Sunday, November 15, 2015

Star Tech

Believe it or not, space is mostly just empty space. It's a vast nothingness with nothing in it, which makes for exciting television I'm sure. And not only is it as empty as space can be, but it also very very large. So, how does a film make space exciting and colorful? Well, warp drive of course.
The use of warp drive is a way for Star Trek to show the emptiness of space without showing the emptiness of space. It shows the ship traveling incredible distances in mere seconds, so that they can cut to the action very quickly. It also conveniently allows the characters to appear exactly where they need to be nearly instantly. Need to travel across the galaxy to save a planet real quick? No big deal, warp drive. In the 2009 Star Trek movie, warp drive is used to quickly arrive at Vulcan to provide aid before it is too late.
Warp drive is said to work by producing a ridiculous amount of energy in a fusion reaction of matter and antimatter in a "warp coil" brought about by "dilithium crystals", a rare chemical element. This power generates "warp fields", also known by their catchier and much more understandable nickname "subspace displacement fields". These fields distort the space around the ship, effectively surrounding the ship with a "subspace bubble", which is indeed the actual term they use. This magic space distortion bubble allows the ship to travel at speeds faster than light. However, traveling faster than light isn't exactly as simple as magic space bubbles, because in the real world we have Einstein's theory of relativity. Essentially, the faster something goes, the more mass something gains, and the more mass it gains the more energy it needs to be propelled... eventually we would need infinite energy to go faster than light, so how can something travel faster than light?

Another piece of fictional technology created almost entirely for plot reasons is the famous transporter. It's basically a teleporter that allows the characters to skip the whole landing process. It is another example of fictional technology created to skip over boring or repetitive scenes, or to get characters to or out of a place very quickly. In the 2009 Star Trek movie the transporter is used to save Kirk and Sulu as they are falling towards their certain demise. At the very last second, they are teleported onto the ship alive. Spock also uses this technology to quickly teleport to Vulcan, and to teleport himself and others to safety. It "works" by dematerializing, transmitting, and reassembling the teleported, or "beaming" them. While tests have apparently been successful in teleporting quantum information between photons, transporting atoms, and keeping them in the right place, would be incredibly difficult. Also, while people in Star Trek can be teleported from planet to planet with ease, in real life theoretically sending particles in a quantum state would travel by something like radio wave, and thus wouldn't exactly make it that far.


1 comment:

  1. The key is, the Enterprise is NOT traveling through space faster than the speed of light. Space ITSELF is distorting, shrinking ahead of the ship and expanding behind it. Since relativity says nothing about how fast space itself can move, the ship can be transported at arbitrary speeds, provided the ship has enough energy to warp spacetime as required.

    The idea of the transporter is that it (somehow) changes the matter of the object into energy, transports the energy, and then (again, somehow) changes the energy back into matter. The problem is the amount of information required to properly assemble something like a human is HUGE. Transferring, let alone, storing that much information is WAY beyond any current technology.