Sometimes It’s The Little Things
I was reading a very interesting book (about the “Electric Universe”, more on that in another posting after I ponder it a bit more…) and in the first chapter or two there was one of those “little things” that makes you think…
They were making a point about folks getting sloppy in science ( in cosmology in particular ) and pointed out that many folks treated Mass and Matter as interchangeable, when they are not. Mass is a property of matter, but mass can change (for example with speed). And they pointed out that in E=MC^2 the M is Mass not Matter, yet folks often talk about turning matter into energy in a nuclear reaction.
The Trouble with S.O.L.
When you try to go the Speed Of Light ( C in the above equation ), you have a hard wall in front of you. As you approach the S.O.L. you gain mass. This means it takes ever more energy to make the next small increment of acceleration to higher speeds, eventually becoming infinite at the S.O.L. point. Bummer.
The common wisdom (the “consensus” if you will) is that this prevents travel at near the speed of light, since any energy source you would use is of limited capacity and will run out of power before you could even get close to the speed of light.
Smith’s Infinite Power Drive
But what that Little Thing pointed out to me was that as you approach C, an onboard nuclear reactor will be continuing to convert MASS to energy in proportion to your increased ship mass. Each atom in the reactor is increasing in MASS in proportion to the ship mass. So a nuclear powered ship will have available energy that is also approaching infinity, and in direct proportion to the ships mass.
Basically, a nuclear powered space ship ought to retain the same proportional thrust and acceleration at all fractions of C since the mass of the ship and the mass of the fuel turned to power retain their respective ratios.
If this power is used to produce thrust via something like an ion drive, the ions being shot out the back will also have a very high rest mass in the drive. This means that the force applied to them to accelerate them to ejection speed will also increase in proportion to speed. You will not need a vast store of matter to eject for the next increment of speed, just the same small number of ions as at any other speed. As you approach C, the reaction mass is also approaching infinity (but again, in proportion to the ship mass).
So I’m left looking at this and thinking that this explains what would really happen and why the folks on board would not notice anything odd about their ship as they approach the speed of light. The nuclear reactor, ion drive, everything; they all will appear normal and unchanged. And if you were accelerating at 1/100 G from the rest frame, you ought to continue to accelerate at 1/100 G as you approach the speed of light.
The implication is that a Near Speed of Light spaceship is possible.
(Just don’t hit anything while going that fast ;-) One speck of dust could ruin your whole day…)
Oh, and it might need a bit of engineering too … I’m hoping that the ability of copper to carry power is a function of mass, and not number of atoms, as you approach C. Otherwise there will be a tiny problem of getting your near infinite nuclear power to the ion drive 8-}
And nobody gets to call the “Near Light Speed Drive” the “Near-LSD” either, OK?
See what happens when I take a day off to read something new….