We’re going to step into the middle of a nifty science and engineering controversy. Today. On Engineering Works! Listen to the podcast.
If you’ve ever taken a physics course, you know that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, 186,000 miles a second. Seven-hundred-million miles an hour. Everything physicists know says you can’t go faster. But some physicists and engineers think they can do an end run around the speed-of-light limit.
They say that ideas developed about 50 years ago by a German scientist named Burkhard Heim suggest that we could use a very strong magnetic field to push spacecraft into another dimension. A dimension where the physical laws that make the speed of light as fast as anything can go don’t exist.
The idea sounds like science fiction. And a lot of top physicists say that’s all it is. But if it’s real, it could mean traveling to Mars in three hours or to a nearby star in three months. The interesting part is that the Department of Energy has a device — the Z-machine — that could produce the kind of ultra-powerful magnetic field we’d need to see if the idea might work. If it does, researchers could be testing a working engine in five years.