Thursday, March 11, 2010
Space.com has an article here titled "warp speed will kill you", a good example of an error often seen in science-related articles whereby a single assumption is used to extrapolate on a much wider area than it should actually apply.
The gist of the article is this: warp speed will kill you because at that velocity even the tiniest particles found throughout the near vacuum of space will hit the ship at such a high velocity that everyone on the ship will be killed in an instant. The problem with this is that it's based on the assumption that we have warp speed (a technology we're nowhere close to reaching), but that for some reason all the other technology we have has stood still all this time. In Star Trek a deflector dish is used to avoid ships being hit by particles as they move through space at warp speed, but the author of the article has decided that even in this theoretical future (which may not even be physically possible) a ship would still need lead to protect itself, claiming that it would need a 4.4 to 4400 metre thick wall of lead to protect itself. But why make the assumption that only propulsive technology develops while everything else stays exactly the way it is in 2010? So no, warp speed (or near-warp speed) won't kill people for this reason because we're already aware of the issue and no ship will be sent off at such a velocity before it is straightened out.
At the least the comments are interesting, and it's a discussion worth having. Apparently the only way to achieve faster than light speeds anyway would be to create a kind of warp bubble where the fabric of space and time itself differs inside from outside, so that the ship would actually not be moving (in its own region of space) but the end result would be travel faster than light. Whether this can be done or not we still aren't certain, but what is certain is that by the time we reach that point we won't be resorting to primitive lead shielding to protect the ship.
Another article on space.com from late January (I wrote about it here) was of a similar nature, attempting to extrapolate the value of unobtanium in Avatar (about 150 years from now) based on simple inflation. But once again, attempting to extrapolate from a single variable like that just isn't possible.