Note to Captain Kirk: Warp speed will kill you

Pesky interstellar hydrogen does for Star Trek


A US boffin has effectively put the mockers on Star Trek-style warp speed travel to the stars by warning that interstellar hydrogen gas would become deadly to humans as they approached the speed of light.

Professor William Edelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explained to New Scientist that while interstellar space has just a couple of hydrogen atoms per cubic centimetre, as the crew of the Enterprise hit the gas pedal, a compression effect would greatly increase the number of atoms hitting the spacecraft.

As the spaceship reached 99.999998 per cent of the speed of light, "hydrogen atoms would seem to reach a staggering 7 teraelectron volts", which for the crew "would be like standing in front of the Large Hadron Collider beam".

This is a very bad thing, because humans in the path of this ray would receive a dose of ionising radiation of 10,000 sieverts, and as Bones McCoy would doubtless confirm, the lethal dose is 6 sieverts.

The result? Death in one second.

The spacecraft's structure would do little to mitigate the effects of the killer hydrogen. Edelstein "calculates that a 10-centimetre-thick layer of aluminium would absorb less than 1 per cent of the energy", and the intense doses of radiation would damage the ship's structure and fry its electronics.

Edelstein grimly concluded: "Hydrogen atoms are unavoidable space mines."

The professor presented his killer calculations to an American Physical Society meeting in Washington DC on Saturday.

Bootnote

Of course, Edelstein's conclusions are based on current scientific knowledge. No doubt future spacecraft designers will deploy advanced radiation-resistant alloys and magnetic shielding to protect Federation staff from instant death.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022