The Physics of Faster Than Light Travel

Traveling faster than light?

The big physical limit that a Science Fiction writer must overcome is the speed of light. Einstein put a limit on speed that makes it almost impossible for man to reach the stars. There is no use arguing with relativity. The “C” limit is real and we can’t design ships that go faster than light. Physically, there doesn’t seem to be a way to go more than a small fraction of the speed of light. You can’t write a story that breaks this rule.

Writers use “Warp Drive”, “Stellar Drive”, “Hyper Drive” and “Subspace Drive” to describe ways of getting from here to there without going through the space in between, thereby getting around a loophole in relativity. Space can be warped or has a shape according to Einstein and there may exist a straight line path that is shorter than the normal space-time path that we normally take. These are described as Worm Holes by Hawking and others and it could very well be that we can create a worm hole and go through it.

I like the possibilities posed by an area in Physics called Bell’s Theorem. In 1964 J.S. Bell published a theorem which stated basically that Reality is Non-Local. Bell was talking about quantum theory. The basic issue is that Quantum Theory is a kind of Voodoo approach to science that won’t go away because it works so well. Einstein described it as “spooky action-at-a-distance” and made the statement that “God does not play at dice with the universe.” To which Niels Bohr, the chief proponent of Quantum Theory answered “Quit telling God what to do!”

By Non-Local, it is meant that the actions of something can be effected by things far away, instantaneously. This, sort of, means that all things affect all other things. We can say that a butterfly flapping his wings in China can create a tornado in Kansas. It also means that a butterfly flapping his wings on Ursa Beta prime could have the same effect. It seems to take the time and distance requirement away from science. Of course, the new age soft science and soft heads seem to think that it has deep philosophical meaning. The theorem only works with a class of quantum reactions and does not imply the transmission of any information or imply any kind of control. The theorem only describes the way you measure things.

But, if there is a way to travel faster than the speed of light then it might involve Bell’s theorem and it will be less like travel and more like teleportation. I think that we may be able to create a quantum potential for us to actually be millions of miles from where we actually are and fool quantum mechanics into instantly jumping us there.

So far Bell’s theorem is only used to explain a paradox in the way quantum interactions occur. It does not seem to be controllable in that we can make use of the way these non-local interactions happen. They aren’t even interactions in the way we are accustomed to thinking about action and reaction. There are more like after-the-fact explanations of what we have observed. The basic idea is compelling, however, and leads one to believe that there is a trick that can make this non-local idea very useful. A couple of generations of PhD candidates have failed to find the key to using Bell’s theorem. Maybe some tricky minded student will come up with something and make a name for himself and interstellar travelers out of the rest of us.


  • I am only in high school and I love physics. I think that “C” isn’t just the limit on speed, but also the limit on space, time, and matter. ANY velocity faster than “C” and the spacetime continuum will tear causing a wormhole. This is caused by the shear amount of energy obtained by traveling faster than “C”. Gravity, as you know, is able to bend light, which means that it’s force is greater than the speed of light. Since force is energy then gravity is a tear in the spacetime continuum. This statement also implies that matter tears the spacetime continuum, since matter does occupy space.

  • “You can’t write a story that breaks this rule.” Pretty funny. If you are writing FICTION you of course can do so. Otherwise, you are writing science FACT.

    • FTL is a requirement for certain kinds of SF.

      You can tap the top of your head and spin around three times widdershins and utter the magic words “warp drive”, in which case you have left Science Fiction and entered the realms of fantasy (or worse yet, fan fiction).

      You can also do the hard work and create a plausible scientific explanation for SF that is not a rip-off of every low budget space opera knockoff.

      The choice is yours, you can include the reasonable and believable sciencfictional elements that will make your story unique, or not worry about it because your readers don’t really care about the good stuff.

  • “You can tap the top of your head and spin around three times widdershins and utter the magic words “warp drive”, in which case you have left Science Fiction and entered the realms of fantasy ”

    Hardly. E.E. Doc was fantasy? LOL. Most space opera SF is then what you describe. Look up fiction and science.

    • Smith wrote Skylark of Space nearly 100 years ago. He talked about the aether and did not know about relativity. I think that he later revised the book to agree with Einstein, but for the time, his science was correct. Smith wrote long before the words Science Fiction were applied to the genre and books liek Skylark were called Science Fantasies by the critics of the time.

      Picking Space Opera as an example is unfortunate. Serious SF is a little different.

      I have strong opinions about what makes good SF. SF is more than science and fiction. If you have lower standards about the scifi that you like it is fine with me.

  • The Physics of Faster Than Light: Refer to the Alcubierre Metric promulgated by Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican physicist, in 1996 for a seemingly plausible theory of FTL travel that doesn’t breach Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. This is perhaps the only sensible framework extant for even a crumb of belief that FTL travel might be possible.If one cannot accept FTL travel as remotely plausible, then one has to agree that all works of Science Fiction in settings outside of our solar system, regardless of their literary excellence or scientific virtuosity, fall within the realm of “Fantasy” and should be categorized as such.

  • Light does not travel… Light is a chemical reaction process and a bi-product of Universal Respiration…

    Many of the problems associated with determining how the universe was created relates to the measurement of light, which is used to measure our distance from other star systems. Current theory regarding the motion of light, supports the speed of light at 186,000 mps. This is highly theoretical! I would like to propose to you that light doesn’t move at all like contemporary science tells us. Light as opposed to particles (photons) moving through space, is a chain reaction associated with the motion of electrons and moves at the speed of frequency, which is almost instantaneous! Light is a chemical reaction which would occur at a slightly slower speed but nevertheless, almost instantaneous. In other words, the light which is used to measure whether a star is moving away from a center, is inaccurate as we are seeing this light in almost “real time”!

    J.S. Thompson

    To read article in its entirety, visit

  • ‘ANY velocity faster than “C” and the spacetime continuum will tear causing a wormhole.’
    Really? Which textbook says that? If this was the case then when scientists thought that the light barrier had been broken (recent experiments…was faulty wiring) then they would have been looking for such a tear…they weren’t.

    ‘Gravity, as you know, is able to bend light…’
    Light doesn’t bend it follows a curved path caused by some gravitating body. In the macro universe gravity might be the major force but to say ‘…means that it’s force is greater than the speed of light..’ is mixing units. Do some re-writing to explain your thoughts


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I started reading Science Fiction in the 1950s. I started Writing SF in the 1960s. Then, I had a life. Now I am retired, raising chickens and keeping bees. I am still an avid reader and I have sold about 70 stories in the last 20 years.
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