What if we had a warp drive?

Here is something completely different. Nothing today about AI or deep learning.

I'm a big fan of Star Trek and generally like the utopian version of the future that Gene Roddenberry had given us. But obviously this is just a vision and a TV show, so it's full of stuff that makes people watch it. Inspired by that vision though, I've been day dreaming what it would be like if we actually had the 24'th century technology.

This will just be daydreaming exercise, so let us not bother for now on whether faster than light travel is feasible. Clearly with our current understanding of physics it does seem like a very fundamental limitation. But there is some new physics lurking, perhaps looking crazy, but quantum mechanics did look crazy in the beginning (and it still does) and yet has proven to be extremely good at describing nature.

Here are my assumptions:

  • faster than light travel is possible at a rate of say 1 light year per hour. For now let's just assume that the "warp" drive takes the ship into a thin wormhole like tube, so when the ship is in warp mode it cannot interact with matter and therefore cannot be observed by external observer, or collide with anything. In addition causality is never violated (cannot travel back in time).
  • artificial gravity is possible, the ship is comfy and cool (think of enterprise-d such as here).
  • the source of energy is antimatter-matter annihilation. Antimatter is kept by a force field aka "inverse gravity" such that is stays compressed and does not interact with matter.
  • The ship can communicate with Earth very fast through a wormhole similar to that through which it travels, aka the subspace messages in Star Trek

Aside from those elements, clearly the galaxy is not full of humanoid races speaking english. So the question now is: what does the galaxy actually look like? Where would we go? How would we proceed with conquering this vast new "land" ?

First thing to note is that the Galaxy is big. And I really mean big. It is in fact bigger than most people realise, even those who occasionally look through a telescope at the Orion nebula.

First of all there are 100-400 billion stars. With naked eye on the night sky we can see ~6 thousand of the closest ones. We have reasonably chartedĀ ~100k of the nearest stars that one could see through a binoculars or a small telescope. Gaia space probe recently mapped ~1billion stars. This means that at the moment, with the best available technology we may have charted at most approximately 1% of stars in the Galaxy. 1% !!!

Milky Way is probably 100-180 thousand light years across. Which means that with our "warp-capable" ship at maximal velocity of stunning 1ly/h (almost nine thousand times faster than light!!!) it would take 11-20 years to fly across the Milky Way one way! At that velocity the Andromeda galaxy would still be prohibitive 228 years of travel away. It would however only take 2.5 months to travel the galactic disk across the thinner axis.

To me this is really mind blowing. The Galaxy is huge even if you can travel 9000 faster than light! The number of stars is vast, even with Star Trek technology it would take many generations to explore any significant part of the Milky Way.

So given our fastest space probe travel 90 million times slower than the ship discussed above, we have a long ways to go and Earth feels yet a bit more claustrophobic than it did before... Back to work.

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