Saturday, July 23, 2005

Faster Than Light - part 1

Ok, this is a subject that needs to be examined more closely than it has been. Oh, sure, I know that some sci-fi geeks (not unlike myself) have considered it carefully. There have even been some mainstream scientists, but it still has not gotten the attention it needs. The problem is that of so-called Faster Than Light travel, or, simply, FTL.

I have always believed this is possible, though I certainly have no proof. And being the kind of person I am, I don’t just want proof, I want a full fledged hyper-warp-FTL drive attachment for my car. But this is going to take some work, I think. I suppose that a proper treatment of FTL demands that I treat two things, why it is not supposed to be possible, and why it might. Now, I think that before one goes about smashing idols, one ought to know exactly how, and why each of these idols exist.

Thus, today’s topic is, what prevents FTL Travel? If you can’t answer this, there is no sense in looking for loopholes. You got to know the rules before you can break them.

The first problem with faster than light travel is relativity. Not the nasty mathematics of General Relativity, the relatively simple stuff of Special Relativity. This is the main problem, though there are others. If all frames of reference are equally valid, then it doesn’t matter which one we use. And for any speed less than light, it will be less than light in any other reference frame. BUT, once we exceed the speed of light, there will be a reference frame where it appear we are going backwards in time. And you don’t have to rewatch “Back to the Future” many times to know that that makes trouble. A good place to see this is here, though admittedly it was meant for a game.

Another problem is that relativistic mass is related to speed. And going the speed of light means your mass is infinite, which means the rocket fuel needed is infinite, which means....

The last real problem that I see is that our atoms are held together by the electrical force. On the quantum mechanical level, that force is mediated using virtual photons, which move at the speed of light. In other words, if we exceeded the speed of light, then we would be moving faster than the force that holds us together.

I think that those are all the critial problem. If I missed any, someone let me know. But it was on the basis of reasons like this, many have concluded FTL would never be possible, never considering how limited our knowledge is. I think it is possible.

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