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TSS未来系列:打破光的障碍——时空波如何推动曲速器从虚构走向现实

FUTURES: Breaking The Light Barrier – How space-time waves are propelling warp drives from fiction to fact

by A’liya Spinner

时空的皱纹

A Wrinkle in Space-Time

曲速驱动的”战车”号在空旷的太空中飞驰,越过孤独的冥王星的最后一段距离,驶向星光灿烂的漆黑 “间隙”——也就是分隔太阳系的巨大、无人的空间。从战车的圆桥上看,”间隙”看起来很小且很合理。但船员们知道,这些闪烁光点之间的广阔虚无,是一个要耗费数万年的航程。

The warp-ship Chariot careened through the empty void of space, past the last reaches of lonely Pluto and towards the star-studded blackness of the “Between”— the vast, unoccupied space that separated solar systems. From the rounded bridge of the Chariot, the Between looked tiny, reasonable. But the expansive nothingness between those twinkling dots, the crew knew, was a voyage of tens of thousands of years.

或者,至少,这只是一二十年前的事。从那时起,技术已经发展到为似乎无法掌握的光速极限构思一个解决方案,而现在”战车”号即将在整个世界面前进行第一次航行,并测试所有这些理论、试验和模拟是否正确。至少,人类能够打破光障,冒险进入和驶过”间隙”。

Or, at least, it would have been just a decade or two before. Since then, technology had evolved to concoct a solution to the seemingly ungraspable limit of the speed of light, and now the Chariot was about to take its maiden voyage before the eyes of the entire world, and test if all those theories, trials, and simulations were really true. If humanity could, at least, break the light barrier and venture into and past the Between.

“泡沫上的状态?”

“Status on the Bubble?”

舵手——既负责导航,又负责监测”战车”号上骨干船员的战舰推进系统(在发生灾难时可以限制伤亡)——在舰长打破紧张的沉默后抬起头来。她低头看了看她的控制台,看了看显示器、表盘和节点。一切都还在安全参数之内;灯光是绿色的;警报器也没有响。

The helmsman— who was responsible both for navigation and for monitoring the warp-ship’s propulsion systems on the Chariot’s skeletal crew (to limit casualties incase of disaster)— looked up as the captain broke the tense silence. She glanced down to her console, at the monitors and dials and nodes. Everything was still within safe parameters; lights were green; alarms were silent.

“倒计时四十五秒,”她回答舰长,”电磁等离子体场已经到位。所有系统都在运行。”

“T-minus forty-five seconds,” she answered the captain, “electromagnetic plasma fields in place. All systems operational.”

“很好,”他回答,”保持它的稳定性。”

“Good,” he answered, “keep ‘er steady.”

舵手点了点头,但没有回答。除了机器的嘟嘟声和呼呼声,舰桥上几乎是一片死寂的沉默。科学家们对参加这次任务既感到荣幸又感到害怕,他们拥挤在一个巨大的钢铁混合仪器中,监测和记录飞船内外发生的一切。一位来自联合国的代表坐在船长身边,坐立不安,不知道该如何放置她的双手。曾率先设计”战车”号并与国际政府争论,直到被允许登上战车首航的工程师在后面踱步,看着诊断程序在复杂得难以置信,但他却早已记在心里的图表上闪烁。

The helmsman nodded, but did not reply. The silence on the bridge was almost deafening except for the beeping and whirring of machines. Scientists both honored and terrified to be included on the mission crowded a monstrous steel amalgamation of instruments, monitoring and recording everything that happened inside and outside the craft. A representative from the United Nations sat, fidgeting, beside the captain, unsure what to do with her hands. The engineer who had pioneered the Chariot’s design and argued with the international government until he was allowed to be aboard her maiden flight paced in the back, watching diagnostics flash across impossibly complicated diagrams that he had long since committed to memory.

“倒计时十五秒。”

“T-minus fifteen seconds.”

船长在他的座位上向前倾。舵手的手微微颤抖,勉强地控制着。在舰桥的窗外,”间隙”开始被无定形的等离子体脉络所遮蔽。

The captain leaned forward in his seat. The helmsman’s hands shook, just barely, at the controls. Beyond the bridge’s window, the Between was beginning to be obscured by amorphous veins of plasma.

“倒计时十秒……”

“T-minus ten seconds…”

曲速舰在吸取其最后的能量储存时颤抖了一下。它传统的引擎隆隆声消失了,取而代之的是电磁流冲过加固的墙壁的轰鸣声。

The warp-ship shuddered as it drew in the last of its energy stores. The rumble of its traditional engines died away, replaced by the roar of electromagnetic current rushing through the reinforced walls.

“五..….四……”

“Five… four…”

“战车”号已被能量、热量和光线包裹。

The Chariot had become wreathed in energy, heat, and light.

“二……一。泡泡准备好了,先生。”

“Two… one. Bubble ready, sir.”

船长站了起来,站在他的船员和振动的曲速船中间。他的眼睛看不见,但他知道空间正开始向战车周围折叠,准备将他们从地球——从他们所知道的宇宙中——进行严厉的打击。他把手向前一挥,深深地吸了一口气。

The captain rose, standing amid his crew and vibrating warp-ship. Invisible to the eye, he knew space was beginning to fold in around the Chariot, preparing to severe them from Earth— from the universe as they knew it. He flicked his hand forward and breathed deeply.

“起航。”

Engage.”

曲速波

Warp Waves

自科幻小说诞生以来,超光速旅行(FTL)一直是科幻小说的主要内容,它有各种名称,如《沙丘》(1965)中的 “space-time folding“,《星际迷航》(1966)中的 “warp“,《星球大战》(1977)中的 “hyperdrive“,以及此后书籍、电影和游戏中无数的其他名称。但是,尽管它很受欢迎,科学界早已一致认同,超光速旅行在现在和将来都只是纯粹的虚构。甚至爱因斯坦在创建他著名的相对论时也补充说,没有什么东西能比光粒子移动得更快。随着时间的推移,这一理论受到了挑战,有人认为,虽然我们永远无法在真空中无障碍地达到或超过光速,但我们有可能加速在空气、水或其他物质中旅行的比光速更快的粒子——这已被证明是可能的。然而,使用极端的能量来推动这些粒子通过水,使它们在类似的环境中比光粒子移动得更快,这只是在技术上比光快。这种方法仍然没有使我们更接近在太空真空中比光速更快的目标。

Faster-than-light travel (FTL) has been a staple of science-fiction since the genre’s conception, known by a variety of names such as “space-time folding” in Dune (1965), “warp” in Star Trek (1966), “hyperdrive” in Star Wars (1977), and countless other monikers in books, movies, and games since then. But despite its popularity, the scientific community has long agreed that FTL travel is and always will be purely fiction. Even Einstein, when creating his famous Theory of Relativity, added that nothing could move faster than light particles. Over time, this theory was challenged by the idea that maybe, while we can never meet or exceed the speed of light unobstructed in a vacuum, we could potentially accelerate particles faster than light travelling through air, water, or other matter— which has been proven possible. However, using extreme amounts of energy to propel these particles through water so that they move faster than light particles in a similar environment is only going faster than light by technicality. This method still brought us no closer to traveling faster than light in the vacuum of space.

然而现在,可能有另一种方法。哥廷根大学研究员Erik Lentz提出了一种最终超越这些极限的方法–孤子。孤子是一个定义宽泛的科学术语,用来描述一个自我维持的、孤独的波包。与其他随时间改变形式的波不同,孤子有一个特定的形状,不会消散(这被称为克尔效应。)正因为如此,孤子能够永久地保持一个恒定的速度,而不会在互动过程中失去能量。伦茨提出,利用我们已经掌握的技术,时空结构可以被安排在一个孤子内部,形成一个 “曲率泡泡”。与物理物质不同,时空几乎可以以任何速度和方式弯曲和伸展;人造孤子将收缩它前面的空间,扩大它后面的空间,允许它里面的任何东西比光速更快,而不违反任何物理规律。

Now, however, there may be another way. A new theory by University of Göttingen researcher Erik Lentz proposes a method of finally exceeding these limits— a soliton. Soliton is a loosely-defined, scientific term used to describe a self-sustaining, solitary wave packet. Unlike other waves, which change form over time, solitons have a specific shape that does not disperse (this is called the Kerr effect.) Because of this, solitons are able to permanently maintain a constant velocity without losing energy during interaction. Lentz proposed that, using technology already available to us, the structure of space-time could be arranged inside a soliton to form a “warp bubble”. Unlike physical matter, space-time can bend and stretch at virtually any speed and in any way; the artificial soliton would contract space in front of it and expand space behind it, allowing anything inside of it to travel faster than light without breaking any physical laws.

这有什么不同?

How is this different?

高级推进实验室的研究人员阿列克谢·博布里克和吉安尼·马尔泰尔表示,大多数超光速计划都遵循一个包含现有正负能量的一般模型,但伦茨的想法是自成一体的。它建立在理论物理学家米格尔·阿尔库比埃尔于1994年提出的理论之上,即压缩和扩展空间时间是服从广义相对论的规则的,因为尽管你对外部观察者来说比光速更快,但你在 “曲率泡泡”内的运动速度会更慢,消除了以不可能的速度推动航天器的需要,而只是减少了它需要的旅行距离。这一概念在马德琳-朗格尔1962年的著名科幻小说《时间的皱纹》中得到了探讨,书中提到的皱纹是对时空结构的折叠,这能够使旅行者走捷径穿越浩瀚的太空。在这本书处于构思阶段时,这还远远不可能,但伦茨相信,他关于在孤子泡泡内重组时空的理论是超光速旅行的可行解决方案。这种内部配置甚至有可能通过在孤子内部配置一个最小潮汐力的区域来解决 “双胞胎悖论”——即其中一个以接近光速旅行的双胞胎将比他们在地球上的兄弟姐妹衰老得慢。假设,时间在泡泡内和泡泡外的进展速度是一样的,当旅行者回到地球时,两个双胞胎的年龄依然是一样的。

Most FTL schemes follow a general model that incorporates existing positive and negative energy, according to Advanced Propulsion Laboratory researchers Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire, but Lentz’s idea is in a class all of its own. It builds on a theory broached in 1994 by theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre that compressing and expanding space time is obedient to the rules of General Relativity, because although you would be traveling faster than light to an outside observer, you would be moving at a slower rate inside of the “warp bubble” itself, eliminating the need to propel a spacecraft at impossible speeds, and simply reducing the distance it needs to travel. This concept was explored in Madeleine L’Engle’s famous 1962 science-fiction novel, “A Wrinkle in Time”, in which the titular wrinkle is the folding of space-time fabric to send travelers on a shortcut across the vastness of space. At the book’s conception, this was far from being possible, but Lentz is confident that his theories on restructuring space-time within soliton bubbles is a workable solution to superluminal travel. This inner configuration could potentially even solve the “twin paradox”— wherein one twin travelling at close to the speed of light ages slower than their sibling on Earth— by configuring a region inside the soliton with minimum tidal forces. Hypothetically, time would progress at the same rate inside the bubble as out of it, and both twins would be the same age upon the traveler’s return to Earth.

伦茨的提议特别重要,因为它是唯一不需要使用负能量的超光速旅行理论之一,而阿尔库比埃尔的理论仍然依赖于此。为了做到这一点,航天器将需要巨大的能量,因为当粒子和反粒子被集中的质量的拉力分开并形成不平衡时,就会产生负能量。但是,即使理论是合理的,应用却不是。阿尔库比埃尔的曲速驱动器将需要整个可见宇宙的质量来推动自己。1999年,一位名叫克里斯·范登布洛克的物理学家提出了一个更 “合理”的公式,在不改变其表面能量的情况下扩大曲率泡泡的体积。然而,这仍然要求驱动器具有相当于太阳的质量,这是一个进步,但仍然远远超出了可行性的范围。

Lentz’ proposal is especially important because it is one of the only theories for FTL travel that does not require the usage of negative energy, something that Alcubierre’s theory still relied on. In order to do this, the spacecraft would need to be immense, as negative energy is created when particles and antiparticles are separated by the pull of a concentrated mass and an imbalance is formed. But even if the theory is sound, the application is not. Alcubierre’s warp drive would’ve required the mass of the entire visible universe to propel itself. In 1999, a physicist named Chris Van Den Broeck proposed a more “reasonable” formula that expanded the volume of the warp bubble without changing its surface energy. This, however, still required the drive to have a mass equivalent to that of the sun’s, an improvement, but still well beyond the bounds of feasibility.

埃里克·伦茨的曲率泡泡也需要大量的能量——但只是正能量,可以通过常规手段创造,如核裂变。现在,伦茨的孤子波需要比现代核技术所能产生的能量多30个数量级,但他希望在早期研究中提出的节能机制有可能将这一数量降低到一个更合理的范围,届时可能会开始建造其理论引擎的物理原型。

Erik Lentz’s warp bubble, too, requires vast amounts of energy— but positive energy only, which can be created through conventional means, such as nuclear fission. Right now, Lentz’s soliton wave requires thirty orders of magnitude more energy to create than is possible with modern nuclear technology, but he is hopeful that energy-saving mechanisms proposed in earlier research can potentially lower that amount to a much more reasonable range, at which point it may be possible to start building physical prototypes of his theoretical engine.

是什么阻碍了我们?

What’s stopping us?

如前所述,我们与伦茨的曲率泡泡的有效原型之间的主要障碍是能源成本。但是,只要这个问题能够得到解决,还有一些担忧,由于这个理论的新颖性,现在才被提出来——毫无疑问,将来还会有许多问题出现。例如,其中一个问题是在阿尔库比埃尔曲速驱动器中提出的,并且没有被伦茨的正能量变化所解决,那就是当泡泡在运行时,时空褶皱内的乘客不可能与自身之外的人交流。这就带来了一个问题,即船员如何操作和控制这样的飞船,特别是在潜在的危险区域,如碎片、小行星,或其他泡泡内的人无法看到的障碍物。到目前为止,这个问题还没有已知的解决方案,尽管随着创造这些超光速气泡的技术越来越接近成果,我们无疑会看到更多围绕超光速转向面的严肃对话。

The major obstacle between us and a functioning prototype of Lentz’s warp bubble is, as already mentioned, the energy cost. But, provided that can be solved, there are still some concerns that are only now being raised because of the newness of this theory— and there will be many more discovered in the future, without question. One such issue, for example, which was raised with the Alcubierre warp drive and was not solved by Lentz’s positive-energy variation, is that while the bubble is in operation, it is impossible for the passengers inside the fold of space-time to communicate with those outside of it. This brings up questions as to how a crew could operate and control such a craft, especially in potentially hazardous zones of debris, asteroids, or other obstacles that those inside of the bubble are unable to see. As of now, there are no known solutions to this problem, although we will undoubtedly see more serious conversations centered around faster-than-light steering surface as the technology to create these superluminal bubbles becomes closer to fruition.

第二个主要障碍是孤子气泡本身的创造。除了需要大量的能量来推动和操作它们之外,时空的波包也不容易制造。伦茨认为,导电电磁等离子体的应力能量可能足以创造他的孤子,但不幸的是,在现代实验室制造的等离子体比需求小了好几个数量级,无法产生伦茨描述的任何东西。在他的原始论文中,伦茨指出,这有可能通过在等离子体物理学和我们对广义相对论的理解之间的进一步理论工作得到解决。

The second major barrier is the creation of the soliton bubbles themselves. As well as requiring massive amounts of energy to propel and operate them, wave packets of space-time are not easily made. Lentz believes that the stress-energy of conducting electromagnetic plasma may be sufficient to create his solitons, but unfortunately, plasma made in modern laboratories is several orders of magnitude too small to produce anything of the scope Lentz describes. In his original paper, Lentz states that this could possibly be solved by further theoretical work at the interface between plasma physics and our understanding of general relativity.

但是,即使这被证明是不可能的,也可能有另一种方法——”捕捉”已经产生的孤子。当某一特定尺寸范围内的老化恒星耗尽其燃料时,它们会坍缩并成为超新星,形成密度惊人的中子星。在这种坍缩过程中,它们的磁场线被困住并压缩到令人难以置信的高场强;具有特别强大场强的中子星被称为磁星。磁星是定期伽玛射线暴的天文来源,一些科学家认为,这些恒星周围的超磁化等离子体可能会自发地产生伦茨孤子,然后以极快的速度被推离恒星。这样的事件可以用合适的引力波探测器或无线电干涉仪来观测,从而可能引导我们找到并可能 “抓住”已经存在于我们宇宙中某个地方的孤子。

But, even if that proves impossible, there may be another way— by “catching” solitons that have already been created. When aging stars in a particular size range exhaust their fuel, they collapse and go supernova, forming incredibly dense neutron stars. During this collapse, their magnetic field lines are trapped and compressed to incredibly high field strengths; neutron stars with especially powerful fields are called magnetars. Magnetars are the astronomical source of regular gamma ray bursts, and some scientists believe that the ultra-magnetized plasma surrounding these stars may spontaneously create Lentz solitons, which are then propelled away from the star at extreme speeds. Such events could be observed with the right gravitational wave detectors or radio interferometry, and thus may lead us to finding and possibly “catching” a soliton that already exists somewhere in our universe.

时间与旅行

Time and Travel

一个能够进行超光速旅行的设备的应用是显而易见且无限制的;它将彻底改变我们到达、研究和重新定居附近星球的能力,如火星。它还将首次赋予我们离开太阳系的束缚,探索银河系之外的能力。这不仅使我们有机会研究更多的行星体、恒星和星体结构,而且使我们能够获得新的且稀有的资源,从而更好地照顾我们自己的星球,并创造更多的可持续技术。

The applications of a device capable of FTL travel are both obvious and limitless; it would revolutionize our ability to reach, research, and resettle on nearby planets, such as Mars. It would also, for the first time, grant us the ability to leave the confines of our solar system, and explore the galaxy beyond. Not only does this give us the chance to study more planetary bodies, stars, and astral formations, but make new and rare resources available to us with which to better care for our own planet and create more sustainable technology.

而且——正如小说中以多种形式推测的那样——可能发现地球以外的某种形式的生命。即使我们不能实际见到一个外星种族,不管是有生命的还是原始的还是介于两者之间的,曲率技术使我们能够在极短的距离内(至少在宇宙范围内)发送消息和信息,这将扩大我们的探测器和通信网络的范围,也许我们可以观察或与我们的外星邻居交换电话号码。

And— as fiction has speculated about in many forms— possibly discovering life in some form beyond planet Earth. Even if we cannot physically meet an alien race, sentient or primordial or wherever in between, warp technology makes us able to send messages and information across extreme distances very quickly (on a cosmic scale, at the least), which would expand the range of our probes and communication network to the point where perhaps we can observe or exchange phone numbers with our extraterrestrial neighbors.

然而,这些设备在地球上也可能是有用的。早些时候,有人提到,孤岛的构造可以使潮汐力最小化,但如果能制造出一个恰恰相反的东西呢?澳大利亚天主教大学副教授、形而上学家萨姆·巴伦博士对埃里克·伦茨的机器能否飞行表示怀疑,转而他考虑如何能将该技术作为一种时间操纵装置来实现。通过恰到好处地构造曲率泡,巴伦推测时间的流逝将比外部世界更慢或更快。这方面的实际用途是无限的——在一夜之间种植农作物,延长身患绝症的病人的生命直到找到治疗方法,加快或减缓反应,分解,甚至适应,以帮助其研究。巴伦甚至提出,在曲速驱动器内旋转时空气泡可以创造一个能够储存大量能量的电池。

These devices, however, could be useful on Earth, too. Earlier, it was mentioned that the soliton could be constructed to minimize tidal forces, but what if one could be made that does just the opposite? Dr. Sam Baron, a metaphysicist and Associate Professor at Australian Catholic University, expressed doubt that Erik Lentz’s machine could ever fly, and instead considered how the technology could be implemented as a time-manipulating device. By structuring the warp bubble just right, Baron postulated that time would pass slower or faster than it did in the outside world. The practical uses for this are boundless— growing crops overnight, prolonging the lives of terminally ill patients until a cure can be found, speeding or slowing reactions, decomposition, and even adaptation to aid in its study. Baron even proposed that rotating space-time bubbles inside of a warp drive could create a battery capable of storing immense amounts of energy.

无论它是用于时间还是旅行,或者两者兼有之,很明显,时空操纵和 “曲速驱动器 “正越来越接近于走出科幻小说,成为现实。与任何如此年轻的技术一样,我们很难预见到最切实在等待我们的陷阱,但一旦一个想法被带到公众和科学的视野中,它就很少被放弃,而且几乎从未被遗忘。尽管它不会以英勇的 “企业号”飞船的形式出现,但在我们的有生之年,超光速旅行将继续成形和盛行。也许我们甚至会活着看到——或成为——第一个走出太阳系、进入伟大的未知世界的人类。

Whether it’s used in time or travel or both, it’s clear that space-time manipulation and the “warp drive” is getting closer and closer to leaving science-fiction and becoming a reality. As with any technology so young, it’s hard to foresee the pitfalls that most certainly await us, but once an idea is brought to the public and scientific eye, it’s rarely given up, and almost never forgotten. Although it won’t be in the form of the gallant Starship Enterprise, superluminal travel will continue to take shape and prevalence in our lifetime. Perhaps we will even live to see— or be— the first humans to venture beyond our solar system, and into the great unknown.

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