So I was surfing the Internet this morning, you know, avoiding writing this post, when I came across this article. Holy crap, Batman.
British scientist Roger Shawyer’s odd and highly controversial closed-chamber electromagnetic space propulsion system, the EmDrive, not only works–which we had thought it might, since it tested well last year–but it works in a vacuum, apparently. Against most of the known laws of physics and conservation of momentum. (See io9’s take on it.)
Even better, in a move that has me squeeing for joy and nerves, according to one report, during the test, when NASA engineers fired lasers into the resonance chamber, the particles were accelerated to incredibly high speeds… some faster than the speed of light. The mathematics of the interference pattern apparently match the mathematics of a warp bubble (yes, a real thing, thank you Star Trek). The engineers may have accidentally created a warp bubble and paved the way for real FTL travel.
What does this mean? Well, all science is a process of theories and testing and more theories and corrections, so it may be too early to tell exactly what’s happening. It could always be a data error, a false alarm, or an indication of a different physics issue we still don’t understand. But, considering that Shawyer’s EmDrive already seems to function reliably outside our understanding of conventional physics, and that a huge number of great scientific discoveries historically happen by accident, well…
Maybe it’s an actual space drive! Or the beginnings of one. If so, it’s one of the biggest stories of our generation, one of the biggest advances since my mother watched the moon landing in her elementary school class, and just as important. It blows my mind that if this is so, this one small announcement on this one ordinary day in May, 2015, might be the beginning of a new era. I might get to see people go to Mars, or space, or get to go to the moon myself.
I hope that’s what’s happening. I really, really hope. Here’s to happy accidents working out.
Added: As usual, the scientific community is urging a lot more caution while the media is running with possibilities. Since I’m a hopelessly nerdy science fiction author, I get excited about things. But, since I believe in the scientific process, which tests and retests before adopting any cautious belief, I’ll go ahead and include a more realistic take on the situation here:
Bottom line? We have some unusual data. Once. Data which may or may not fit a mathematical model of something people get excited about. (Like Me! Warp drive warp drive warp drive!!) It’s time for more testing, more data, and more models. (Sigh.)