The other day, I did a post on interstellar exploration which linked to one by Sten Odenwald on the problems with interstellar travel. Well, he posted some follow-up remarks, expressing some surprise at the response, doubling down on the aspects of the limitations of interstellar travel he identified, and urging people to be optimistically realistic. (I predict he’ll get a similar response to this post.)
One thing I wanted to add to the remarks I made in my post, is that I don’t oppose research into possible faster than light solutions. I just think we have to realistic about their prospects. This subject is coming up again with the release of the movie ‘Interstellar’ tomorrow.
It sounds like a big part of the movie’s plot is going to involve wormholes. These are actually theoretical concepts, and the movie had a heavy weight physicist, Kip Thorne, consulting to make sure they got it right. (Thorne is actually releasing a book about the physics of the movie.)
As I said in my earlier post, these faster than light concepts are extremely speculative. To understand how speculative, you might be interested in this write up by Paul Halpern at the Starts With A Bang blog. The TL;DR is that traversable wormholes require something called “exotic matter” to produce “negative energy” to keep them from instantly collapsing. Exotic matter has not yet been observed in nature. Of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that it couldn’t conceivably be manufactured.
But then there’s this:
Even if exotic matter is identified and put to use, there is another obstacle to traversable wormhole construction — the enormous amount of ordinary matter required. Researchers estimate that one would need a glob of mass comparable to millions of suns. Clearly, wormhole construction is not in the cards for the foreseeable future.
It’s always possible someone will find a way around these difficulties. We don’t know what science will discover in centuries to come.
But if we’re doing scientific speculation, the probabilities are that exploring the stars will happen on far longer time frames than we’re used to now, and our best bet may be engineering ourselves to cope with those time frames. Far out? Sure. But anywhere near as far out as harnessing the mass of a million suns to create a wormhole?