Warp drive is so deeply associated with Star Trek that other science fiction series can’t really use it.  They either have to invent some other faster-than-light technology or think of a clever, new name for the same thing.  That’s unfortunate because warp drive does make some scientific sense.  However, new research suggests it is more dangerous than we previously thought.

The starship Enterprise does not actually travel faster than light.  It generates a “warp bubble,” distorting space around it.  Space in front becomes compressed, and the space behind expands.  This warping of space shrinks the distance between the Enterprise and its destination, so the Enterprise doesn’t have to travel faster than light to get there.

Science says this is possible, although it requires a lot more energy than current technology can generate.  Still, it’s possible.  That’s the important thing, and researchers at the University of Sydney recently did a theoretical experiment to see what would happen if someone built a real warp engine.  The results raise some serious safety concerns.

As you may recall from a previous post, space is dirty.  There are so many particles of dirt floating in space that they block light from many of the stars in our own galaxy.  The researchers found this dirt would accumulate in the compressed space in front of the Enterprise, and when the ship comes to a stop all that dirt would be released as an enormous shockwave.  According to the researchers, this shockwave has enough force to destroy a planet.

It’s hard to explore strange, new worlds when your warp drive keeps destroying them when you arrive.  Either the crew of the Enterprise is very careful when dropping out of warp or they have some technology to correct for this problem.

The important thing is that right now, here in 2012, scientists are doing research on warp drives.  I have no doubt we’ll solve this problem by 2063, when Zefram Cochrane invents Earth’s first real warp drive.

For more information on the research done at the University of Sydney, click here.

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