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Warp Drive: A New Approach

Richard K Obousy and Gerald Cleaver∗


Baylor University, Waco, Texas, 76706, USA
(Dated: December 16, 2007)
Certain classes of higher dimensional models suggest that the Casimir effect is a candidate for
the cosmological constant. In this paper we demonstrate that a sufficiently advanced civilization
could, in principal, manipulate the radius of the extra dimension to locally adjust the value of the
cosmological constant. This adjustment could be tuned to generate an expansion/contraction of
spacetime around a spacecraft creating an exotic form of field-propulsion. Due to the fact that
spacetime expansion itself is not restricted by relativity, a faster-than-light ‘warp drive’ could be
created. Calculations of the energy requirements of such a drive are performed and an ‘ultimate’
speed limit, based on the Planckian limits on the size of the extra dimensions is found.
arXiv:0712.1649v3 [gr-qc] 16 Dec 2007

I. INTRODUCTION the compactified spacetime around it, thereby creating


the propulsion effect.
The first four sections of this paper review the neces-
A 1994 paper written by M. Alcubierre [2] demon-
sary physics required to appreciate the new warp drive
strated that, within the framework of general relativity,
model. The remainder of the paper will introduce the
a modification of spacetime could be created that would
propulsion concept. Calculations regarding speed limits
allow a spacecraft to travel with arbitrarily large speeds.
and energy requirements will also be presented.
In a manner identical to the inflationary stage of the uni-
verse, the spacecraft would have a relative speed, defined
as change of proper spatial distance over proper spatial II. THE COSMOLOGICAL CONSTANT AND
time, faster than the speed of light. Since the original QUANTUM FIELD THEORY
paper, numerous authors have investigated and built on
the original work of Alcubierre.
Current observations of distant supernova [12] indi-
Warp drives provide an unique and inspiring opportu-
cate that the universe is expanding. This expansion is
nity to ask the question ‘what constraints do the laws of
realized in Einstein’s equations .
physics place on the abilities of an arbitrarily advanced
civilization’[22]. They also serve as a tool for teaching
general relativity, as well as an exciting way to attract 1
Rµν − Rgµν = 8πGTµν − Λgµν (1)
young students to the field by stimulating their imagina- 2
tion. In this paper an original mechanism to generate the through the cosmological constant term, Λ This
necessary ‘warp bubble’ is proposed. The main focus of ‘Lambda’ term, as it is known, provides a necessary ad-
the paper is to demonstrate that the manipulation of the dition to the gravitational field to correlate with what is
radius of one, or more, of the extra dimensions found in observed in nature.
higher dimensional quantum gravity theories, especially The fundamental origin of Lambda is still a mystery
those that are based on or inspired by string/M-theory, nearly a century after its introduction into cosmology.
creates a local asymmetry in the cosmological constant Physicists are not certain what generates the cosmologi-
which could be used to propel a space vehicle. cal constant term in Einstein’s equations; we simply know
Warp drives have not been the sole interest of theo- that it is there. Several ideas exist as to the nature of
retical physicists as was demonstrated by the formation this field. Dark energy, for example, is a popular contem-
of the NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Program and the porary phrase for the Lambda term. Efforts have been
British Aerospace Project Greenglow, both of whose pur- made to explain the cosmological constant using the more
pose was to investigate and expand on these ideas regard- modern quantum field theory, created after Einstein and
ing exotic field propulsion. his gravitational equations [7].
At such an early stage in the theoretical development Quantum field theory (QFT) is widely regarded as one
of the ideas presented in this paper, it is challenging to of the most, if not the most, successful physical theories
make predictions on how this ‘warp drive’ might func- of all time. Its predictions have been verified in particle
tion. Naively one could envision a spacecraft with an accelerators; no experiment has ever shown a result that
exotic power generator that could create the necessary contradicts QFT. It would thus seem only natural to try
energies to locally manipulate the extra dimension(s). In to account for the cosmological constant using QFT. The
this way, an advanced spacecraft would expand/contract calculations [8] are based on summing all the zero point
oscillations with a Planck scale cut-off which would give
us an estimate to the overall vacuum energy density Evac .
1 M d3 k p 2 M4
Z
∗ Electronic address: Richard˙K˙Obousy@baylor.edu; Electronic
hEvac i = k + m 2 ≈ (2)
address: Gerald˙Cleaver@baylor.edu 2 0 (2π)3 16π 2
2

The energy density predicted using this equation is From this action we retrieve the spin-2 graviton, the
of order 1071 (GeV )4 , which conflicts with the observed spin-1 photon and discover a spin-0 scalar field. This in-
value of 10−48 (GeV )4 . Indeed, this is genererally viewed deed was a success in unifying gravity with electromag-
as, by far, the worst predication of theoretical physics- netism. However the unexpected existence of the scalar
being off by a factor of 10119 ! This failure of quantum field was an embarrassment at the time. This stimulated
theory has recently been reexamined using brane world later work on Brans-Dicke theories of gravity where the
scenarios born of string theory [11], [5], [14], [1], [10], [24]. scalar field has the physical effect of changing the effec-
One (partial) fix to the vacuum energy calculations is tive gravitational constant from place to place.
the introduction of supersymmetry (SUSY). The basic Kaluza’s idea suffered from a very obvious drawback.
idea is that all known particles have an associated su- If there is a fifth dimension, where is it? In 1926 Oskar
perparticle whose spin differs by exactly one half (in ~ Klein suggested that the fifth dimension compactifies so
units). In the case of unbroken SUSY, i.e., when particle as to have the geometry of a circle of extremely small
and supersymmetric partner have exactly equal masses, radius [18]. Thus, the space has topology R4 × S 1 . One
the superparticle additions to the vacuum energy per- way to envisage this spacetime is to imagine a hosepipe.
fectly cancel the particle contributions and the result- From a long distance it looks like a one dimensional line
ing vacuum energy is reduced to zero. However, when but a closer inspection reveals that evey point on the line
SUSY is broken and the difference of the particle mass is in fact a circle.
and the supersymmetric partner mass is on a scale of
MS ≈ 104 GeV , then the resulting vacuum energy is
on the order (MS )4 ≈ 1016 GeV and the discrepancy is IV. EXTRA DIMENSIONS AND THE CASIMIR
(only) off by a factor of 1060 ! In this paper we assume EFFECT
that even the SUSY-breaking contribution is somehow
cancelled and that all contributions to the vacuum en- The Casimir effect is one of the most salient manifes-
ergy density are higher dimensional. tations of the vacuum fluctuations. In its most elemen-
tary form, it is the interaction of a pair of neutral, paral-
lel conducting planes whose existence modify the ground
III. KALUZA KLEIN MODELS
state of the quantum vacuum in the interior portion of
the plates creating a force which attracts the plates to
Kaluza-Klein (KK) theory was an early attempt to each other. For the electromagnetic field, this force of
unify gravitation with electromagnetism. Kaluza initially attraction is:
postulated that a fifth spatial dimension could be intro-
duced into Einstein’s equations [16]. When the equations
were solved the additional dimension would generate not πA hc
F =− (6)
only the standard metric, but also a vector field Aµ that 480 a4
could be associated with the electromagnetic field and a
scalar field φ. Kaluza’s starting point was the metric:
where A is the area of the plates, h is Planck’s constant,
 
gµν − φAµ Aν −φAµ
g̃µ̃ν̃ = (3) c is the speed of light and a is the plate separation. For
−φAν −φ
a review on the Casimir effect see [21].
Where µ and ν run over 0,1,2,3 and the tilde quantites The Casimir effect can be extended to regions of non-
run over 0,1,2,3,5. Aµ and Aν are vector fields and φ is a trivial topology. For example, on S 1 , a circular manifold,
scalar field. Now start with a source free spacetime (pure- one can associate 0 and 2π with the location of the plates
gravity) in five dimensions. The corresponding action of and the Casimir energy can be calculated. This becomes
the system is relevant when we consider models with additional spatial
Z dimensions.
S 5 = − d5 x g̃ R̃
p
(4) Two models with extra dimensions have become
particularly popular in recent years. These are the
Arkani-Hamed-Dimopoulos-Dvali (ADD) [3], [4] and the
Where g̃ is the five dimensional determinant of the metric
Randall-Sundrum (RS) models [22]. Both are attempts
and R̃ is the five dimensional Ricci Scalar. After integrat-
to explain what has become known as a heirachy prob-
ing out the extra dimension and √ performing a conformal lem in physics, which questions why the gravitational
rescaling of the metric gµν → φgµν , it is trivial to show
force is so much weaker than the other forces of nature.
that the four dimensional action can be written as:
In the ADD model it is proposed that the force carriers
of the standard model (the photon, W + , W − , Z 0 and
√ 1 1 √
Z
S= d4 x g(−R + ∂µ φ∂ ν − e− 3φ Fµν F µν ) (5) the gluons) are constrained to exist on the usual four di-
2 4 mensional spacetime, which we will call the bulk. Gravity
however, is free to move both in the bulk and in the ex-
tra dimensions. These dimensions can be as large as µm
3

[17]. Using the fact that ζ(−2m) = 0, for m any natural


Because only gravity can propagate in the extra dimen- number, we obtain the vacuum energy:
sions, we cannot ‘see’ them as we see in the bulk through
the electromagnetic field (light), nor can we observe them ∞
through weak or strong force interactions, which are also 1 X m2n
hEvac i4+2 = m4n log( ) (13)
restricted to the bulk. It is the freedom of the graviton 32π 2 n1,n2=1
µ2
to propagate off of the bulk that dilutes the field strength
accounting for the apparent weakness of gravity. In the

RS models, it is the warping of the extra dimension that π X
is the root cause of the weakness of gravity. = (n21 + n22 )2 log(n21 + n22 ) (14)
2R4 n1,n2=1
In both the ADD and RS models one can account for
the cosmological constant by calculating the contribution
of extra dimensional graviton fields to the Casimir energy π2
and then associating this energy with the cosmological =− ζ(0)ζ ′ (4) (15)
R4
constant [11]. As an example we will demonstrate a cal-
culation of the vacuum energy due to compactification in This result can be generalized to 4+n dimensions
the ADD scenario in which the spacetime orbifold will be
M 4 × T 2 . Matter fields will reside on the 3-brane (our π 2 (2 + n)(3 + n)
 
n−1 ′
universe) and gravity is free to propagate in the bulk. hEvac i = − − 1 [ζ(0)] ζ (4)
R4 2
The calculations closely follow [15].
(16)
The four dimensional vacuum energy is given by:
where the graviton degrees of freedom is expressed in

r the brackets. This vacuum energy due to the massive
1 d3 k 4π 2 (n21 + n22 )
X Z
hEvac i = 3
k2 + (7) KK modes is associated with the cosmological constant.
n1,n2=1
2 (2π) R2

Where R is the radius of the extra dimensions and n1 V. WARP DRIVES


and n2 are the KK (Kaluza Klein) graviton modes. We
will now perform dimensional regularization on the k Numerous papers discussing the idea of warp drives
integral by first rewriting it as: have emerged in the literature in recent years. See for
example [19]. The basic idea is to formulate a solution
d3 k p 2 to Einstein’s equations whereby a warp bubble is driven
Z 1
2ǫ −ǫ
I(mn ) = µ k + m 22 (8)
(2π)3 n by a local expansion of spacetime behind the bubble and
a contraction ahead of the bubble. One common feature
Where we have made the substitution, m2n = of these papers is that their physical foundation is the
4π 2 (n21 +n22 ) General Theory of Relativity. An element missing from
R2 . The µ term is inserted for dimensional con-
sistency and ǫ will be taken to zero. The integral can be all the papers is that there is little or no suggestion as to
expressed as a beta function which can be expanded to: how such a warp bubble may be created.
The aim of this paper is not to discuss the plausibil-
ity of warp drive, the questions associated with violation
m4 m2n
 
1 1 of the null energy condition, or issues regarding causal-
I(mn ) = − n2 + 2log2 − − log( 2 ) (9)
32π ǫ 2 µ ity. The aim of this paper is to suggest that a warp
bubble could be generated using ideas and mathematics
The vacuum energy can thus be expressed as: from quantum field theory, and to hypothesize how such
a bubble could be created by a sufficiently advanced tech-
1

X 
1 1 m2
 nology.
hEvac i = − m4n + 2log2 − − log( 2n ) By associating the cosmological constant with the
32π 2 n1,n2=1
ǫ 2 µ Casimir Energy due to the Kaluza Klein modes of gravi-
(10) tons in higher dimensions, especially in the context of M-
The summation is clearly divergent so we next use a theory derived or inspired models, it is possible to form
zeta function regularization. a relationship between Λ and the radius of the compact
extra dimension. We know from eqn.(16)
∞  2 ∞
X 4π X
m4n = (n41 + n42 + n21 n22 ) (11) 1
n1,n2=1
R2 n1,n2=1 hEvac i = Λ ∝ (17)
R4
 2 An easier way of developing this relationship is to put
4π things in terms of Hubble’s constant H which describes
2 ζ(0)ζ(−4) + ζ 2 (−2
 
= (12)
R2 the rate of expansion of space per unit distance of space.
4

This remarkable result indicates that in a vacuum,


√ the shear of a contracting dimension is able to inflate the
H∝ Λ, (18) remaining dimensions. In other words the expansion of
the 3-volume is associated with the contraction of the
or in terms of the radius of the extra dimension we have one-volume.
1 Even in the limit of flat spacetime with zero cosmo-
H∝ . (19) logical constant, general relativity shows that the physics
R2
of the compactified space effects the expansion rate of
This result indicates that a sufficiently advanced tech- the non-compact space.The main difference to note here
nology with the ability to locally increase or decrease the is that the quantum field theoretic result demonstrates
radius of the extra dimension would be able to locally that a fixed compactification radius can also result in ex-
adjust the expansion and contraction of spacetime cre- pansion of the three-volume as is shown in eqn.(16) due
ating the hypothetical warp bubble discussed earlier. A to the Casimir effect, whereas the general relativistic ap-
spacecraft with the ability to create such a bubble will proach suggests that a changing compactifification radius
always move inside its own local light-cone. However the results in expansion. Both add credibility to the warp
ship can utilize the expansion of space-time behind the drive concept presented here.
ship to move away from some object at any desired speed
or equivalently to contract the space-time in front of the
ship to approach any object. VI. ENERGY REQUIREMENTS
In the context of general relativity a similar phe-
nomenology is produced for the case of anisotropic cos- In this section we perform some elementary calcula-
mological models, in which it is the contraction of the tions to determine how much energy would be required
extra dimension that has the effect of expanding another to reach superluminal speeds. We also determine an ab-
[19]. For example consider a ‘toy’ universe with one ad- solute speed limit based on fundamental physical limita-
ditional spatial dimension with the following metric tions.
The currently accepted value for the Hubble constant
is 70 km/sec/Mpsc. A straightforward conversion into
ds2 = dt2 − a2 (t)d~x2 − b2 (t)dy 2 (20) SI units gives H = 2.17 × 10−18 (m/s)/m. This tells us
In this toy universe we will assume spacetime is empty, that one meter of space expands to two meters of space
that there is no cosmological constant and that all spatial if one were prepared to wait two billion billion seconds or
dimensions are locally flat. sixty five billion years. The fundamental idea behind the
warp drive presented in this paper is to increase Hubbles
constant such that space no longer expands at such a
Tµν = Λgµν = 0 (21) sedentary rate, but locally expands at an arbitrarily fast
velocity. For example, if we want space to locally expand
The action of the Einstein theory of gravity generalized at the speed of light, a simple calculation shows us by
to five dimensions will be what factor we would need to increase H.

108
 2
Hc

M5 (5)
Z
≈ −18 = 1026
p
S (5) = d4 xdy −g (5) R (22) (26)
16π H 10
Where Hc is the ‘modified’ Hubble constant (subscript
Solving the vacuum Einstein equations c for speed of light). This results implies that H would
have to be increased by a factor of 1026 for space to ex-
Gµν = 0, (23) pand at the speed of light. Since we know that H ∝ R12 ,
we can naively form the relation
we obtain for the G11 component

Hc R2
3ȧ(bȧ + aḃ) = 2 = 1026 (27)
G11 = (24) H Rc
a2 b
or,
Rewriting ȧa = Ha and ḃb = Hb where Ha and Hb
corresponds to the Hubble constant in three space and
the Hubble constant in the extra dimension respectively, Rc = 10−13 R (28)
we find that solving for G11 = 0 yields
Where Rc is the modified radius of the extra dimen-
sion. This indicates that the extra dimensional radius
Ha = −Hb . (25) must be locally reduced by a factor of 1013 to stimulate
5

space to expand at the speed of light. In the ADD model extra-dimensional radius of 10−6 m which is the upper
the size of the extra dimension can be as large as 10−6 m. bound based on current experimental limits. Using these
If we use this number as a prototype extra-dimensional values and the known value of H in SI units we obtain
radius, this would have to be shrunk to 10−19 m for
lightspeed expansion.
Hmax = 1058 H ≈ 1040 (m/s)/m (33)
An interesting calculation is the energy required to A quick conversion into multiples of the speed of light
create the necessary warp bubble. The accepted value of reveals
the cosmological constant is Λ ≈ 10−47 (GeV )4 . Convert-
ing again into SI units gives Λ ≈ 10−10 J/m3 . Now, for
Vmax = 1032 c, (34)
a warp bubble expanding at the speed of light we would
to increase this again by a factor of 1052 as we have
need √ which would require on the order of 1099 Kg of anti-
H ∝ Λ . We can say matter, more mass energy than is contained within the
universe. At this velocity it would be possible to cross
the known universe in a little over 10−15 seconds.
Λc = 1052 Λ = 1042 J/m3 (29) The authors wish to reiterate that the calculations in
the previous two sections are extremely ‘back of the en-
where Λc is the local value of the cosmological con- velope’ and merely serve as interesting figures to contem-
stant when space is expanding at c. Let us consider a plate, based on the formula
spacecraft of dimensions
1
hEvac i = Λ ∝ . (35)
Vcraf t = 10m × 10m × 10m = 1000m3. (30) R4
Note that it is not really possible to travel faster than
If we postulate that the warp bubble must, at least, light in a local sense. One can however, make a round
encompass the volume of the craft, the total amount of trip between two points in an arbitrarily short time as
energy ‘injected’ locally would equal measured by an observer who remained at rest at the
starting point. See [24] for details on violations of the
null energy conditions and causality.
Ec = Λc × Vcraf t = 1045 J. (31)

Assuming some arbitrarily advanced civilization were VIII. CONCLUSIONS


able to create such an effect we might postulate that
this civilization were able to utilize the most efficient
method of energy production - matter antimatter anni- In this paper we have calculated the vacuum energy
hilation. Using E = mc2 this warp bubble would require due to extra dimensional graviton contributions to the
around 1028 Kg of antimatter to generate, roughly the Casimir energy and associated this energy with the cos-
mass-energy of the planet Jupiter. mological constant. It has been shown that this energy is
intimately related to the size of the extra dimension. We
This energy requirement would drop dramatically if have picked the ADD model, however similar approaches
we assumed a thin-shell of modified spacetime instead of can be used for alternative models, for example the RS
bubble encompassing the volume of the craft. model of warped extra dimension where a similar relation
can be found.
We have proposed that a sufficiently advanced civi-
VII. ULTIMATE SPEED LIMIT lization could utilize this relation to generate a localized
expansion/contraction of spacetime creating a ‘warp bub-
ble’ in which to travel at arbitrarily high velocities. One
It is known from string theory that the absolute min-
vital aspect of future research would be how to locally
imum size for an extra dimension is the Planck length,
manipulate an extra dimension. String theory suggests
10−35 m. This places an ultimate speed limit on the ex-
that dimensions are globally held compact by strings
pansion of space based on the idea that there is a limit
wrapping around them [6], [9]. If this is indeed the case,
to the minimum radius of the extra dimension. From the
then it may be possible to even locally increase or de-
above arguments it is straightforward to form the relation
crease the string tension, or even locally counter the ef-
fects of some string winding modes. This would achieve
Hmax R2 10−12 the desired effect of changing the size of the extra dimen-
= 2 = −70 = 1058 . (32) sions which would lead to propulsion under this model.
H Rmin 10
It would thus be prudent to research this area further and
Here Hmax is the maximum rate of spacetime expan- perform calculations as to the energies required to affect
sion based on the minimum radius of the extra dimension an extra dimension and to try and relate this energy to
Rmin . In this formula we have again used a prototype the acceleration a spacecraft might experience.
6

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