Friday, August 13, 2010

Adrian Newey's warp drive

According to relativity, nothing can move faster through empty space, than the local speed at which zero-mass particles move through empty space. Light is composed of zero-mass particles called photons, hence the local limit on the speed of motion is expressed in terms of the local speed of light.

However, on a non-local basis, the time taken to travel between two spatial locations is dependent upon the geometry of the path traversed between those two locations. By creating or choosing the appropriate path, the journey can be completed before a beam of light taking a different path. This fact was ably demonstrated by Miguel Alcubierre's 1994 proposal for a warp drive space-time.

The basic idea of Alcubierre's warp drive is that a spaceship, residing within a bubble of flat space, could surf a wave of distorted space-time geometry, and reach its destination faster than light travelling outside the bubble. This trick would be achieved by contracting the space in front of the bubble, and expanding it behind. The spaceship reaches its destination rapidly because it travels a very short distance, not because it exceeds the local speed of light. The Einstein field equations, however, suggest that such a space-time geometry would require negative energy fields, and whilst the experimentally verified Casimir effect seems to point to the existence of such fields on small scales, doubts remain about their viability over macroscopic length-scales.

Meanwhile, in Formula 1, the debate continues over how Adrian Newey's Red Bull RB6 is able to run its front wing so close to the ground. The simplest explanation is that the front wing possesses a certain non-linear aeroelasticity, and given that the Red Bull's rear diffuser is less sensitive to ride height variations than most, the car can also be set-up with a large degree of rake. One might say that the Red Bull is surfing a wave of distorted airflow, the front of the car contracting the aerodynamic streamlines, the rear allowing them to expand again, whilst the driver resides between in a bubble of stable serenity. This, then, is Adrian Newey's warp drive, and it enables the Red Bull RB6 to reach its destination faster than any car designed outside Milton Keynes.


Anonymous said...

I like your analogy with the speed of light, of Adrian Newey's Red Bull RB6 racing within a bubble of "flat space", with all the other cars outside the "bubble" eating its dust.

The question is: will F1 race adjudicators at some stage decide to prick Red Bull RB6's "flat space" bubble on the grounds of its alleged active suspension? I'm assuming that the active suspension (if it has one) enhances the car's ability to race within the "bubble".

Gordon McCabe said...

Active suspension? Well, something akin to that was suggested earlier in the year to explain Red Bull's qualifying pace, but alternative explanations were eventually proferred.