Traveling Faster Than Light

Last Updated on June 2, 2020 by

[From “The Sunday Times” (UK) 13th August 1995]


It is boldly going where no reputable scientific body has gone before.
Contradicting Einstein, the normally conservative Royal Astronomical
Society is about to publish a report predicting that mankind will be able
to travel faster than the speed of light.

The breakthrough means that Star Trek fantasies of interstellar
civilisations and voyages powered by warp drive are now no longer the
exclusive domain of science fiction writers.

The report was written by Ian Crawford, an astronomer at University
College London, who believes not only that man will one day see stars at
close quarters, but that we had better start preparing ourselves for the
consequences, including contact with aliens.

His paper, Some Thoughts On The Implications Of Faster-Than-Light Travel,
has been validated by independent referees in the scientific community
and will be published next month. Its publication coincides with the
formation by British and American scientists of the Interstellar
Propulsion Society (IPS) which is dedicated to finding a means of taking
astronauts to the stars.

Crawford argues that modern physics may allow two possible ways around
Einstein’s theory, which says that because bodies have infinite mass at
the speed of light, no amount of energy can make them go faster.

The first is to pass through “wormholes”, rifts in the fabric of space
caused by intense gravitational fields such as those found around the
collapsed stars known as black holes.

Crawford says that such fields may allow the traveller to enter a
wormhole from one point and then to leave it at another, possibly
thousands of light years away.

Previously, scientists have assumed that any astronaut who was caught in
such a powerful gravitational field would be pulled into something
resembling a piece of spaghetti.

However, Crawford said last week that recent research had suggested
wormholes could be stabilised and manipulated to create short cuts
between any two points in space. “The proofs are complex and
mathematical, but more and more astrophysicists are satisfied that in
theory it is possible,” he said.

Should wormholes fail, however, Crawford proposes a second possible route
to the stars. He draws on a recent paper by Miguel Alcubierre, of the
University of Wales, in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity to
suggest the possibility of propulsion systems which distort space by
compressing it in front of a spaceship while expanding it behind.

Such a system would effectively bend space, creating a form of “warp
drive” reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise of Captain James T Kirk in
Star Trek.

The theories will boost growing interest among scientists in the
possibility of travelling faster than light. The IPS, whose members
include several NASA engineers, starts its first conference shortly in
Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Patrick Moore, the astronomer and presenter of The Sky At Night, said he
believed interstellar travel would one day be achieved. “Television would
have seemed impossible 200 years ago and faster than light travel is no
more outrageous than that,” he said.

Arthur C Clarke, the science fiction writer and futurologist, was equally
enthusiastic. His first novel, Against The Fall Of Night, published in
1932, presumed that man would be able to travel faster than light.

Speaking from his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka, he said: “That was just a
dramatic device which all science fiction writers have to use in space
travel, but I have always believed it may one day be possible.”

Sir Martin Rees, the astronomer royal and professor of astronomy at
Cambridge University, was more cautious, however, saying the proofs were
purely theoretical