back to article Note to Captain Kirk: Warp speed will kill you

A US boffin has effectively put the mockers on Star Trek-style warp speed travel to the stars by warning that interstellar hydrogen gas would become deadly to humans as they approached the speed of light. Professor William Edelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explained to New Scientist that while …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So what's new about this, I was aware of it 20 years ago when I was a kid reading sci-fi.

  2. Craig 2


    You may have added a note at the bottom of the article but halfway through reading I was already thinking "Shields up!"

  3. Psymon

    that's a fair amount of juice!

    if there were some way to harness that energy (absorbtion rather than deflection) then it might even be used to power the theoretical engines...

    Your hydrogen will be assimilated!

  4. Bullet Brown
    Thumb Up


    ...some sort of protective hat is in order?

    1. Ian McNee

      And presumably...

      ...the hats would be like the ones they wear on Thunderbirds - suitably shaped so that the hydrogen atoms simply bounce off the shiny sky-blue plastic coating. Sorted.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    le sigh

    However the enterprise has Inertial Nullifiers and a navigation shield to stop such things.

    If you've achieved the magic wand technology that lets you fold space, you probably arn't far off inertial nullification and navigation shields.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      ..the impossible just takes longer.

      Yeah. If you have already pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of FTL (ie;overcome what currently appears to be a sacrosanct limitation of the universe) then you can surely invent some other widget that overcomes the relatively banal issue of high-speed collisions.

      Personally I'd favour using a hyperdrive to jump out of realspace for the bulk of the journey that way I'm travelling in my own universe and I can make up all the rules.

      The biggest problem with any form of FTL travel is causality. It's a real bugger when you arrive back at your home with the groceries before you've actually arrived at the shop. Tesco get real arsey about that kind of thing..

  6. chrisd82


    But everybody knows that when the Enterprise enters warp speed, the ship enters a layer of subspace, where these hydrogen atoms wouldn't exist.........duhhhhh ;)

  7. David Roberts 1

    Bussard collectors

    Those red things at the front of the warp nacelles collect interstellar hydrogen.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Deflector dish?

    I thought that was what the deflector dish at the front was for?

    Also I thought the warp engines (nacelles) create a kind of warp bubble around the ship allowing it to go at warp speed so surely the hydrogen would not affect the ship or crew?

  9. Anon
    Paris Hilton


    Well, duh, that's what the deflector dish is for.

    Paris, also dishy.

  10. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Bussard ramjets

    Just move the hydrogen out of the way. Siiimples!

  11. Andrew Halliwell

    He obviously didn't note the shielding...

    The purpose of the main deflector dish was to deflect any particles the ship may strike while travelling at warp...

    Besides, the whole point of warp drive is the ship is not travelling at FTL in the traditional sense.

    It's warping space around it so the space itself, the "warp bubble" enclosing the ship travels FTL while the space within the bubble the ship's going at sublight.

    I realise it's just treknobabble, but they did think about those things.

  12. TimothyB


    Have you seen Star Trek? What do you think the deflector dish is for?

    Besides, isn't the point of warp drive that instead of moving at close to the speed of light, you travel slowly while compressing space to decrease the distance you have to go?

  13. RichardB

    Yeah and remember those trains?

    You know, the ones that couldn't go faster than 28mph for fear of all the air being sucked out and killing the passengers...?

  14. BonezOz

    Warp? As in wrap?

    As we're having to warp or bend space around the ship to acheive these speeds, wouldn't this in effect also force all those pesky hydrogen atoms around the ship as well?

  15. digibadger

    Oh dear

    Oh, what a shame. Because before that, everything about Star Trek was completely scientifically plausible.

    1. Ian McNee


      Including those Sta-Prest nylon outfits?? Surely not! :-o

  16. Alex Walsh


    Surely the whole concept of warp is/should be about warping space around the vehicle, so you don't move, the space round you does.

    Anyway, lightspeed travel is so last century, mine will be the spacecraft with the wormhole generator strapped to the front of it.

    1. Blitz

      So everyone else dies?

      Ouch, so the ship effectively 'stands still' and the rest of the known universe gets bombarded with enough radiation to make the cat glow?

      1. AndrueC Silver badge


        ..that certainly puts Gordon Brown into perspective :)

  17. Blubster


    Has this so-called scientist never heard of ablative armour or shields? An absolute must for travelling at warp speeds.

  18. Robert Ramsay


    don't they realise that the Enterprise doesn't actually go that fast? It changes the space around it so that the distance becomes less - otherwise they'd be stuck at Warp < 1.

    It's the Bussard ramjet pilots that have to worry.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    navigational deflector arrays

    Standard fit to Starfleet vessels, and indeed half the problems they encounter seem to be fixable by modifying it! :)

  20. Anonymous Coward

    isn't that...

    isn't that what the nason collectors or whatever they're called are for...

    /So totally ashamed that I'm aware of such things

  21. Barney Livingston

    What about the Bussard Collectors?

    "the main function of a Starfleet Bussard collector is to collect interstellar hydrogen atoms for fuel replenishment"

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not exactly new information

    perhaps Prof. Edelstein would like to borrow my copy of Poul Anderson's "Tau Zero" which explains the effect, some made-up mitigation techniques and goes on to use it for the purposes of the plot

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    science and common sense

    Any normal person would know that in the startrek universe, they use Bussard ramjets for sub lightspeed travel. One caracteristic part of this system is the Bussard hydrogen collector on the front of each ship, that is used to capture interstellar hydrogen to be used as fuel in the ship's reactor. Actually, the writers of the original startrek seems to be better in science than the us professor. (remark: a Bussard ramjet consists of a hydrogen collector on the front, a fusion reactor in the middle and a plasma accelerator /vasimir/ in the back with plasma and electrical conduits between these parts and it is named after its inventor Robert W. Bussard)

  24. Mei Lewis

    This makes me sad.

    Genuinely. I know interstellar travel is unliklely anyway any time soon, but this is just another nail in the coffin of my star wars kid dreams :-(

  25. Anonymous Cowherder

    Not true

    The bloke who flew past me this morning on the way into Manchester clearly disproves this theory.

  26. Daniel 1


    The conclusion from Johns Hopkins, is that trying to travel faster than light is a bad idea because "it is unhealthy"?

    How about the near-century-old conclusion, that trying to travel faster than light is a bad idea because it is just plain impossible?

  27. JohnG

    Warp bubble

    Wouldn't the hydrogen atoms (and anything else in the ship's path) be pushed aside by the warp field? The ship sits in a bubble of normal space surrounded by the warp field, which distorts spacetime outside the bubble, thus creating motion.

    Such matter could actually be useful as fodder for a more conventional MHD drive.

  28. E Haines


    This is stupid, because clearly ships powered by warp drives aren't operating in normal space; otherwise the Enterprise wouldn't be able to exceed the speed of light as handily as it does, as well as being able to avoid time dilation and other effects of near-lightspeed travel. If you are going to buy into the concept of warp drive to begin with, you'd have to acknowledge that it's not actually travel in any conventional sense, so pesky things like hydrogen atoms are irrelevant. Rather poor attempt at a thought experiment here, I'm afraid....

  29. Smallbrainfield

    Well gravity and acceleration never seemed

    to bother them, so hydrogen atoms probably won't either. Besides, aren't they travelling faster than light?

    This research is incomplete. Scientist guy needs to do more hard sums to work out what the impact of a hydrogen atom on a bussard ramscoop at warp 7 will entail, if you ask me.

  30. Jason Togneri

    Other solutions

    Magnetic shielding is the most likely way to go, along with ice (thick cometary fragments as shields, for example). However, assuming we do ever bother going deeper into space, it will be at speeds far below light speed for a long time to come, so I'm sure technology will figure out an answer to this as and when the technology to achieve it progresses. It's meaningless to compare a hypothetical future development with a modern-day prevention system. That's like somebody in the 1400s predicting computers, but complaining that there would be nothing to power them with.

    1. David S


      That's a remarkably astute simile there. I like it!

  31. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Obligatory Scotty

    She cannae take it, cap'n!

    I cannae change the laws of physics!

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Faulty ASSumptions

    The assumption here is that the warp drive works the same way as conventional propulsion system - push from the back, with the front displacing any matter that gets in the way (air, water, etc)

    I propose that the warp drive works (at least partly) by displacing the matter in front of the craft, thus creating (even more of) a vacuum and pulling the craft forwards... a _bit_ like a jet engine if you will, but applied to the whole craft and over distances in the order of light-seconds.

    See, laws of physics don't apply.

    If you doubt my credentials, consider this:

    I have proven that when I disagree with the real world, it is the real world that is wrong.

  33. Albert Gonzalez

    Warp speed

    I'd like to resalt the fact that warp speed, as seen in Star Trek films, exceeds c, so there have to be different physics involved, thank you.

    Primary, the branch that studies fictional physics.

    Of course, that don't invalidates the professor's study, that is applicable to our very real world, and if I one day happen to be flying in a spaceship fast enough to nottice its effects, i'll fondly remeber him.

    On the other way, there are far more bigger problems to get to such speed, as the acceleration needed would be far greater than the one my body would resist, for example, or the amount of energy involved to accelerate the ship.

    One beer to a time well spent in an important problem, as I'm doing now.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Same old story

    Didn't scientists used to think that you would explode if you travelled faster than 20mph....? Stephenson's Rocket soon shut them up, sure this'll be the same. One day we'll look back and laugh about it.

    1. Mr Grumblefish


      That was vicars.

      Some religious people don't understand science. Some scientists (it appears) don't understand science fiction.

  35. Will Shaw

    Referee required

    May I be the first to offer my services as arbitrator in the inevitable and imminent spat between all the Trekkies and all the people that seem to think that liking science-fiction is tantamount to a delusional mental illness?

    1. Rattus Rattus

      Liking science fiction is proof of taste and intelligence

      It's just liking Star Trek that's a mental illness.

  36. A. Lewis
    Paris Hilton

    Extra, extra!

    Read all about it: Scientist proves fiction is not realistic.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    but what about the hydrogen scoops...

    in the forward section of the Nacelles, wouldn't they be enough to scoop it up before it got to the sheilds ???

    cos every nerd knows u aint got warp speed without them

    and to quote wiki. (

    "Aboard Federation vessels of the 24th century, warp coils are fed by plasma conduits from the warp core reactor assembly. Nacelles are usually separated from the main structure of the ship because of radiation generated by the nacelles; when at optimal levels, the radiation could be deleterious to the safety of ship and crew. (citation needed • edit)Nacelles are separated from the ship by large pylons, and usually house a Bussard ramscoop at the fore end, primarily used for collecting hydrogen from space. "

    see nerdy problem already addressed and dealt with........ (50 years ago)


  38. geist
    Thumb Down


    The shield protect them from that, other matter/energy and from time etc duh. Klingons on the starboard bow as second defence.

  39. Anonymous Coward


    Bah.. if theHeisenberg Uncertainty Priciple can be compensated for, whats a bit of space grit?!

  40. nobby

    ** must resist **

    must resist answering this.


    some help my inner trekkie is trying to get out and i need help, much help to stop me.


    this was covered in .... MUST STOP.. episode.. PLEASE HELP ME... AAAAAAAHHH!!

  41. Ru

    Shurely shome mishtake...

    Warp drives couldn't possibly be propelling spacecraft at sublight speeds, because their journeys were objectively too fast.

    Now, if you're talking about a warp drive based on the Alcubierre metric, then you might have a point. But that would be theoretical physics, and not part of a fictional TV series.

  42. Rafael Moslin

    Ooo but surely...

    Eh? Surely all that needs to be done is to deploy the "Interstellar Hydrogen Gas Compensator Circuit" and all will be well...

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Liberate tutemet ex inferis......

    Hydrogen Space Mines????


    Not for the crew of the Event Horizon. And they went faster than light speed.

    What if you created a field of gravity in front of the ship and have yourself dragged through space at almost no inertia.

  44. LPF

    They thought of this

    Deflector shields :) god I'm such a geek !

  45. Cameron Colley

    Star Trek is fantasy not Sci-Fi

    The majority of the technology is based upon magic with silly pseudo-scientific names.

    "Yer cannea defy the laws of physics" so the Star Trek writers just make up their own.

  46. Lex 2


    Not that I'm trying to say Star Trek was real or resolved this issue in any way, but didn't the star ship have navigational deflectors to create a field around the ship which kept things like hydrogen away from the ship itself whilst it was traveling through space? Effectively putting it in some kind of 'happy bubble' for travel. It was a big enough thing in the show that when the navigational deflector was down they couldn't travel.

    "The navigational deflector (also called the deflector dish, the deflector array or the nav deflector) is a component of many starships, and is used to deflect space debris, asteroids, microscopic particles and other objects that might collide with the ship. At warp speed the deflector is virtually indispensable for most starships as even the most minute particle can cause serious damage to a ship when it is traveling at superluminal velocities."

    Potentially Star Trek still covers it's behind, as hydrogren still falls into the category of "....even the most minute particle...."

  47. Hallainzil


    ...they'll just polarise the hull plating and deploy an inverse tacheon field from the deflector array.

    1. A. Lewis

      Like inflating a balloon around yourself.


  48. Anonymous Coward


    Star Trek Warp Speed is equal to or greater than the speed of light - involves a bubble of real-space, rather than flying through normal space-time - and all Federation ships have a navigational defelector specifically to protect the ship from particle strikes notwithstanding energy shielding designed to protect the ship from phasers, disruptors and other high energy weapons.

    Impulse (sub-light) propulsion is limited to a fraction of light speed to avoid the worst of time-dilation effects, further reducing the validity of this allusion.

    Oh dear. What have I become?

  49. Anonymous Coward


    all space is local anyway, just need to bend your destination to you. doh!

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speed kills

    Maybe they could travel at 0.99c instead of 0.99999998c and take 1% longer time to get to their destination?

  51. Sean Gray

    More research into Star Trek ships is needed here.

    This is why the starships have navigational deflectors. The big dish on the front generates a shield specifically to prevent this kind of thing.

  52. Anonymous Coward

    Amateur scientists...

    ... should steer clear of space travel.

    Atoms/particles never even get near the hull, as they are deflected out of the way by the navigation shields.

    Everyone knows that.

    This is why science can't give us nice things.

  53. Tony S

    Chunky salsa

    If the hydrogen doesn't get you, the sudden increase in speed will!

  54. Jimmy Floyd

    From cars to spaceships

    Didn't they once believe that anyone going over 100mph (or was it 30mph?) wouldn't survive?

    1. Gordon is not a Moron

      I think it was...

      30 mph on board a steam locomotive ( thank you QI)

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It was also once thought

    that travelling above 30mph would crush the human body, no doubt with some science of the day thrown in to prove it.

  56. Joe K

    Star Trek already addressed this

    "Lasers? They wont even penetrate our navigational shields"

    The Outrageous Okona - S2 ep4.

  57. gizmo23

    Bussard Ramjet

    It seems the professor has ignored the Bussard Ramjet/Scoop. If it collects the hydorgen atoms for its fuel using an electromagnetic field ( then surely the same field can deflect those atoms if they're not being used for fuel (because we've already got enough dilithium thanks) ?

  58. lglethal Silver badge

    I sincerely hope...

    I sincerely hope he didnt receive any funding or university grants for this research...

    Honestly, dont boffins have anything better to do with there time???

  59. Vince Lewis 1

    Bussard ramjet [Geek Alert]

    But with out the hydrogen the Enterprise wouldn't fly.

    From what I remember reading, the glowing front of the warp nacelles are Bussard Hydrogen Scoops. see [Bussard ramjet]

    These use huge magnetic fields to "scoop" up the hydrogen in front of the ship which is then used as fuel.

    This was the reason they on stalks away from the hull since the magnetic fields would rip the iron from your blood stream.

    It is also worth noting that hydrogen would only be a problem at impulse, since at warp speed, you are warping space around the ship and the ship is relatively stationary with in the warp bubble.

    Yes I know this is all pseudo-science, but you need to include the pseudo-facts.

    1. Kevin 6

      RE:Bussard ramjet [Geek Alert]

      Yup hence the term warp speed the ships not moving which is why its not outside the laws of physics. If you went at the speed of light from point A to get to Point C you would have to go through point B, but with warping the space you pretty much bend space and pull point C closer to you and go that way.

      And don't see how impulse power would be an issue either seeing there not going near the speed of light. Only time I can remember a ship actually going near the speed of light was StarTrek IV The Voyage home when they did a sling shot around the sun in a Klingon vessel, that almost ripped itself apart, to go through time.

  60. nigel 15

    Main Deflector

    (I know Star Trek isn't real.)

    But if you read the technical manual, and you should, it is quite clear that that is what the main deflector is for. Clearing the path of interstellar hydrogen, dust etc.

    Quite different from the shields. The technical manual doesn't explain exactly how it woks. i guess they don't want people making their own. There's probably a patent anyway.

    i thought everyone knew that.

    1. Roger Stenning

      Interstellar cooking lesson...

      Nigel15 mistyped, and produced... "The technical manual doesn't explain exactly how it woks"...

      It's very simple. Klingons won't do this, but your Human digestive tract will thank you for it. Uncooked Gagh is a tad... rebellious...!

      Ingredients: Olive oil, noodles, and Gagh (

      Method: Dump everything into a large wok, and simmer gently over a medium heat for ten minutes. You'll have to keep pushing the Gagh back in until it imitates a lobster going under boiling water, and that'll take perhaps five minutes. After that, just stir it all once every minute or so. Keep simmering for around ten more minutes, until the Gagh is nicely stiff and evenly browned.

      Then eat.

      Bon Appetite ;-)

  61. paul carrington

    Not a probnlem

    Simply invent a EdelStein compensator, just like the Heisenburg compensator that makes teleportation possible.


  62. TeeCee Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    This may not be a problem.

    "...advanced radiation-resistant alloys...."

    Well, there's that or you could just sit in your isolated bubble of spacetime inside the warp field while hydrogen atomic carnage occurs outside same in the rest of the Universe.

    Maybe this is the "warp signature" that they're always tracking? Like a contrail with enormous and highly radioactive knobs on. Science of Star Trek 1, party-pooping boffin 0.

    Bit nasty for anyone you happen to pass by at speed though, shades of the Queller drive there.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Queller drive

      Now you're mixing your SCI-FI series here. The Queller drive is definitely Space 1999.

  63. Rob 30

    he forgot about the shields

    they have shields capable of fending off phasers and photon torpedoes, they're not really going to be bothered by a few hydrogen atoms are they?

  64. Anonymous Coward

    Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    In Star Trek the warp engines do not make the ship travel really, really fast (i.e. past light speed which according to Einstein is impossible anyway). The warp engines warp space around the ship and let you take a short-cut across space-time.

    Now impulse engines, which do move the ship really, really fast (close to the speed of light) they would cause the ship to have problems with colliding with hydrogen in space. Well except that in Star Trek every warp-capable ship has navigation shields for pushing aside space debris, which would cover the odd bit of hydrogen.

    In short: Star Trek is 40 years ahead of today's scientists: already thought of the problem and came up with a solution.


  65. Steve Evans


    Surely the drag of all these atoms bouncing off the hull would prove to be a bigger problem before they reach a high enough velocity to cause themselves damage... Not to mention the sand blasting effect it would have on the extra expense metallic paint finish!

  66. Daniel Wilkie

    I was going to say

    If that's the biggest hurdle (which I'm pretty sure it isn't, I'd have thought the laws of physics would have been more of an obstacle) then it's hardly insurmountable. It's not like you can merrily bob about in space as it is - there's a huge amount of radiation already.

    So presumably all it needs is a way to shield against radiation and this no longer becomes a problem? Then you just have the laws of physics to contend with.

    DISCLAIMER: I'm no physicist, so the science of this may be wrong :p

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Warp Bubble

    Duh, the warp bubble not only facilitates the "jump" to warp speed but protects me from all your issues.

    Don't forget about the inertial compensators.

    Large distance travel will probably be of the form from that was portrayed in the movie contact.

  68. Simon Cresswell


    It's the Hadron Collider Jim.

    But not as we know it.

  69. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    42 Boldly Go ......... Change the Master Piloting Crews for Cyber Fleet AIReady Personnel

    "Of course, Edelstein's conclusions are based on current scientific knowledge. No doubt future spacecraft designers will deploy advanced radiation-resistant alloys and magnetic shielding to protect Federation staff from instant death." .....

    Using a Beta Phorm of Programmable and/or Programmed Being/IDEntity for ExtraTerrestrial Space Travel would Cure and Repair/Avoid Altogether the Humanised Weaknesses at Warp Drive Light Speeds. ........ for it would be Illogical to Imagine that there is Only One whenever there is no reason for there not to be more than just a few, and many.

    1. TimeMaster T


      OK, I'm scared now. I actually understand this comment.

      I think I should be going now, mines the one with the Thought Evolution Enhancing generator in the pocket so I can copy/transcend myself into a Beta Phorm Programmed Being at a later time, or was it yesterday?

  70. Anonymous Coward

    That's terrible.

    It's like they just made all this Star Trek stuff up, without regard to physics and science. Who do they think they are? Hollywood or something???

  71. David Pollard


    The principle of the Heisenberg compensator used in the transporter system is well known. It ensures that the particles assembled at the target site are coherent and not jumbled by quantum uncertainty. A similar but opposite use of the process is made when hyperdrive is engaged. Any particles which would impinge, in classical terms, are so 'smeared out' so that they effectively vanish.

  72. Red Bren

    That's what the deflector shield is for!

    And warp drive works by bending space aorund the ship, not propelling the ship through space.

    And it's fiction!

    1. Kevin 6

      It might currently be fiction

      But alot of the technology in it is becoming reality (or has became already).

      Cell phones look and function oddly similar to the communicators from star trek which was made over 20 years before they were introduced.

      Handheld medical devices that look and function similarly to the tricorders from TNG. Hell just give them 20 more years and it wil probably do everything the StarTrek one could do.

      Computer interfaces. TNG everything was touch based. Video e-mail etc was all in it. hmm not even 20 years later its reality...

      Giant flat wide screen TV's look around the same size as the main viewscreen on the enterprise.

      Hell even that stupid game the crew got addicted to in TNG that fired lasers into the eye I remember reading a story on the reg about somethign that looked and functions oddly similar.

      And I'm sure I'm missing some obvious stuff.

      Honestly if it wasn't for the insanely vague patents big companies hold we'd probably already have most the stuff made that was in the shows that a sci-fi author dreamed up.

  73. Filippo Silver badge

    nah, the implausible stuff is elsewhere

    I dunno about star trek specifically, but I recall several sci-fi settings where it's explicitly stated that ships simply use their normal battle defenses (deflector shields, force fields, whatever) while flying at relativistic speed. Once you accept the existance of an energy shield that can absorb hits from the sort of weaponry you see in average sci-fi, mere interstellar hydrogen can't possibly be a problem.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    :::trekkie alert:::

    erm yeah they thought of that already i know this shows i watched to much star trek but the large "deflector" dish on the front of the was there to push stray atoms out of the way so they didn't smash into the ship not just a gaint design feature (see gene did think about it)

    also since wrap drive is about compressing space and travelling across the compressed space so the enterprise relative to it self only ever traveled at 1/4 of the speed of light just to rest of the universe it seemed faster. Wrap is a factor of compression not a speed it just happens that the compression means they get they faster so the to get confused.

    the biggest problem is the amount of power needed to compression space was something like all the power the earth produces in a year for a few seconds at "warp one".

    they released a book called the science of star trek where they detailed all the issues and supporting theories for various technologies and i was good at physics at school and like startrek so i get it quite interesting (if your into physics) havn't read it in about 5 years so that's why the figures are abit vague.

    AC cause at least it'll save me the trekkie abuse you'll be glad to hear i grew out of the obessive love of startrek but not the love of technology and engineering. which is why i ended up as an it engineer

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Gee thanks

      So you decided to tar all us ACs as obsessive Star Trek nerds.

      Well thanks a bunch.

    2. Rattus Rattus

      What a shame

      you didn't also have an obsessive love of spelling and grammar.

  75. Tzael

    Getting back to the real science...

    Red alert, raise shields!

    Problem solved.

  76. Blake St. Claire

    Warp -- emphasis on the warp -- drive

    Here I was thinking that a warp drive worked by warping space around you so you can cross from point A to point B, bypassing all the Space, and everything in it, between those two points.

    I'm no physicist, so I don't know why you might run into hopping across warped space using a fictional warp drive, but I hope this wasn't Edelstein's PhD dissertation.

  77. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Hydrogen atoms move with the ship

    Warp drive is supposed to work by messing with the space along the path between the starting point and the destination. In the moving region near the Enterprise, space is normal. Around this normal region is a moving region that has a short distance from the start point to the destination. To compensate for this, space has a large distance between the start point and the destination when the ship is not nearby.

    Star trek's warp field is generated by the ship. As distortions in space travel at the speed of light, the Enterprise would not be able to distort the space ahead as required without magic. The solution is to send the required gravitational waves from the start point years before the journey starts so they will reach the destination when they are needed. (To get the right shaped space, the destination has to send gravity waves back to the source as well. The journey cannot start until those waves arrive.)

    The distortions in space that make the Enterprise's path short also affect the hydrogen along the path. Near the Enterprise you find the hydrogen that started near the Enterprise and travelled with the ship. Around that, hydrogen gets moved out of the way while the ship is nearby. Everywhere else, there is more hydrogen in the way.

    In real life, stars and black holes in tight orbits light years away do not create gravity waves big enough to be detected here by the most sensitive equipment currently available. Equipment big enough to make waves that could get the Enterprise to the nearest star in a few days would weigh more than the entire solar system. On the other hand, using slower than light ships and crews in suspended animation would remove all the urgency and excitement from a television series.

  78. Alex-TheManfromUncle

    Oi! Prof?

    Do you drive without a windscreen/windshield?

    No? Well, ok then.. Congrats on stating the obvious, but how about finding the solution..?

  79. Jon Double Nice

    As anyone who has ever watched Star Trek

    can tell you you just need to reverse the polarity of the hydrogen atoms in the ship, and then everything will be fine...

  80. Ben Rosenthal

    he'll be trying to tell us

    that there is no such thing as "red matter" and that it's not actually a docu-drama next, the fruit loop!

  81. jai


    this is why StarTrek will never become the future. we all know it's pure hokum

    now the Culture, that's the type of futuristic sci-fi that we should be aspiring to follow.

  82. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    AC - Tau Zero

    So it was YOU who nicked my copy. Fantastic story, out of print and unobtainable :(

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Tau Zero available from Amazon

      paperback (albeit kinda pricey):

      Kindle (US$4):

    2. Anonymous John

      Not so.

      Plenty of copies on Or if you've joined the 21st Century and read ebooks -

  83. FL1X


    Ok so hydrogen kills, give him a nobel prize

    the theory of warp speed is that space is compressed to allow the ship to move.

    hence why in voyager when tom paris breaks the warp 10 barrier he ends up being in all places at one time, because he has colapssed space into his warp field.

    the deflector moves things out the way, there bassard (SP) collectors collect up things that they want to reuse, the necelles generate the field hence them being symetricle allowing for a equal two bubbles to merge into one big field of protection.

    Star treks theory was all based on possible achiements.

    if you own the star trek (2009) on bluray go watch the extras disk it covers alot of the theory behind space travel.


  84. James Melody
    Thumb Up

    Maybe some sort...

    ...could be.....YES....if we reconfigure the main sensor array and use it to fire an inverse tachyon beam in front of the ship we won't have to worry about the <problem of the week>

  85. MyHeadIsSpinning

    Warp - it's in the name

    Does Prof. Edelstein mention whether or not warping space time would have any effect upon his calculations?

  86. David Evans


    ...a physics professor who hasn't read an SF book or watched Star Trek. Who'd a thunk it?

  87. Steven Cuthbertson

    Very Old News...

    This isn't new, or news. This problem (as fellow commentators have pointed out) has been known about for many years.

    Are we going to have the same problem with 'news' that we have with patents? "I've not heard of anything, so I must be the first to (insert idea/patent)..."


    The Bussard ramjet is a theoretical method of spacecraft propulsion proposed in 1960 by the physicist Robert W. Bussard.

    Bussard proposed a ramjet variant of a fusion rocket capable of fast interstellar spaceflight, using enormous electro-magnetic fields (ranging from kilometers to many thousands of kilometers in diameter) as a ram scoop to collect and compress hydrogen from the interstellar medium. High speed forces the reactive mass into a progressively constricted magnetic field, compressing it until thermonuclear fusion occurs. The magnetic field then directs the energy as rocket exhaust opposite to the intended direction of travel, thereby accelerating the vessel.


    Project Daedalus was a study conducted between 1973 and 1978 by the British Interplanetary Society to design a plausible interstellar unmanned spacecraft... The ship would be protected from the interstellar medium during transit by an erosion shield. This would be made from beryllium due to its lightness and high latent heat of vaporisation. Larger obstacles that might be encountered while passing through the target system would be dispersed by an artificially generated cloud of particles, ejected by support vehicles.

  88. Anonymous Coward

    Oh dear

    Years ago, someone proved mathematically that one way to do Star Trek FTL would be to wrap a bubble of space-time around a ship and moving that bubble through normal space (at any speed you want - c limits are irrelevant because the two space-time strata are effectively separate universes).

    The hydrogen inside the bubble is not moving at any significant speed relative to you, so you don't have a problem with it. The hydrogen outside the bubble is in a different universe and has no way in to yours.

    As for how you fold space-time like that and propel it relative to the rest of space-time outside it, that's a different matter...

  89. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The actual solution!

    The Enterprise carries a very long earthing strap, as required by H&S.

  90. Simbooth

    Fear factor Vs Technology

    This has always happened, and as later Star Treks suggested it probably always will, Its human nature to create a barrier of fear to something that isnt currently understood, before mach speed, people were concerned about the effects of mach on the body (Though I still would not recommend it sans plane), light speed is the next, and and on ST it was Terrawarp (10x light speed- and it didnt kill them, just turned them into fish!).

  91. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    After all, they allow cross-breeding

    of vulcans, humans, klingons, you name it. Even if extraterrestrial life is based on exactly the same DNA, bases and amino acids, the likelyhood that they use the same genetic code is of the order of 1/20^64 (each of 64 triplets encoding for 1 out of 20 amino acids)

    that is a probability of 5.42101086242752217 10^ -84, or 83 zeros after the decimal point followed by 5 and a bit. Never mind the probability of having a sufficiently similar genome (how many base-pairs?).

    By comparison, even their sound in vacuum technology is quite plausible.

    1. Kamal Hashmi

      @ Michael H.F. Wilkinson RE: After all, they allow cross-breeding

      There was an ST episode where they discovered that the humanoid races (Humans, Klingons, Vulcans,...) had a common ancestor - so the DNA would be nearly the same, with much less than a hundred thousand years of genetic drift.

      As for appearances being so different within such a relatively small time - note that dogs have amazing variability in appearance despite being virtually identical in DNA (hence being able to cross-breed).

      They never followed up that episode unfortunately....

      I once read a short story where the preponderance of humanoid races in this section of the galaxy (in the story!) is because a very intelligent race visited all the planets nearby and left behind their equivalent of cockroaches - which became humans.

  92. Kirstian K

    im no Einstien BUT:

    now, they say that the LHC will create small black holes.

    ok so if we get close to the speed of light, and it could have the same effect, then we have a black hole.

    ok stay with me...

    now if we kept a black hole infront of a ship, you would effectivly be being sucked into it,

    so if you kept a black hole infront of a ship, and were constantly falling into it, you would have propulsion,

    if the speed you were being sucked in, was sufficient, im thinking perpetual motion.

    so if you can get to the speed of light, or close enough to create a black hole, the effect would be you would be able to stay there by your own power....

    easy peasy!

    1. Daniel Evans


      Don't spread crap like the "LHC makes a Black Hole engulfing everything" conspiracy.

      And if you're constantly falling into a black hole, you're kinda in a black hole. And have a minor problem.

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      You're too late.

      I think Alan Dean foster proposed using a black hole generator to move the ships in his Commonwealth series over thirty years ago :)

  93. disgruntled yank

    Death in one second

    Yes, but less painful than watching the show.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge


      ..... (nuf said)

  94. Gerry Doyle 1

    The Problem with Bussards

    ... is that only a small fraction of the hydrogen collected is of the most usable isotope for fusion, plus you need something to boost the ship to ramjet speeds for it to begin to function, plus the drag of it all means that it might well be better used as a brake than an engine!

  95. Ash!


    Warp speed is for losers - open a jump-point FTW :o)

    1. Daniel Evans

      Wait a second...

      Don't we have stargates for this kind of thing?

      1. Thomas 4

        Oh please.

        Warp drives, jump drives, star gates - these are all antiquated technologies.

        All the cool kids are using Mass Relays.

        1. Chronos

          Entangled Bose-Einstein condensates

          What comes out the other end may not be the original, but it'll be a pretty good quantum facsimile...

          /me reading far to much Chris Moriarty and maliciously introducing into the collective commentard consciousness the old debate regarding teleportation and souls.

  96. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Obviously he is not a star trek fan....

    ..... know how warp drive works.

    First of all, once you hit warp 1, you are already going at the speed of light / slightly faster then the speed of light. Hence why cochrane passed warp one, they called it "breaking the light barrier"

    Warp drive works by distorting space AND time, therefore in a way putting the ship into another dimension, outside of the normal universe aka known as subspace.

    This is why occasionally (at least in books) would have people describe their "realative" age and their "chronological" age.

    Paris - as she says yes faster then the speed of sound.

  97. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    This is the best comments page in ages

    (no, I refuse to call it a forum, not until replies are threaded in such a manner as to allow actual conversations, so nyah)

  98. multipharious

    Mass Increase

    Since as speed approaches c, relative m increases, I would think that this problem should take care of itself. A normal hull should have significantly more mass under this formula than the atoms it would encounter. Time slowing in the frame of reference is indicative of this. A hull atom or molecule would be much harder to move, and thus more resistant to a particle that is relatively slower.

    1. Rod MacLean

      RE: Mass increase

      To say nothing of the fact that the only theory I've ever heard that could give us 99.99% light speed travel also involves creating a superdense black hole and electrically holding it in front of the ship. This would surely swallow any hydrogen atoms in it's path...

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Mass increase

      I think you've completely missed the point of the word "relativity". As you approach c, you are still moving at zero speed wrt to your ship's hull. Those incoming hydrogen atoms, on the other hand...

  99. Luther Blissett

    Death in 1 second

    A suspiciously precise number. Not 0.5 sec. nor 2 seconds, nor about 1 second. Link please, or I call BS.

    And anyway, at those speeds, according to the Theory of Relativity due to time dilation, wouldn't death take almost forever? Which, looking on the bright side, is the same thing as life almost for eternity?

  100. Shalroth

    Warp drive

    The ship never actually travels at relativistic speeds. While space is being warped, the ship uses its standard, newtonian-physics based impulse engines to move. This is why phasers can be fired at warp - because the ship isn't actually travelling faster than light, it just reaches its destination in a period of time that suggests it were.

  101. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Bussard Ramjets!

    I'm being a trekker cynic here, but I don't believe that ST-TOS (The Original Series) EVER mentioned Bussard Ramjets in the series. This is real science grafted on to the story by fans who were keen to try to fill out the specifications of ships with something approaching real science (Bussard Ramjets being theoretical at the moment).

    I actually doubt that this type of propulsion fits, anyway. Hydrogen ramjets are only suitable for sub-light propulsion, and I'm sure that in Ringworld Engineers or Protector or one of Larry Niven's other novels (only a tenuous Trek link, but one of his stories was adapted for the ST-TAS (The Animated Series)), the sciency bit at the end says that hydrogen ramjets will only take you to half the speed of light, assuming that you can eject the hydrogen nuclei at close to the speed of light.

    If you look at pretty any of the Enterprise schematics, (NX-01 through 1701-E), I'm fairly certain that the impulse engines (sub-light propulsion) are on the back of the saucer, not in the nacelles. The nacelles are for generating the warp field, which has no current scientific grounding, and nothing to do with Bussard Ramjets.

    But there is a strong consensus that the dish at the front of the engineering hull (or on the front of the saucer on the NX-01) is to do with shields that are used when traveling at speed to deflect dust (and presumably hydrogen atoms).

    The problem of dust at speed has always been recognized in SCI-FI. EE 'Doc' Smith (one of the original Masters of Space Opera) used to equip his ships with armor several metres (I'm sure he used metres, strange really as he was an American) thick, and he made them tear-drop shape to reduce the drag.

    1. GregC


      "If you look at pretty any of the Enterprise schematics, (NX-01 through 1701-E), I'm fairly certain that the impulse engines (sub-light propulsion) are on the back of the saucer, not in the nacelles. The nacelles are for generating the warp field, which has no current scientific grounding"

      Yep, correct. All explained in great detail in the Star Trek Technical Manual. Enterprise-D actually had two sets of impulse engines, one on the saucer section and one on the primary hull, otherwise separating the saucer section would not be much use to anyone.

      The blobs on the front of the nacelles are actually called Bussard _Collectors_, and while they are indeed for collecting hydrogen, it's purely to supplement the onboard fuel supply.

      And yes, I know it's made-up pseudoscience, but it's interesting anyway :p As an aside, The Physics of Star Trek makes an interesting read if you're curious how plausible some of the technology in Trek actually is.


  102. Mal Adapted

    Tau Zero

    I'm surprised only one other person has mentioned Poul Anderson's SF novel Tau Zero, published in 1970 and based on a short story he published in 1967, soon after Robert Bussard proposed the idea.

    OTOH, maybe I'm the only other reader old enough to have read that book. That was the Golden Age of Hard SF. Dang, time flies when you're getting old 8^(.

    1. Steven Cuthbertson
      Thumb Up

      Tau Zero...

      I read this book way back when, and probably once a year since. It's a definite favourite.

  103. Jimmahh

    Oh dear god....

    The sheer levels of nerd rage about him forgetting that's what big blue whatsit on the front was for are actually worse than I expected while reading the article =)

  104. Graham Bartlett

    Warp bubbles

    Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen tackled this in the first "Science of Diskworld". According to them (and no, I've not checked their calculations), it's completely theoretically possible to create a warp bubble around a starship. The downside is that doing this just once, with theoretically-perfect energy transfer (i.e. no losses anywhere), would require orders of magnitude more energy than you'd get if you E=mc-squared the entire universe. Bummer.

  105. Colin 4

    more research required!

    tut tut ... as any trekkie worth his salt knows ... the warp drive compresses space in front of the ship and stretches it behind. the ship never moves even close to light space relative to the real space around it.

  106. Neil Cooper


    Dude its obvious. They must have the shields up when travelling at warp speeds.

  107. SteveBaumann

    The whole point of WARP drive

    As the warp nacelles of the Enterprise create a warp field which warps space around the ship, the those pesky hydrogen atoms (being part of space) would get warped out of the way as well. This really is not a difficult concept to grasp, when you think about it.

  108. Deadlock Victim


    They just need to bounce a graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish...

  109. Anonymous Coward


    Because proving or disproving global warming seemed so droll these days, let's calculate something that has almost no scientific merit and any idiot could have told you. Guess what? When you go REAAAAALY fast, something is bound to hit you.

  110. KaD

    Raise the shields!

    The original Enterprise had navigational shields just for such things as hitting pieces of debris while traveling at high speeds. Also the navigational deflector in the front of the lower part of the ship was designed to move nasty things like matter out of the way before the ship passed through that space.

    Kirk 1 : Scientist 0

  111. Stevie


    Never mind the hydrogen, worrabout the 3cm background radiation? at lightspeed - gnatswhisker that is coming on as hard gamma rays. Azathoth alone know what the hard gamma rays are behaving like.

    Hydrogen dings in the front bumper are small potatoes compared to the ultimate universe tan.

  112. Dave the Shoe


    SO, it's like standing in front of the large hadron collider... that's fine, they deflect the beam from that with a quarter mile of gaffer tape and a couple of fridge magnets... I don't see a problem :)

  113. Stuart Halliday

    Gee, read the manual before posting!

    If these guys had read technical manual of say the Enterprise NCC 1701-D. They would know that at warp the main deflector dish deflects all particles out of its path.

    Occasionally they allow some through to supplement their fuel.

    See page 70 of the technical manual, and you'll know about the "Bussard Ramscoop Fuel replenishment system" that scoops up atoms of Hydrogen in front of them.

    Each nacelle has a Bussard collector in front.

    At sublight speed the coils sweep forward and collect particles.

    At warp speed the coils slow down the incoming matter so they can be collected if wished.

    But more usually the shields deflect the majority.

    See also page 48 where it talks in detail about the deflection of low-mass particles.

    See page 87+88 for detail about the deflector dish and a diagram for the shields deflecting the submicron particles.

    The main forward deflector dish deflects most of the matter at high speeds but a little is allowed to filter through to allow collection and so does not swamp the Bussard collectors.

    Come on guys this is basic first year cadet stuff.


  114. Daniel B.

    Bussard Ramjets

    I read about those in the DOOM novelizations. Theoretically, it works even better when you take into account a Fusion Reactor. That extra hydrogen is your free fuel refill!

    Anyway, this investigation neglects the use of the "force field" around most Federation ships, which may be well into science fiction, but then again, the same remains true for near-c man-rated ships.

  115. vincent himpe

    shields, shields , shields

    this guy forgets that the enterpise has shields ...

    besides , they can probably inoculate you against radiation by then.

  116. Anonymous Coward

    Deflector shields

    Deflector shields. That was the whole point for that dish on the front of the ship. duh!!!

  117. LeBeourfCurtaine


    ...why not just stick an 11m thick aluminium shield on the front of the spacecraft then? It's not exactly an uncommon metal. You could add an electromagmetic shield to it while you're at it and maybe some junk mail for good measure...

  118. steward

    Obviously the Professor never watched the show...

    or else he doesn't know how to use Google to look up "navigational deflector".

    He should stick to medicine. Hopefully he's more competent at that.

  119. snafu

    Bussard Ramscoops but no Bussard Ramjets

    The "Star Trek The Next Generation" guys, when doing the series' bible and the "science" behind the show, certainly did a good job at spotting the most obvious issues and formulating adequate treknobabble. That ST:TNG Technical Manual is a delight for science fiction aficionados.

    One problem with any scientist or science journalist that tries to har har at the series is that the people doing it had some scientific knowledge or knew who to consult. Of course, Trek's science is pants, mostly, but they acknowledge its problems even if just by plugging the holes with some dandy buzzword.

    So, anyway, there we go: the show's version of Warp Drive implies that the "subspace" bubble that propulsively distorts spacetime and also lowers the apparent mass of the ship to avoid a relativistic snafu is permeable to external particles in the way. So the navigational deflector pushes them out of the way or, if too big, the ship alters course and avoids them. That has been so since the original series.

    About the Bussard Ramscoops: they are there to collect interestellar hydrogen but they are not Bussard Ramjet engines at all. The idea is to collect matter and feed part of it into a matter-to-antimatter converter. Its efficiency is terrible, but as a M/AM reaction is the only means to feed the warp engines, the ramscoops are the only way to collect fuel if you run out of antihydrogen and have not enough hidrogen left to convert (one can imagine lots of nitpicks here, but…).

    I think they have never been used as intended in the show, really, but they have been featured here and there as some means to escape some tricky situations.

    I love technology-fiction, and I collect spacedrives as others do coins or stamps. I also happen to not have a life, sad anorak that I am.

  120. Cookie Monster

    They have navigational deflector shields

    These are designed to deflect things like hydrogen atoms and micrometeors .

  121. cdnjay


    First, Star Trek very clearly states that the ships main deflector is used to deflect matter away from the ship as it moves forward keeping the warp field clear. This would I assume include Hydrogen atoms just as it did micro meteors in "year of hell" in Star Trek Voyager.

    Second, ships in Star Trek don't travel at the speed of light. Instead they warp the space around them so there is less distance to travel at standard speeds, the higher the warp factor the greater the effect. It's like travelling straight between the top two points of a "U" instead of all around the "U" following the shape of the letter. Time would stop is you travelled at the speed of light so what fun would that be.

  122. poobumwilly


    I think I experience something similar while ridding my push bike downhill in the rain.

  123. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    That's part of the deflector dish's function

    Of course, without it the ship would be destroyed by dust anyway, but the deflector field also moves particles and shields from radiation,

  124. nebulaboy

    Hello! Navigational Deflector

    Just to clarify about the bussard collectors, they are only designed as a fall back option in case the primary supply of deuterium is exhausted somehow -- enabling said vessel to "limp" back home where presumably it could be refueled. It would not be a viable long-term solution from what I understand of the fictional universe.

    1. Thomas Contreras

      two different techs there

      Bussard collectors are on the nacelles, used to collect said hydrogen for the matter-antimatter reaction. Why carry both when matter is so plentiful, even in interstellar space. The deflector dish is a separate array for clearing space in front of the ship. Of course, neither of these are used at warp speeds since space itself is moving with the ship inside the warp bubble(s).

  125. Delos

    Factual errors

    I think as a professor in Medicine he has no knowledge of the Faraday shield effect, but lets not kill a good story with facts...

    1. Keith Oldham

      Re : Factual errors

      Sorry to be a killjoy but he's a physicist by training and has worked on gravitational wave detection.

      He's not a medic at all but if you want a Trekkie-like reference he developed the "Spin Warp" imaging method for MRI scanning

      He's visiting professor of Radiology presumably with an emphasis on MRI scanning

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Have we a deal?

      You stand inside a Faraday cage and I'll fire a charged bullet at you.

    3. RobL

      Re : Factual errors in your Factual errors?

      I'm not really sure that the Faraday Shield Effect would have any bearing on this problem. If we are talking about neutral atomic hydrogen, then there is no effect at all.

      If it is charged, that is one hell of a current you are "flying into" at one hell of a speed. I'm not convinced that the Faraday Shield Effect works as you anticipate when you are travelling to within a millionth of the speed of the magnetic field mediator itself.

      My money is on the guy with the PhD from Harvard, and a distinguished career in gravitational wave physics and the study and application of magnetism and magnetic resonance. I think it is safe to assume he knows a bit about the Farady Cage effect.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        talking out of my hat here, but ...

        Obviously, for a shield of this sort to work, the gaps in the mesh have to have a similar spacing to the wavelength of the incoming radiation. But since we're talking about hydrogen atoms which are accelerated to nearly c, we'll have a hard time creating a crystal lattice that's hard enough and dense enough to stop the radiation. Not to mention the size...

        But in one way, Faraday Cages aren't too far from the basic physics principles at play. The solution appears to be to use metamaterials, which are crystals or layered materials with the interesting property that they have a negative refractive index. When placed in front of the ship, incoming particles should be scattered in a cone away from the craft due to Cerenkov Radiation.

        I could have just copied and pasted some bits from the wiki page on Cerenkov radiation, but I figured talking about photonic crystals would probably have sounded like pure sci-fi.

  126. Charles 9

    I'm not the swiftest on the innards of Star Trek Warp tech...

    ...but the way I understand it, it works around the limitations of physics by creating a field around the ship that distorts (warps) its relation to the universe allowing it superluminal travel. I would imagine such fields could also function to deflect or displace the ambient hydrogen outside the warp field, preventing it from affecting the ship and all within. It's up to the trekkies now to write up some possible explanations.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      only at superluminal sppeds

      The Warp fields only apply for FTL travel, not at the impulse speeds mentioned (99.9999998% light speed). They carry the space around the ship through the Universe, compressing or 'warping' space in front and elongating space behind the ship since nothing in real space-time can exceed light speed.

  127. G.R.L. Cowan, H2-to-B convert

    Not going too boldly

    After the holocaust they dug up starship blueprints and reverse-engineered them. Knowing it was possible was half the battle. "Let's not go too boldly just at first", I seem to recall the captain saying. Was that the title, Half the Battle? Who wrote that?

    1. Mr Mark V Thomas

      Re: Half The Battle

      Harry Turtledove, as I recall...

      (it was first published in the U.S gaming magazine Stardate issue 1),

      1. G.R.L. Cowan, H2-to-B convert


        That should narrow it down a little.

  128. The Vociferous Time Waster

    Too much hydrogen...


  129. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    Starships are sooo yesterday...

    Whenever I need to travel anywhere vaguely far I get me a portal made.

    Cheap, quick simple.

    Only once did I ever get conned by one wiseguy who decided to send me to The Exodar instead. The bukstart. Much qq'ing ensued, I can assure you.

  130. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    One more reason FTL travel is not currently possible possible.

    So, we have one more reason FTL travel might not be possible.

    This is to add to all the various dangers that they have already said will prevent it, be they radiation, gravity of local objects or anything.

    Well, 200 years ago, they thought it would be impossible for man to travel faster than 20 miles per hour because to go any faster would crush the skeleton. Guess what.. That theory turned out to be wrong. Even though there is a point at which acceleration causes the human body to cease working, that point occurs when you are travelling a lot faster than 20 mph. Even then, to some extents, technology allows use to mitigte the effects.

    My point is that for many reasons (this included), FTL travel is currently impossible. However, it may be that 200 years down the line, technology has progressed to the point where it can overcome the problems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Which is it?

      You're mixing acceleration with speed - the human body can survive travelling at any constant speed (within reason, as this article discusses). But I suspect it would disintegrate by accelerating up to as little as 5mph, if the time taken was short enough, and thus the acceleration to that speed great enough...

      If you accelerated from zero to 5mph in a thousandth of a second, that is a rather speedy and likely deadly acceleration of 2279g. It would rip you apart.

    2. Keith Oldham

      Re : One more reason FTL travel is not currently possible possible.

      "Even though there is a point at which acceleration causes the human body to cease working, that point occurs when you are travelling a lot faster than 20 mph."

      This so much fun but what has speed/velocity to do with acceleration. ?

      Acceleration between 0 and 5 mph would kill you if it were sufficiently rapid. Don't take my word for it just drop a fine wine glass onto concrete from ~20 cm

      1. SavageMind


        I disagree with your example. "Acceleration between 0 and 5 mph would kill you if it were sufficiently rapid. Don't take my word for it just drop a fine wine glass onto concrete from ~20 cm" You cite a example of deceleration to prove your point of acceleration. I think a more appropriate example would be. Throw a very full water balloon too quickly and it will exploded in your hand from the gravities created by inertia. However there as been some work done, I beleive in Russia creating a dampening field. So far it requires 16 Tesla's to generate the power to lift a single frog and some modifications to the frog. It's still progress though.

      2. SavageMind

        Bad example

        I disagree with your example. "Acceleration between 0 and 5 mph would kill you if it were sufficiently rapid. Don't take my word for it just drop a fine wine glass onto concrete from ~20 cm" You cite a example of deceleration to prove your point of acceleration. I think a more appropriate example would be. Throw a very full water balloon too quickly and it will exploded in your hand from the gravities created by inertia. However there as been some work done, I beleive in Russia creating a dampening field. So far it requires 16 Tesla's to generate the power to lift a single frog and some modifications to the frog. It's still progress though.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge


          This is where that whole theory of relativity comes into play. Acceleration is just a change in velocity and direction over time. In the glass's frame of reference it is standing still and the ground is, in relative terms, moving towards it at high speed, thus when the ground impacts with the glass it is suddenly accelerated in a different direction relative to its own frame of reference.

  131. jhgjyfg

    Warp does work

    Ok!.... so the original Phoenix was supposedly constructed of titanium, which in theory probably would not be able to withstand the Ionized radiation, but Zephram Cochrane survived so this must mean that the cockpit was lined with something else that was able to withstand the warp speed trial. lol

    But more modern ships such as the NX Enterprise had Polarized Duranium Hull Plating which protected the ship from phased energy beams, which also travel at the speed of light. Not only that but the NX Enterprise is equipped with a navigational deflector which if I am not mistaken is explained to be a shield that is operational during warp speed to deflect stray particles.

    So I guess that proves MR US Boffin Incorrect.

    Maybe his equations were based on strapping a pair of warp engines to as Cadillac. hahhahahahhahahhaha

  132. Andy Watt

    TFL travel not possible either

    Especially while the engineering works are on.

  133. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Charles 9

      Basically the idea of a linkage between two points in space...

      ...seen in one form or another via wormholes, hyperspace tunnels, and so on (SciFi books have talked about these techniques since...the '30's at least. I know E. E. Smith covered "tubes" along with inertial neutralizers that were supposed to bypass physics).

  134. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obviously the MD was not a Star Trek fan

    Hi, you're all right, I also thought warp speed was through subspace which didn't have matter in it.

  135. Tony Jarvie

    I object!!

    How can you call ANYONE a "boffin" when they clearly haven't watched/read enough Star Trek to know how this isn't a problem?!?

    Warp bubble - protects the ship while it travels at sub-light speeds therefore mitigating the collision speeds.

    Navigational deflector dish - what part of the word "deflector" befuddles you?

    BTW, for all those talking about the Bussard Ramscoops - may I point out that they are at the end of the warp nacelles, therefore BEHIND the leading edge of the dish? Not relevant.

    Note about relativity;

    When in a warp bubble, the ship travels at significantly BELOW light speed. There was a novel written (I think a TNG story) where some-one had lost everyone they knew apart from those on the ship because their warp drive failed and they spent a couple of years travelling at high impulse speed. Because they had then been travelling closer to light speed, time dilation was more noticeable and they had aged at a reduced rate relativr to everyone else in the universe.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


      Check what a Bussard Ramscoop is. It projects a large magnetic field *ahead* of the ship to guide the hydrogen where it needs to go. Looking at the design of the ships, it would have to be a highly shaped field to avoid subjecting the saucer section to a possibly damaging strong magnetic field. And if the same basic design was used in the Intrepid class of ships (like NCC74656 Voyager), then it would have to be even more sophisticated, as the nacelles move (supposedly to make them more in line with the center of gravity of the ship).

      As I said before, I don't believe that the design of the NCC1701 Enterprise in the original series was actually scrutinized by engineers or scientists. The function of various parts of the ship was assigned by fans, some of whom ended up writing books. I would be interested to see how many of these works are actually regarded as canon, and have made it into the production bible for the various series.

  136. HFoster

    As others have chimed in

    ... But phrased slightly differently; I always LOL when vanilla scientific minds try to grapple with science fiction concepts, ignoring both canon and other research, and go for slow-news-day headline grabs.

    Why didn't he look up Alcubierre's work and maybe drop the bloke an email?

  137. ddogsdad

    How to create a warp field

    spin a disk so tha it's axis is perpendicular to the surface of the earth and the outside edge exceeds orbital velocity. It will begin to negate the Earth's gravity field. The closet thing to a Warp engine on Earth at present is the LHC. Fashion a LHC which is coil shaped rather than cirular and you will have the beginnings of a subspace warp engine. (Didn't say this would be easy)

    PS The laws of Space Time Physics only apply to Matter, not empty space. It is the same time everywhere in the Universe. The "Clock Speed" of matter slows down as you approach the speed of light. In other words the speed of the electrons and protons slow down. Time doesn't speed up here on Earth if you blast thru space at Warp speed. Your atoms slow to a stop. To you the trip is nearly instantaneous. The trick will be STOPPING. Subspace is that space that exists beyond the speed of light. And yes Virgina, a deflector shield would be advisable.

  138. Pete 8

    The hydrogen

    could be absorbed and used to power the ship, - fusionSkin™©® me 2010.

    DARPA can contact me at my usual address please, with chequebook in hand.

  139. Startraveller

    Warp Speed etc

    Hydrogen would not have any effect on a warp-capable ship due to the following:

    1. The warp nacelles create a bubble of sub-space through which the ship travels. The ship does not actually reach FTL but can travel such great distances due to the nature of sub-space. So, during warp travel the ship is not in normal space, but can 'see' normal space (hence the streaky stars and the ability to use sensors etc).

    2. The crew would not be mashed against the rear bulkhead nor the ship torn apart during acceleration due the the Inertial Dampening Field which surrounds the ship and the Structural Integrity Field.

    3. During normal impulse speeds the navigational deflector (the dish below the saucer section) would deflect any particles or debris that would damage or destroy the ship at these speeds. The main shields are not normally active unless needed to enhance the navigational deflectors or in a battle situation.

  140. deadlockvictim

    He is wrong

    Star Trek is fact, so he must be wrong. Is this what passes for science in our schools these days? I am shocked and ashamed.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      RE: He is wrong

      > * Quite niftily, one episode of TOS that came out in 1967 had the crew going back in time to

      > 1969 on a Wednesday—where they pick up a radio broadcast talking about Man landing on the

      > moon that day. Guess what happened on a Wednesday in 1969 in real life.

      > # July 24 – The Apollo 11 astronauts return from the first successful Moon landing, and are

      > placed in biological isolation for several days, on the chance they may have brought back

      > lunar germs. The airless lunar environment is later determined to preclude microscopic life.

  141. Dayjo


    "No doubt future spacecraft designers will deploy advanced radiation-resistant alloys and magnetic shielding to protect Federation staff from instant death."

    Made me chuckle.

    As said, I do like the fact that this is all being theorized based on scientific knowledge available now. So potentially stuff could be discovered in the future that blow this all out of the water.


  142. Aaron 10


    The nerd factor in this thread is strong...

  143. John F***ing Stepp

    Swinging by the Trojan points.

    Hmmm? do we scream wormhole or pothole?

    Ignoring that part of physics that has always bothered me (go away, pesky mass increase) it would take about a year at 1 gravity acceleration to hit close to light speed.

    So the Trek universe created a multiplier (log based of course, we don't need no stinkin' warp 5 times 10 to the eighth.)

    I think we have to fall back on Shatner's explanation of the thing.

    Get a life; it is just a TV show.

    (Still, what a life it could be; seek out other life in the universe and either kill it or make deep, deep, Kirk style friends with it.)

    We will hope he had better 'protection' than just a 'deflector shield'.

  144. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A Sci-Fi secret...

    I'll let you into a little secret. Warp speed was a plot device so the Enterprise can visit lots of different places in unfeasibly short time. That way Captain Kirk could beat up more aliens and snog their women. Got that geeks? Now get your own women! ;)

    1. Charles 9

      Another Sci-Fi secret... wasn't the first, either. I've already mentioned E.E. Smith, whose Lensman series (written in the 40's and into 50's IIRC) actually delves quite a bit into physics talk (matching velocity vectors and so on) while stretching things when necessary (such as with inertial neutralization and the concept of hyperspatial tunnels or "tubes," as he put it) to keep things interesting.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon


        My favourite scientific bit of the lensman series was the 'busbars' that helped generate the shields :) Talk about a a laser guided spearhead!

  145. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The USS Enterprise had a navigational deflector shield, especially to deflect any kind of particle....

    On the original series it was that thing in front that looked like a satellite dish.

    They knew about the problem guys.. this is not new news....

    please learn your star trek... read scotty's engineering manual for crying out loud...

    see here for details

  146. Anonymous Coward

    He got PAID to tell us this?


    "Of course, Edelstein's conclusions are based on current scientific knowledge. No doubt future spacecraft designers will deploy advanced radiation-resistant alloys and magnetic shielding to protect Federation staff from instant death."

    Feck off. If we were nearly at the point of creating such a ship, then ffs, this would be news. In the mean time, who the f*ck is paying this cnut? Resources wasted. Get him on finding a solution to stop folks being killed in car crashes or stop folks starving to death. FFS.

    I *love* this anti-human society. NOT.


  147. snafu

    A couple of things

    Warp drive doesn't isolate the ship from surrounding space (it isn't really an Alcubierre-type drive but a "grab a wet soap bar and press until it shoots out your grip" drive, with extra apparent mass reduction effects), so the deflector beam must be active while at warp, as the warp bubble is permeable to external matter.

    Shields are gravity-based instead of magnetic.

    I love nerding.

  148. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    as Hutch says in Fanboys

    "Let's crack some Trekkie skulls!"

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