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I couldn't figure this one out. Has anyone? I know it's about anti-matter and some kind of reactor, but what is it supposed to be doing?

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2 Answers 2

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The matter-antimatter reaction is just the energy source for the work it has to do. The energy created by the reactor is used by the warp gondolas to build the warp field: this deforms the space-time-continuum.

So the spaceship itself isn't accelerating; the warp field makes the ship "falling" into the direction it should go. This has some side-effects, as moving in a direction other than straight forward is highly discouraged because of the damage done to the ship's hull.

You may picture it as if there would be a strong gravitational force in front of the spaceship which drags it through the room.

Image of the NX-01s warpfield

As you can see, the time-space-continuum in the front of the ship is compressed, where in the back it is stretched. In the light gray area the normal room isn't altered. As a side-effect a observer outside of the warp field sees the ship stretched (like at the end of the intros).

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That would explain why, in season 7, there is a restriction to the amount of "warping" done, and the structural damage to subspace. Thanks! –  Ioannis Karadimas Jan 12 '11 at 8:13
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happy to help, i've added an additional picture to explain it a little bit better :) –  Samuel Herzog Jan 12 '11 at 8:16
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It also helps that they were worried a single galaxy would become too small if they kept increasing the speed of the ships. That is part of the reason they reindex warp factors from TSO to TNG and made warp 10+ basicly infinite. –  Matthew Whited Feb 20 '11 at 13:59
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The notion of space in front being compressed and space behind being expanded is how the theoretical Alcubierre Drive is supposed to work, but it has nothing to do with how Star Trek sources have explained things. For example, the Star Trek Voyager Technical Manual at cygnus-x1.net/links/lcars/… (which was written for the production staff to use as a reference) says on p. 32 that the warp field "suspends the ship in a bubble of subspace. In other words, the ship is partially existing in another universe." –  Hypnosifl Jun 4 at 22:40

This type of warp drive is known as an Alcubierre drive, proposed by the Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre.

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Except that Miguel Alcubierre proposed the system in 1994, as a real-science explanation for Star Trek warp drives. It's a retronym - warp drive existed in sci-fi before real science could explain it feasibly. –  KeithS Nov 30 '11 at 20:35
    
But his theory holds. It will take a few stars worth of energy to move the mass of a starship at FTL, but the math is valid, lol –  OghmaOsiris Nov 30 '11 at 21:24
    
great info, +1 from me :) –  Samuel Herzog Mar 5 '12 at 13:13
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NASA researcher Harold White has proposed that changing the geometry of the exotic matter-energy distribution in the Alcubierre drive from a bubble to a doughnut, and then oscillating the energy intensity, brings the mass-energy requirement down to 700 kg or less. –  RobertF Sep 30 '13 at 16:26
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This answer would be better if it explained what an Alcubierre drive is. It's currently little more than a link-only answer. –  Keen Jun 4 at 21:42

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