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    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2010

    Warp Speed Will Kill You

    Jeremy Hsu – Mon Mar 8, 11:46 am ET

    Captain Kirk might want to avoid taking the starship Enterprise to warp speed, unless he's ready to shrug off interstellar hydrogen atoms that would deliver a lethal radiation blast to both ship and crew.

    There are just two hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter on average in space, which poses no threat to spaceships traveling at low speeds. But those same lone atoms would transform into deadly galactic space mines for a spaceship that runs into them at near-light speed, according to calculations based on Einstein's special theory of relativity.

    The original crew of "Star Trek" featured as unfortunate examples at a presentation by William Edelstein, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University, at the American Physical Society conference in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 13. The physicist showed a video clip of Kirk telling engineer Scotty to go to warp speed.

    "Well, they're all dead," Edelstein recalled saying. His words caused a stir among the audience.

  1.  (7857.2)
    I agree with this.

    I've always maintained that homo sapiens is not designed for space. We evolved for a planet that protects it's surface quite well from the harsh reality of the universe. So unless we come up with technology that's pretty much the equivalent of magic, or come up with descendants that can survive in space, we ain't going anywhere.

    It's a pity though. I'd love to see Star Trek come true. If only for the swinging lifestyle.
  2.  (7857.3)
    And if SPACE HYDROGEN doesn't kill you, going anywhere near light speed probably will, as your head will be five miles ahead of your ass.
    • CommentAuthorgzapata
    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2010
    @William George- You have a good point though we are also not evolved to fly, go into the deep sea and we're horribly weak compared to...well every other animal haha. What I'm saying is that we have repeatedly pushed past what evolution had developed us for and if we don't end up going up and living in space it won't be because we can't.
  3.  (7857.5)
    Primate Brain says "YES WE ARE EQUIPPED FOR SPACE."

    You can keep claws and wings. I know math.
    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2010
    @Brendan Can I have all three?
  4.  (7857.7)
    It does annoy me when someone goes to this much trouble to point out a problem with a mode of transport that already goes faster than light. To be quite honest, if you've already talked your way round that one, something like a few hydrogen atoms is pretty small-fry. The rate of acceleration would also probably kill them. Also, of all the ones to pick, they go for one that supposedly works by bending space somehow, which would kind of suggest that the hydrogen would go round, wouldn't it?

    Meanwhile, opportunistic brain says "NO AM NOT EQUIPPED FOR SPACE. GIVE SHINY ROBOT BODY, THEN WE'LL SEE."
    • CommentAuthorZJVavrek
    • CommentTimeMar 9th 2010
    This is, in fact, addressed somewhere in Star Trek. I don't know how much it's mentioned on screen, since I read it on a wiki. The whole 'shields' concept has two parts. Defensive shields, for combat, and deflector shields, for pushing shit out of the way. It is, in fact, exactly because of what this article talks about.

    So, you know, this conversation has proceeded: "This article says Star Trek is wrong!" "The article's wrong; Star Trek already mentioned that, by explaining the article's point and giving it a solution."

    Also, Mr. McGinley, I love your explanation.
  5.  (7857.9)
    You have a good point though we are also not evolved to fly, go into the deep sea and we're horribly weak compared to...well every other animal haha.

    All of those things exist in the same biosphere we do. There is a lack of cosmic radiation in airplanes and dust traveling at relativistic speeds won't be ripping the 747 to shreds. Also, gravity still works in all of those cases and even if we spend months in a submarine, our limbs won't atrophy... unless we spend that entire time playing Fallout 3.

    if we don't end up going up and living in space it won't be because we can't

    We can't. The space-dwelling species that may come after us however, could.

    That's assuming the technological hurdles can be surmounted first.
    • CommentTimeMar 9th 2010 edited
    The Enterprise would fix this problem in a second... without even thinking, they'd re-align the main sensor array so that it emits a sustained tachyeon burst and... problem solved!

    Here's a question though... Why don't they just install a second Main Sensor Array and keep that one permanentlly aligned for tachyeon burst emission, it'd cut back on shit load of Engineering man hours.
  6.  (7857.11)
    Geordi: "Captain. I think if we re-align the main sensor..."

    Picard: "Commander, we have that turned on all the time now. Remember?"

    Geordi: "Oh... right. Uh... I'll be in engineering."
  7.  (7857.12)
    uhhh...... warping space around the ship would move the hydrogen atoms out of the way though....

    The atoms are in space, you warped it around you, jumping through hyper space. you did not pass through space...i'm just saying.
  8.  (7857.13)
    Still, it makes for a better headline than "Yet another reason that trying to travel near lightspeed might be difficult"
    • CommentTimeMar 18th 2010 edited
    I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm going to cite the Star Trek the Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, who were technical directors on the show. Rather than "warping space" (as in Event Horizon, where space is bent so that the ship simultaneously occupies two points at once), the Enterprise creates a "subspace field" which propels the ship forward on sequential bursts of radiation.

    As for interstellar dust and various other crap hitting the ship: the show addressed it through, yes, the deflector shields, and also through the Bussard ram scoops, which take in interstellar hydrogen for processing as fuel. Obviously, the show did this in a "black box" manner: they just said they had these things to address the problems, and they did them. (For example, the Heisenberg Compensators in the transporter system, which "fixed" the problem of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. How, no one knows. They just did.)

    I should note that this book was copyrighted in 1991, and has an introduction by Gene Roddenberry. So some decidedly non-scientific people knew that these problems were problems before this article ever went to press. Twenty years before, in fact.

    Having said that, it's a make-believe show with make-believe systems that govern it. The answers to most of the problems are no less real, but it helps to say, when you're talking about a made up show, that you at least tok a second to investigate whether or not the show even addressed the problems you say never got addressed. Because they might have.

    Now for the love of the squid god, let this thread die. It's making me leak nerd juice.
    • CommentTimeMar 18th 2010
    I'd have to pull out my Whitfield to get the exact citation, but I'm pretty sure deflector shielding on the Enterprise was established as far back as the OS writer's bible circa 1966. That's why it has a big dish antenna at the fore end of the engineering hull: to project the deflector beam out ahead of the ship in warp and sweep aside random atoms & small bits of space debris.