Friday, April 27, 2007

Up next: how to get there

I'm feeling even nerdier than usual with the news of Gliese 581c, so let's take a look at a potential faster-than-light propulsion system...
If the experiment gets the go-ahead and works, it could reveal new interactions between the fundamental forces of nature that would change the future of space travel. Forget spending six months or more holed up in a rocket on the way to Mars, a round trip on the hyperdrive could take as little as 5 hours. All our worries about astronauts' muscles wasting away or their DNA being irreparably damaged by cosmic radiation would disappear overnight. What's more the device would put travel to the stars within reach for the first time. But can the hyperdrive really get off the ground?...

Yet the theorem has proved surprisingly powerful. The standard model of physics, which is generally accepted as the best available theory of elementary particles, is incapable of predicting a particle's mass. Even the accepted means of estimating mass theoretically, known as lattice quantum chromodynamics, only gets to between 1 and 10 per cent of the experimental values.

But in 1982, when researchers at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg implemented Heim's mass theorem in a computer program, it predicted masses of fundamental particles that matched the measured values to within the accuracy of experimental error. If they are let down by anything, it is the precision to which we know the values of the fundamental constants. Two years after Heim's death in 2001, his long-term collaborator Illobrand von Ludwiger calculated the mass formula using a more accurate gravitational constant. "The masses came out even more precise," he says.
I give major points to any crackpot theory that actually turns out to have empirical value. Whether it actually comes to anything is quite another matter, clearly, and my knowledge of quantum physics is only marginally better than a chimps, so there's a definite "caveat lector" warning here.

1 comment:

Closet Liberal said...

Reading through the theory with my own admittedly chimp like knowledge of quantum physics (at least I'm not alone there), I kept getting visions of Babylon-5's gate technology.

That would be ultra-cool.