General Question

avalmez's avatar

M = m0 / sqrt(1 - (v/c)^2): will humankind never journey to even the nearest star?

Asked by avalmez (1606 points ) May 7th, 2009

einstein may have been one of history’s greatest physicists, but at a trekkie party he would be considered a huge party pooper.

the algebraic equation shown above means that as velocity increases so does mass. in fact, as velocity approaches the speed of light, mass approaches infinity and therefore v can not equal c the speed of light – i’m certain many of you aready know that, but in case it’s news to anyone in particular.

that’s a bummer for trekkies and anyone who has dreams of visiting any nearby stars some day in the near or not too distant future. huge advances in technology will be required to make such a visit possible. and, at best, you’d have to be pretty wet behind the ears to attempt such a trip if you expect to make it a round trip.

while technology advances occur at an ever increasing rate, do you think humans will ever be able to visit the outer reaches of the solar system let alone any nearby stars? note, i don’t include visits to other galaxies as even a possibility to consider.

factor into your response the rate at which we are destroying our environment and so our continued viability. Will we be around long enough to advance technology to the point it even makes sense to consider such a trip

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39 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

Just warp space and bring your starting and stopping distances closer together. Obviously. ;)

asmonet's avatar

I love you, niki.

nikipedia's avatar

Likewise, Sunshine.

Also in your initial question you ask about journeying to the nearest star. If I recall correctly that should be alpha centauri, which is about 4.3 light years away, says Google. So let’s say we build a spaceship that can go like, .99c—we could get there in just over 4 years. And we definitely won’t destroy the planet in the next 4 years. I think.

avalmez's avatar

but, you have to develop the technology to even approach .99c first. we may have another 4 years to go, but i guess the question is how much time do we need to develop technology that enables us to approach c? do we have at least that much time?

asmonet's avatar

nikiz in ur threadz, bitchslappin’ ur logicz.

oratio's avatar

Alpha Centauri can only sustain life if Sid Meier is involved. Well, even if we could achieve the speed of light there would be no point to travel to the nearest planetary system since it would take many thousands of years. We would have to find some way to side-step the speed of light cap.

I am quite sure we will be here for a long long time. If there is a way to live on the planet, we will live. I also think we are slowly, and not to slow, coming around when it comes to the environment and our own survival. I am not so sure about colonizing the galaxy though. At least not for a thousand years.

Or we could just clone Earth.

avalmez's avatar

@asmonet a trekkie are you?

asmonet's avatar

…might be. :)

nikipedia's avatar

I mean, probably. It seems fruitless to try to anticipate how long it’ll take to develop any technology. I do know someone in the physics program where I go to school who is half-seriously contemplating the .99c machine, so it’s not that far out there…

The thing is, I think we have more pressing issues at the moment. If we could figure out how to stop fucking up the planet this shit wouldn’t matter. Ironically (to me) the real problem with a .99c machine is harnessing that kind of energy, and trying to harness energy is exactly what’s causing all the problems down here to begin with. If we could find a renewable energy source, like, oh, I don’t know, let’s say a huge motherfucking ball of hydrogen and helium that’s constantly fueled by a nuclear fusion chain reaction, we might have a shot at both (a) saving our planet and (b) getting off it.

AstroChuck's avatar

Asmonet is no Trekkie. If she were she would be telling you it’s “Trekker”, not “Trekkie.”

DrBill's avatar

I’m visiting here from Terra, and my trip here was at 16c.

asmonet's avatar

@AstroChuck: It’s too much work to pick fights with all the little people. :P

But yeah, no. It is Trekker.

asmonet's avatar

And really, I’m more of a Whovian.

avalmez's avatar

@asmonet totally agree…but, we already have the trekkie, Thean and Whovian people checked in so far though :)

BookReader's avatar

…non-three dimensional travel is certainly a current hot topic and making the news…

…i call it quantum traveling, dream traveling, and/or the great transmigration…

avalmez's avatar

@BookReader physicist are contemplating events that instantaneously trigger other events regardless of the distance between them. something called entanglement (which i hoped the big people would bring up because i do want to understand more about it than i do). is that related to what you reference? if true, seems entanglement defies einstein’s special theory of relativity.

BookReader's avatar

…yes and no… yes to quantum entanglement and no to defies einstein’s special theory of relativity…

…consider that energy is eternally unchanging and pervasive, and that mass is eternally changing and pervasive- entanglement is explained as is einstein’s position…

BookReader's avatar

…soren kierkegaard comes to mind- leap of faith…

…i could be wrong that i remember reading that in his deathbed he was asked by one of his students- “when you die where will you go?” to which he answered- “where is there to go?”

…quantum entanglement?

avalmez's avatar

@BookReader you’ll have to clarify/elaborate…i don’t get either of your responses. thanks!

quarkquarkquark's avatar

There has been some theorization about relativistic solutions to this uniquely relativistic problem. The equation you mentioned in your question features the Lorentz factor of 1/sqrt(1—[v^2/c^2]), and as I’m sure you know the equation also works if you replace m with t or l. If v increases to above the speed of light, the equation yields an imaginary number. The theory, here, is that mathematically, if you exceed the speed of light, you will have negative mass, negative length, and will be going backward in time. Those first two things (and arguably the latter) are physical impossibilities. Physicists still do not know what the imaginary number result of the Lorentz transformation means in the real world, although we do know with some certainty that it takes an infinite amount of energy to accelerate any amount of mass to the speed of light. However, science’s kind-of-ignorance about the ramifications of practical relativity plants in me a tiny seed of hope about space travel. Relativity revolves around the concept of space-time, and there has been some talk about “wrapping” a spacecraft in a “bubble” of space-time, which I know sounds like bullshit but it’s been talked about by smarter men than myself. If string theory turns out to extend practically beyond its mathematical elegance, the physical possibilities of a universe that extends minutely into eight additional dimensions might also have some consequences for space travel. There is a way around everything… we are on the verge of a “new” physics, and I see hope for the trekkies yet.

BookReader's avatar

…no one would… at least not yet…

avalmez's avatar

@quarkquarkquark certainly this kind of discussion isn’t practical given current physics. never mind v > c yields negative m, t and l. you have to first get past infinite m, t and l. that’s what i refer to above when i wrote if indeed v > c is practical, then special relativity will be relegated to a status similar to newtonian mechanics.

still, physicists are having to resort to many dimensions (8 and even 11) to even discuss such a possibility. that those smarter than us guys are thinking about it does give hope to the trekkies (or, trekkers). thanks for everyone’s responses!

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

At the rate we’re going, we wont make it if we stay the course.

We can’t expect government to spend a lot of money on space exploration. The capital is going to come from private investors with a vision.

asmonet's avatar

@BookReader: What’s with all the wandering ellipses?

Jack79's avatar

All of the discussions concerning interstellar travel take it for granted that there is some loophole in the physics that we still don’t know about (wormholes etc). That there is some exception to Einstein’s equation.

The problem of course lies in your last paragraph: how long will it be before we even theoretically conceive of such a solution? And will it ever be possible to put it in use? What if wormholes do exist, but the closest one is in Sirius, or what if we need materials only in existance on Mercury to build jumpgates? Yes, it’s very possible that we’ll have destroyed our own civilisation before we get a chance to reach the stars. And it won’t even be the first time that has happened on our planet (thinking of the Romans who knew about steam but never built a train, or the Chinese who knew about gunpowder but never built a cannon). But perhaps some Alpha Centaurian will come and pick us up on the way.

avalmez's avatar

@asmonet please do expound.

mattbrowne's avatar

Slow interstellar travel is always a good option and Einstein won’t object to it. We can send frozen embryos.

astrocom's avatar

We are, far, far off from developing this level of technology. Far enough that if we’re not careful we may very well never make it that far. That said, traveling slower than the speed of light is completely allowable according to modern physics, provided we have a good enough power source (and don’t forget to apply time dilation and length contraction, at .99c the distance to alpha centuri will look ~0.56 light-years long and take ~.56 years to the travelers. If I used the equations correctly and didn’t’ mess up my math that is.).
And Nikipedia is right also, there’s nothing in relativity, or any physical laws we’ve discovered, that says you can’t avoid traveling the distance you’re supposed to, and still get where you want to go. Wormholes, warping space-time, there are plenty of physical possibilities that we know of now, and we may very well discover more later. If intelligent life sticks around long enough, someone will at least try to break General Relativity (not break, so much as find and use a loophole).
Quantum entanglement does in fact completely violate General Relativity. You’ve gotten a view of one of the Big Problems in physics (yes they warrant capitalization. also on the list: why do things have mass? why is gravitational mass the same as inertial mass? and many other questions that make geniuses with PhD’s heads hurt). As far as I understand it, Quantum Entanglement only transmits information, quantum teleportation might be possible for decently sized objects (though I think that’s a different phenomena). The point is, you can technically only send information via various funky quantum mechanical effects, this information may consist of all of the information that exists concerning a set of particles, resulting in a copy of those particles on the receiving end (and their destruction/spontaneous disassembly on the transmitting end), but an object transmitted in this way wouldn’t technically be moving, it would be destroyed, and instantly recreated somewhere else. Oohh, although there is quantum tunneling (which is a phenomena involving particle’s movements), though I don’t know if that can go faster than light. I think that just lets particles move through energy fields they aren’t supposed to be able to move through.

oratio's avatar

@astrocom But are wormholes and warping space-time anything more than unsubstantiated hypothesis?

mattbrowne's avatar

@oratio – warping space time is a confirmed theory, wormholes are a hypothesis

astrocom's avatar

@oratio, @mattbrowne: As far as I know, both are hypotheses. I’m not even sure we have any idea how to test them. Warping space-time, as far as I know, has only occurred to the extent predicted by Special and General Relativity (aka not in a form that would allow FTL travel). The point is that they are possible loop holes, that don’t really violate any accepted laws. There’s lots we don’t know, and I’m sure as we discover more we’ll come up with other hypotheses that could allow FTL travel.
So no, there aren’t technically any theories that actually suggest FTL travel is possible, just gaps that suggest it isn’t impossible.

oratio's avatar

Well, I am sure they will discover that it is possible in the future. We think we know so much, but too be honest, we have probably not even scratched much deeper that the surface. As we have not understood the physics of the universe yet, we cannot say it’s not possible.

Will look up warping space time. Sounds interesting.

mattbrowne's avatar

@astrocom – No, dozens of experiments and numerous observations show us warping space time is a fact.

astrocom's avatar

@mattbrowne, yea I know, but I’m pretty sure all of those are related to General Relativity, not an artificial method of warping space-time (which should technically always be hyphenated, it’s one dimensional system after all) to allow FTL travel. I could be wrong though, I’d happily accept any articles, news articles, or papers you could link me to.

SmashTheState's avatar

We are never going to travel to other stars, at least not as humans. It makes little sense to stuff a bunch of hairless monkeys into an aluminum and titantium can and try to fling it across unimaginably vast distances of the most hostile environment known to humanity with enough water and bananas to survive the trip.

When we finally reach the stars, it will be after we achieve the Singularity (where the curve of technology goes vertical) and we are able to redesign ourselves in both body and mind. Launching megatonnes of metal and squishy pink protoplasm into space verges on absurdist comedy; on the other hand, a human mind encoded into a tiny vessel the size of a Pepsi can is a much more feasible possibility for reaching distant stars.

mattbrowne's avatar

Never say never.

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