In mainstream science, especially rocket science, building a rocket that is capable of attaining the speed of light is akin to fantasy, like using a mirror to enter Wonderland.
Now however, there are two physicists who insist that using black-holes (or singularities) to power spaceships is not only possible, but it’s the very reason black-holes are in the Universe to begin with:
In August, physicist Jia Liu at New York University outlined his design for a spacecraft powered by dark matter (arxiv.org/abs/0908.1429v1). Soon afterwards, mathematicians Louis Crane and Shawn Westmoreland at Kansas State University in Manhattan proposed plans for a craft powered by an artificial black hole (arxiv.org/abs/0908.1803).
No one disputes that building a ship powered by black holes or dark matter would be a formidable task. Yet remarkably there seems to be nothing in our present understanding of physics to prevent us from making either of them. What’s more, Crane believes that feasibility studies like his touch on questions in cosmology that other research hasn’t considered.
Aside from the technological challenges, Crane thinks black hole starships may also have remarkable philosophical implications. Crane first started thinking about artificial black holes 12 years ago when physicist Lee Smolin, now at Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, asked Crane to read the manuscript of his book The Life of the Cosmos.
Nobody knows what happens at the singularity of a black hole, the point where space and time become so warped that the laws of relativity break down. In his book, Smolin suggested that a new universe could be created and bud off. So universes in which black holes are likely to arise will give birth to more and more such universes. This means that our universe could be a baby universe, and is more likely to have come from one that is good at making black holes than one that isn’t.
Crane then wondered what would happen if intelligent civilisations could make black holes. This would mean that life in these universes played a key role in the proliferation of baby universes. Smolin felt the idea was too outlandish and left it out of his book. But Crane has been thinking about it on and off for the last decade.
He believes we are seeing Darwinian selection operating on the largest possible scale: only universes that contain life can make black holes and then go on to give birth to other universes, while the lifeless universes are an evolutionary dead end.
His latest calculations made him realise how uncanny it was that there could be a black hole at just the right size for powering a starship. “Why is there such a sweet spot?” he asks. The only reason for an intelligent civilisation to make a black hole, he sees, is so it can travel the universe.
“If this hypothesis is right,” he says, “we live in a universe that is optimised for building starships!” (italics mine)
That’s quite a hypothesis to pronounce and one that will no doubt be tested to the maximum in the near future.