre drive on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia...ki/Alcubierre_drive
Wikipedia on Alcubierre drive [cloudface, Mar 09 2009]

Wright brothers on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia...iki/Wright_Brothers
[zeno, Mar 10 2009]

Centauri Blog http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=2148
"the energy required for such a velocity is significantly greater than that available in the observable universe. Another of those ’small problems of engineering,’ as Robert Forward used to call them…" [wagster, Mar 10 2009]


       What's a "metric" ?   

       One billion euros seems an awful lot of money for a math contest. Why do you think that much money is needed?
jutta, Mar 10 2009

       Even this this wasn't a wibni (which it is, and even a gazillion euros won't fix that) you're going have a problem with //reasonably economical energy requirements//.   

       Warping space-time requires mass in some form. The smallest amount of mass that will have the slightest impact is about the size of Pluto, about 1.3×10^22 kg.   

       In energy terms that's equivalent to (1.3x10^22) x (3 x 10^8)^2 = 1.7x10^39 Joules   

       That's about 325,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 kWh of electricity you'll need.
wagster, Mar 10 2009

       Good idea [cloudface].   

       The more money you offer, the more people will go for it. Universities and countries might be persuaded to work together and share such a prize.   

       [Wagster], don't knock it man, remember the Wright brothers?
zeno, Mar 10 2009

       Alright, I'll be nice, but this is waaay beyond optimism.   

       My first question (apart from what [jutta] asked) is this: didn't Alcubierre solve this problem already? I thought the maths all worked fine, it's just how to warp space-time that is a bit of a poser. So what *exactly* gets you the billion euros?
wagster, Mar 10 2009

       Were this ever done in a scarcity-based economy, the reward would be automatic. The thing is, it's an orgasmatron because as well as FTL, it would also provide limitless energy, antigravity and teleportation, so all those benefits together are simply too good to be true. Sod's Law alone rules it out.
nineteenthly, Mar 10 2009

       //Warping space-time requires mass in some form. The smallest amount of mass that will have the slightest impact is about the size of Pluto, about 1.3×10^22 kg.//   

       I've never understood the whole, 'an object that attains the speed of light gains infinite mass' thing, but if it is true, could enough speed not be substituted for the appropriate mass?   

       I'm inclined to believe in [nineteenthly]'s invocation of Sod's Law - which, twinned with the idea that whichever lifeform first gets to figure out how this works will rapidly dominate the universe; and the observation that we are yet to bow to the Galactic Overlords, makes me inclined to think that it's not been invented yet - which either means that it just can't be done, or that we'd better hurry up.   

       [2_fries] yeah, that does seem a bit odd doesn't it - especially when you consider the link between mass, energy, gravity and spacetime. At light-speed, it would appear, everything just goes nuts.
zen_tom, Mar 10 2009

       [2shyfries] - a) Yes it could, but however you look at it you will still need to get that energy from somewhere b) Assuming you had access to all this mass/energy, it still wouldn't warp space in the way Alcubierre's drive requires, it'll warp space more like a planet would. This is fine for the expanding space-time that follows your drive, but not so useful for the contracting spacetime that goes in front of it - I have no idea how you would contract space-time.   

       There's some discussion about it on this blog (link) by people who (seem to) understand more about it than me:   

       "The basic idea is that by altering the radius of an extra dimension, it would be possible, in principle, to adjust the energy density of spacetime (which relates directly to the cosmological constant which ultimately controls the inflation/contraction of space itself)"   

       Best of luck with that, guys.
wagster, Mar 10 2009

       //I have no idea how you would contract space-time.// Now this is just a guess, but assuming that spacetime, in that it can stretch and contract, behaves like the surface of a pond, and placing something (mass) on the surface of the pond causes the surface to bend into a different dimension (gravity) the rapid removal of that same mass should cause a relative contraction in the same area, which would propagate (a la ripple) in all directions about the point of destruction. Now, if you did this simultaneously in two different places, the resultant ripples would propagate out at the speed of light BUT, at certain points where the two sets of waves interfered with one another, local 'bumps' might be created, some of which, in the same way as the point of contact between the blades of a closing pair of scissors, might move faster than the speed of light.   

       All you'd need to do is instantaneously destroy two planets, calculate the appropriate position and trajectory for placing your spacecraft in order for it to ride the resultant interference wave, and hope that it takes you to a location that's better than the one you started off in, which, considering the amount of energy released by converting two planetary masses into pure energy is liable to be anywhere at all.
zen_tom, Mar 10 2009

       That, Mr. _tom, is a quite brilliant idea and should really be posted on it's own. They only flaw I can see is that merely destroying the planets won't shift enough mass quickly enough to propogate gravity waves. You would need to either vanish them, or make them appear (presumably to or from another dimension).   

       If you want to try this out I have some holiday time in August and would be more than happy to give you a hand.
wagster, Mar 10 2009

       At first, a billion euros, yen, whatever, did seem like a lot...My sense is that a $25 million prize might be a more realistic goal for a charitable enterprise to entertain. But a one billion euro prize might not only spur the lone inventor (er, physicist/mathematician) but also whole corporations. On the other hand, Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, the Google gold- dust twins, Paramount's unofficial publicity dept. et al, might have $25 million laying around in their collective charity checkbooks, and not that brisk billion...I do note with dismal agreement that the energy requirement is, indeed, the sticking point here. Alcubierre sort-of solved the problem, wagster, but not in a way that (initially) involved a realistic energy expenditure. My current understanding is that the equation has been pared down from requiring "more energy than exists in the known universe" (Alcubierre) to, not the energy released by liberating a mass the size of Pluto, but rather a mass the size of Jupiter. So, Pluto would actually be an improvement, but not enough of an improvement to make a difference.... An equation that could narrow things down by a few powers of ten might be all that was needed to begin the *much* more difficult work of engineering something real. (By which I mean: "Real" in the sense of "Einstein mumbling to himself in a Swiss patent office then scribbling something down with a satisfied grunt"-real, and not "Robert Oppenheimer appearing as a Hindu deity in the New Mexican desert"-real.) Metric= A binary function of a topological space that gives, for any two points of the space, a value equal to the distance between them, or to a value treated as analogous to distance for the purpose of analysis...so, now I'm not sure what it means myself.
cloudface, Mar 10 2009

       The galactic overlords died out long before we arrived.
RayfordSteele, Mar 10 2009

       Which came first, the smoke or the mirror?
xenzag, Mar 10 2009

       [wags] you think? Maybe I'll have a think and see if I can reword it a bit first. What we need to figure out is good methods for appearing, or vanishing large quantities of matter.
zen_tom, Mar 10 2009

       //How fast might a warp-driven spacecraft go? Obousy and Cleaver work out an upper limit on such a velocity (based upon quantum field theory) of 10 to the 32'nd power of c, c being the speed of light. //   

       Well that seems a bit excessive. We just need a biplane for starters not an F-18 hornet.
hmmmm, so let me get this straight.
If you create a negative mass that stays in front of the ship, an extremely large mass that stays behind the ship and surf the Alcubierre metric wave you get a celestial surfboard that could possibly break the speed of light, but if you surf the interference wave created from two large masses and one negative you get a jet boat?
Is that a decent layman analogy?
If it is, and if linear speed can be substituted for mass then could spin be substituted for linear speed?

       //What we need to figure out is good methods for appearing, or vanishing large quantities of matter//
Bankers seem to be able to vanish large amounts of cash. Or maybe we can vanish a planetary mass of bankers.
Let's face it, no-one would miss them.
coprocephalous, Mar 11 2009

       It seems that once again the secret is to bang the rocks together guys, only this time they're slightly bigger and one of them's made of antimatter.
nineteenthly, Mar 11 2009

       Faster-than-light travel has already been acheived in the early moments of the existance of this universe, during the inflationary period right after the big bang...
thus indicating that our universe is simply the smoke trail left behind by an FTL traveller.

lurch, Mar 11 2009

       It's more likely that whoever has already done this simply designated us akin to a nature preserve, off limits due to our scarcity as a primitive yet technological life form.
normzone, May 13 2016


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