It has captured the imaginations of science fiction fans the world over - the possibility of traveling to distant worlds in the blink of an eye - but it has remained little more than fantasy.
We currently occupy a time where a significant technological deficit prevents us from considering such propositions, but that does not mean that interstellar travel could not one day become reality. And, it seems, that we have taken one more step toward that goal.
In order to get around the cosmic speed limit, the concept of warp drive was introduced. Such a scenario would actually cause space-time around a space craft to expand and contract, creating a cosmic wave, if you will, upon which the ship would ride.
While Einstein's equations preclude mass from traveling at speeds greater than that of light, space-time itself has no known limitations. So creating a bubble of space-time that moves faster than the speed of light that carries a space ship along with it - that, in effect is stationary in reference to the space-time bubble - is a clever end around the limitations of physics.
However, there has always been a problem with this hypothetical warp drive: Energy.
Even if we possessed the technological knowledge to effectively warp space-time around an entire ship, which we don't, the energy needed was always thought to be prohibitive. However, a new design suggests that there may be ways to dramatically reduce the energy needed.
While there is still a long way to go - these new designs would still require roughly the entire electricity output for the entire world for an entire year just to get the thing going - these strides point to a future where, with more study, the idea of warp drive may no move from being highly improbable to possible.
Image Credit: Harold White/NASA