Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Physics of the Embassy Universe, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a blog series dedicated to the scientific concepts I use within my science-fiction novels Embassy and Resonance, Books 1 and 2 of the Recovery Series

TPEU #1: The Barrier Law

I’m not gonna lie: I didn’t think up the Barrier Law until halfway through writing Resonance, Book 2 in the Recovery Series. But when it comes down to it, Barrier Law is my favorite concept of the entire series (tied for first, actually. There’s one big concept that’s yet to be introduced…)

The Barrier Law (as it’s called in Resonance) is what allows space stations to travel in FTL (faster than light speed). In the novel, dark matter acts as a non-Newtonian substance. What’s a non-Newtonian substance, you ask? Have you ever seen what happens when you mix cornstarch and water? When you run or jump on the mixture, nothing happens! Except maybe your feet get a bit gooey. But when you stop moving, you sink right through! (and it’s VERY difficult to get out).

A non-Newtonian fluid is a substance that has variable viscosity. Put simply, it acts like a solid under certain conditions, and a liquid under others.

So how does this relate to the Barrier Law?

As I said, the Barrier Law allows certain massive spacecraft to travel in FTL to achieve interstellar travel between planets. In my book series, dark matter acts as a non-Newtonian substance, meaning, under most conditions, spacecraft will travel through it and not interact with it at all….but under certain conditions, spacecraft are able to use dark matter both as an energy source AND as a “highway” to another star system.

What ARE those conditions?

There are a number of conditions that must be met in order for spacecraft to interact with dark matter.

First, and most obvious: there needs to be dark matter to interact with. DUH!! Luckily for the characters in my books, dark matter is pretty much everywhere….outside of a solar system. For sake of the physical laws in the Recovery Series, dark matter is not massively present within solar systems due to the influence of each solar system’s sun.

To reach a spot that has dark matter, spacecraft must fly outside the heliosphere – the area of solar wind influence for any given star – before they find a patch of dark matter stable enough to interact with and be propelled into FTL.

The spacecraft in my books have engines that can accelerate them to 61.8% light-speed within the heliosphere…but outside the heliosphere, they aren’t much use.

But that’s okay!! Because traveling at 61.8% light-speed is the velocity required to interact with dark matter – our non-Newtonian substance. Any slower, and the spacecraft would pass right through. (And the engines physically can’t accelerate spacecraft to faster than 61.8%. In fact, they deliberately adjust for gravity assist, slowing the craft to prevent it from traveling any faster).

What happens now?

When spacecraft interact with dark matter, as I described, it acts as a “solid” substance. Imagine some sort of low-density cosmic goop. You’re still traveling through space-time, but now you’re pushing through this gel of dark matter.

And that's where stuff gets weird.

Another set of the spacecraft’s engines can now “inhale” dark matter and use it as fuel. The thrust provided by this dark matter fuel accelerates the spacecraft to approximately 166x the speed of light, or a little less than 1 light-year every 2 Earth days (just about 53 hours, to be exact. In fact, the galactic calendars in my books are measured in hours, not days, because hours are measured the same on all planets…but that’s a post for another time. Hehe, time).

Dark matter fills up most of the galaxy, so running out of an energy source (soon, at least) isn’t a problem. What IS a problem is general relativity – the relative motion part.

I’ll get to that in a second, but let’s take a quick step back: when the spacecraft enters the dark matter, it begins to “drag” the dark matter with it, and, inevitably, there’s a “barrier” that forms a sort of cosmic tunnel (wormholes, anyone?).

No, not a wormhole…not exactly. Don’t think of the Barrier in my books as a wormhole. No stargates here.

The Barrier starts out wide, but shrinks in diameter as the spacecraft pushes forward and stretches out the length of the tunnel. So non-stop trips across the galaxy are impossible. The maximum distance any spacecraft can travel is roughly 20 light-years…so a bunch of pit stops are in order.

Back to General Relativity.

Remember how I said that traveling slower than 61.8% light-speed means you can’t interact with dark matter? Well, in my books, there are theories that say describing how something vastly different will happen if you exert more force on the Barrier (physicists and engineers in the books are still unsure, but they’ve run models to make predictions).

If an object, say, a Molter (equivalent of a fighter jet in space) were to depart from the spacecraft’s hangar and accelerate (thus traveling with stronger force relative to the spacecraft), theories predict that the dark matter barrier would rupture in a sort of explosion. Maybe the Barrier would collapse. Maybe the energy would rip apart everything inside the barrier. Maybe, with enough force, it could cause an explosion with all the energy that’s being channeled into powering the spacecraft.

Basically, physicists are in agreement: DO NOT. BREAK. THE BARRIER.

Put simply, pilots free-flying outside a spacecraft during interstellar transit have a specific range they’re allowed to fly in, and flying too close to the edge of the Barrier is definitely frowned upon. It’s never happened, and nobody is eager to find out if the theories are true (because the only way to measure interactions with the Barrier and dark matter is to be inside it at the same time).

How do you drop out of the Barrier?

Dropping out of the Barrier is easy! The spacecraft decelerates, the force interacting with the dark matter lessens, and it returns to its “fluid” condition, the non-interactive condition.

Remember how a spacecraft cannot interact with dark matter until it breaches the heliosphere of a star? Well, the same is not true in reverse. A spacecraft can drag the dark matter barrier into a heliosphere. The Barrier, of course, will gradually weaken under these conditions, but it’s possible.

That being said, it’s standard protocol to drop out of the Barrier well before entering a heliosphere – for a number of reasons:

First and foremost, you don’t want to smash into a star, planet, or asteroid field. Cruising at 166x light-speed isn’t exactly maneuverable, even at large distances within a solar system. Adjusting course on a large scale within the Barrier would generate too much force to remain contained.

Second, remember, normal matter can interact with the Barrier in this condition. That means it has a significant amount of gravity and a significant amount of energy, which would be devastating to stars and planets, not to mention massively disrupting the orbits of planets and debris. It just wouldn’t be a happy ending for anyone.

It would go boom…probably…and that would be bad.

So by decelerating a spacecraft well before entering a star’s heliosphere, you harmlessly slip through the Barrier, the dark matter returns to its normal state, and everybody avoids having a bad day.

So let's recap:

  • In my books, dark matter acts as a non-Newtonian substance under certain conditions.
  • Barrier Law refers to how a spacecraft interacts with and manages interstellar travel within a “barrier” of dark matter.
  • The spacecraft must be traveling at 61.8% light-speed, and exit the heliosphere to generate a barrier.
  • Once within the Barrier, it’s theorized that exerting substantial extra force/attempting to achieve a greater velocity will cause the Barrier to collapse, rip, or explode.
  • Traveling inside the Barrier allows a spacecraft to reach a peak velocity of 166x light-speed, or 1 light-year every 53 hours.
  • The diameter of the Barrier decreases over time, so a spacecraft must drop out after 20 light years. In order to travel from Artaans to Belvun (the furthest travel distance in my books), a spacecraft would need to drop out of the Barrier 2x before reaching its final destination.
  • Drop outs must occur near a solar system so the spacecraft can use the energy from the nearby star to accelerate back to 61.8%.
  • Dropping out too far away is essentially a death sentence.
  • Dragging the Barrier into a solar system will obliterate the stability of that solar system due to its gravity and the energy contained within it.
  • To drop out, a spacecraft need only decelerate back to below 61.8% light-speed.

So there you go! The first of what will hopefully be several posts about the science and physical concepts in my books, Embassy and Resonance.

I hope you enjoyed reading about this! At some point in the future, I plan to compile all of these into a book/ebook that you can add to your collection!

If you have any questions regarding Barrier Law, just ask! I’m open to all questions and will explain whatever you need me to.

If this piqued your interest, please check out my books!


S. Alex Martin


Purchase EMBASSY


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