Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sulu's Nightmare

A bit of an outlier of a topic for this space, but this article about orbiting space junk (which was prompted by China's destruction of an old satellite a few weeks ago) reminded me of something I've long wondered about. Assuming that one day we develop the ability for manned space travel to the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond -- presumably at speeds much faster than now possible -- won't the danger from naturally-occurring space debris make such travel perilous? It's becoming more of a problem, but for now we can track potential hazards in orbit fairly easily. But if a manned ship is traveling through deep space at Warp 8 (it probably indicates deep-seated psychological issues, but I think about this every time I see one of those wide shots of the Enterprise hurtling through space) won't it be impossible both to detect and avoid potentially damaging objects ahead of time? And won't the extreme speed of the spaceship make impact with even the smallest object hazardous? Will we have to develop a new type of shielding before such travel is possible?

All you Hopkins APL, Caltech, and MIT readers now have the chance to earn your keep in the comments section....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alert! This ship seems to have been overtaken by aliens.

2/08/2007 11:29 PM  
Blogger Azael said...

Hitting anything where the relative velocity is even a tiny, tiny fraction of light is dangerous (think bullets fired from a hand gun. they only move at a thousand feet per second - hardly moving at all compared to even orbital velocities). Heck, even *dust* is dangerous. At speeds that are a significant fraction of the speed of light - well, the damage would be astounding.

Still, assuming known physics, you ain't going to travel faster than light and consequently you'll be able to "see" things ahead of you via electromagnetic radiation. Whether you can actually avoid them is another question (think driving at 150 mph and trying to swerve around the pothole you just saw in front of you. Now try to do that at 50% of the speed of light). Inertia is a tough thing to change - even at a velocity which is a minor fraction of the speed of light.

As to how the Enterprise manages to miss these things at warp 8, we'll have to leave that to the consultants who work for the sci fi shows. Perhaps some virtuon particle field (my favorite particle invention from Next Gen) or a chonoton flux sensor.

2/09/2007 12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it deserves some testing by loading it with a team of super-Christians and seeing if prayer will work.

Let's start with a team of Falwell, Dobson, Haggert, and Swaggart.

2/09/2007 1:14 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

One word: Deflectors

"The navigational deflector is used while moving at faster-than-light speeds to prevent damage to ships' hulls from micrometeors and friction from the microscopic objects and extremely thin gas found in interstellar space. "

2/09/2007 7:06 AM  
Blogger OrganicGeorge said...

Raise sheilds #1

2/09/2007 10:28 AM  
Blogger Mark Horvath said...

Yes, even at high relativistic, sub-light speeds, simple starlight will get blue shifted from simple visible photons into high energy gamma radiation. At 99.9% the speed of light, simple background light will be giving you the equivilent of several chest x-rays per second.

2/09/2007 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2/09/2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

visible assuming what is in front emits em radiation.

2/09/2007 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Kilfarsnar said...

It was always my understanding that speed was not an issue in "warp". At that point the ship is warping space/time around them. This is how they are able to travel so fast; they are outside of space/time. So they don't have to worry about running into anything. This is also why they don't age differently from people on Earth. Since they are outside of space/time, time dilation does not occur.

Of course, this says nothing about how we might be able to go really really fast.

2/09/2007 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do the ships on Battlestar Galactica avoid hitting each other when they all jump together to (nearly) the same space?

2/09/2007 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe the shielding aspect might be more of an obstacle to manned interstellar travel than actual speed.

2/09/2007 12:56 PM  
Blogger James said...

Man tends to pollute wherever he goes. A bit sad I would say.

The image that crosses my mind is that of the Earth within a shell comprising all sorts of stuff that man has launched. The shell, over time, becomes difficult to pass through, from either direction. There are portals in the shell, like tollbooths on the interstate, through which one can pass for a fee.

There is an opportunity for aa mining business. I suspect there is a substantial amount of wealth in the shell.

2/09/2007 1:49 PM  
Anonymous NeilS said...

...won't the extreme speed of the spaceship make impact with even the smallest object hazardous?"

yes, very. And the speeds don't have to be relativistic.

"Will we have to develop a new type of shielding before such travel is possible?"

Probably not. Space is very, very big. The probability of hitting an object is thus very, very small. Not infinitesimal, but probably not worth worrying about.

"..navigational deflector is used while moving at faster-than-light speeds"

Both 'navigational deflector' and 'faster-than-light speeds' are science fiction. Ramscoops theoretically could scoop up hydrogen ions in space, but that is an atom, not an object.

2/09/2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger maeldon said...

I'm not in until they came "beam" me up ... or over ... or out ....

2/09/2007 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Less-wily editor said...

"Space is very, very big."

Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingy big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space...

2/10/2007 5:55 PM  
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