Research Sheds Some Light on Hyperspace Travel

According to physics students from the University of Leicester, the United Kingdom, space travelers would not see the light from stars stretching past their ship as we are shown in movies.

What University of Leicester physics students suggest hyperspace travel would really look like (University of Leicester)

In films, spacecraft are equipped with hyperdrives which allow them to approach the speed of light. As the hyperdrive is engaged, every star in the sky is seen to stretch before the characters’ eyes as the ship speeds through the galaxy. However, a team of University of Leicester students has shown that this would not be the case.

The findings appear in two papers published in the University of Leicester’s Journal of Physics Special Topics (paper1 & paper2).

They have shown that the crew would actually see a central disc of bright light. There would be no sign of stars because of the Doppler effect – the same effect which causes the siren of an ambulance to become higher in pitch as it comes towards you.

Doppler blue shift is a phenomenon caused by a source of electromagnetic radiation – including visible light – moving towards an observer. The effect means that the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation will be shortened.

From spaceship crew’s point of view, the wavelength of the light from stars will decrease and ‘shift’ out of the visible spectrum into the X-ray range.

They would simply see a central disc of bright light as Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is shifted into the visible spectrum. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is radiation left behind from the Big Bang, and is spread across the universe fairly uniformly.

The team found after further investigation that the intense X-rays from stars would push the ship back, causing it to slow down. Their calculations also show that crew would need to store extra amounts of energy on a ship to overcome this pressure in order to continue on their journeys.

An example of how movies suggest hyperspace travel would look like (University of Leicester)

“The resultant effects we worked out were based on Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, so while we may not be used to them in our daily lives,” crew should certainly understand its implications, said co-author Joshua Argyle.

“Perhaps Disney should take the physical implications of such high speed travel into account in their forthcoming films,” added co-author Katie Dexter.


Bibliographic information: Connors R, Argyle J, Dexter K, Scoular C. 2012. Relativistic Optics Strikes Back. Journal of Physics Special Topics, vol. 11, no. 1

Argyle J, Connors R, Dexter K, Scoular C. 2012. Relativistic Optics. Journal of Physics Special Topics, vol. 11, no. 1