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Faster-than-Light Travel in Science and Fiction Essay


Introduction and History

Science fiction as a genre is rich in ideas and technologies offered by different authors. Sometimes it is possible to encounter bold and incredible inventions that are supposed to be used by people in the future. At the same time, some phenomena once described in science fiction, for instance, various automated mechanisms, or more obviously robots, have long been used in the modern world. Some of the favorite themes of the authors of this genre are space travel to other planets and interstellar contact with aliens. In this category of science fiction, it is often possible to find references to faster-than-light travel, that is, nearly instantaneous flight over long distances. This technology, as McGuirk (2018) notes, was described in the works of Lem, Asimov, and other outstanding science fiction writers. Nevertheless, its plausibility is still doubted today, and the proof is the fact that so far, no means have been found to overcome the light barrier and reach such speed.

Making use of the phenomenon of faster-than-light travel was typical for writers of the 20th century. According to Dourish and Bell (2014), authors began actively using this hypothetical technology after the conquest of space, and one of the first science fiction writers who mentioned it was Isaac Asimov. Dourish and Bell (2014, p. 770) argue that “science fiction shapes popular imaginings of the future.” This statement is quite justified since the topic of finding viable means to overcome the speed of light is still relevant today. Despite Albert Einstein’s insistence that faster-than-light travel was theoretically possible based on his theory of relativity, no significant discoveries were made (Long 2016).

Thompson (2017, para. 2) devotes his article to this issue, but he is confident that “physics is very strict about nothing moving faster than the speed of light.” A similar opinion is held by Baraniuk (2016, para. 43), who notes that “if things could travel faster than light, they would disobey these fundamental laws that describe how the Universe works.” Furthermore, Sutter (2017) claimed that even in the case of overcoming the speed of light, the result would be undesirable because of wormholes. Certainly, the development of such a technology would bring many benefits, and discoveries could be made. However, the laws that are known today present obstacles to the creation of such technology, and therefore faster-than-light travel remains nothing more than fiction.

Current Status/Recent Developments

Even though the technology for faster-than-light travel has not been developed in any sense, attempts have been made. According to Baraniuk (2016, para. 13), “in the early 1960s, William Bertozzi at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology experimented with accelerating electrons at greater and greater velocities.” This work was aimed at finding an alternative energy source that could provide a space vehicle with the appropriate capacity to overcome the speed of light. Nevertheless, studies that had the potential to lead to innovations were not successful. It was proved that electrons were not able to move above a speed of 300,000 km/s, which refuted the possibility of faster-than-light travel (Baraniuk 2016, para. 15).

Attempts are still being made to find a way for faster-than-light travel. Sutter (2017), who considers wormholes in the context of this topic, notes that they should not only be extremely powerful but also stable. Otherwise, flights making use of wormholes would be meaningless since short-range movement in space would not lead to any results concerning the efficacy of wormholes as applied technology. Accordingly, to find a potential solution, a fuel source must be discovered that could provide spaceships with enough energy to overcome the light barrier. At the moment, there is no such energy source, which therefore nullifies all the efforts of inventors in this direction.

It is noteworthy that the desire to overcome the light barrier is even considered to be theoretically impossible by some authors. As Thompson (2017, para. 7) remarks, “it seems likely that warp drives and hyperspace shall forever exist only in the realm of science fiction.” At the same time, even despite the development of modern technologies and progress in space exploration, experiments of this type continue to be unsuccessful. This fact confirms that at the moment, neither theoretical nor experimental hypotheses have proved to be correct.

Technological Limitations and Future Potential

To make the technology of faster-than-light travel a reality, it is necessary to not only search for an appropriate energy source but also to work on the construction of modern vehicles. According to Baraniuk (2016, para. 18), “as objects travel faster and faster, they get heavier and heavier – the heavier they get, the harder it is to achieve acceleration.” Consequently, changes must be made in the traditional construction of spacecraft to minimize their weight without at the same time losing the necessary protection. This work may have more practical application because due to technical progress, new forms of spacecraft are being created, and external vehicle structures can be equipped with the most modern materials that make it possible to reduce the total weight. It is possible that in the coming years, scientists will be able to develop appropriate technology and ensure that new formats of spacecraft design will become more widely accepted.

The project under consideration has many technological limitations. As Long (2016) remarks, in assuming that reaching and overcoming the speed of light is possible, theories of space and time would be refuted, which is impossible in the present state of modern physics. Modern scientists and researchers probably do not yet have sufficient knowledge to develop a plan for the motion of spacecraft at such a barely conceivable speed. However, even in the context of existing information, it is difficult to suggest that faster-than-light travel might become real. If the exploration of outer space and other planets and galaxies continues, valuable minerals may be found that would permit the creation of the necessary type of fuel. Nevertheless, sufficient financing would be required for this work, and in the next few decades, any significant progress is unlikely to be made. Perhaps in the future people will learn to use energy necessarily, but today, faster-than-light travel is impossible from nearly all points of view.

Conclusion

By the laws of physics that are known today, faster-than-light travel is nothing but science fiction, and up to now, no significant discoveries have been made in this area. Scientists have tried to find opportunities for developing this technology, but the laws of the universe do not allow it. Science fiction writers have used this theme in their works quite often. Nevertheless, when considering this issue from the standpoint of modern science, traveling faster than the speed of light is impossible. The search for potential energy sources and work on the design of space vehicles are necessary for potentially making progress.

Reference List

Baraniuk, C 2016,, BBC, Web.

Dourish, P & Bell, G 2014, ‘Resistance is futile: reading science fiction alongside ubiquitous computing’, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 769-778.

Long, KF 2016, ‘Unstable equilibrium hypothesis: a consideration of ultra-relativistic and faster than light interstellar spaceflight’, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 69, pp. 97-101.

McGuirk, C 2018, ‘Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, and American science fiction’, Science Fiction Studies, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 211-215.

Sutter, P 2017,, Scientific American, Web.

Thompson, A 2017, , Popular Mechanics, Web.

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"Faster-than-Light Travel in Science and Fiction." IvyPanda, 25 Nov. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/faster-than-light-travel-in-science-and-fiction/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Faster-than-Light Travel in Science and Fiction." November 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/faster-than-light-travel-in-science-and-fiction/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Faster-than-Light Travel in Science and Fiction'. 25 November.

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