What Would You See Traveling at Warp Speed?

posted by Eric Davis on January 22, 2014


Of interest is how the forward and aft starfields appear to starship crews who visually monitor their flight progress using either electronic visual displays or windows during faster-than-light flight (FTL) or while traversing a wormhole. Ford and Roman [1] and Clark et al. [2] show that for a warp drive starship at FTL speed, the angular deflection and redshift of photons propagating through the distortion of the warp bubble is such that stars in the forward and reverse hemispheres will appear closer to the direction of motion than they would to an observer at rest. The stars in the forward direction will be strongly blueshifted and in the aft direction they will be strongly redshifted. The light from stars directly overhead, underneath or to the sides remains unaffected by the aberration (see Figure 1). This aberration is qualitatively similar to that caused by Special Relativity for the case of relativistic rockets [3-5]. This suggests that visual guide/reference stars and typical star maps will be useless for warp drive starship navigation. Real-time electronic visual displays will be required to display accurate virtual starfields and maps, and they must have computer algorithms that perform real-time adjustments to account for the effects of FTL aberration in order to display visually meaningful views and maps.



Figure 1. Forward and Aft Window Views Onboard Warp Drive Starship (from Reference 1).


 The view through a traversable wormhole is even worse. The negative energy density threading a wormhole throat generates repulsive gravity, which will then deflect light rays going through and around it. The entrance to the (spherically symmetric) wormhole would look like a sphere that contained the mirror image of a whole other universe or remote region within our universe, incredibly shrunken and distorted (see Figure 2) [6]. This is a topological inversion of images manifested in spherically symmetric wormhole geometry. If one were to travel through the wormhole and look back at it from the other side, then they would see a sphere (the entry way back home) that seemed to contain their whole original universe or their home region of space near Earth (within your universe). This would look just like a glass Christmas tree ornament, which is just a spherical mirror that reflects, in principle, the entire universe around it. Beams of light traveling inside the traversable wormhole throat would appear to be grossly distorted (see Figure 3). A flat-face traversable wormhole would not distort the image of the remote space region or other universe seen through it because the negative energy density at the throat is zero as seen and felt by light and matter passing through it (see Figure 4) [6].



Figure 2. A distorted, inverted view of a distant region in the universe as seen through a spherically symmetric traversable wormhole orbiting a star.


Figure 3. Distorted beams of light traveling through a spherically symmetric traversable wormhole throat.



Figure 4. The undistorted view through a flat-face traversable wormhole.





1. Ford, L. H., and Roman, T. A., “Negative Energy, Wormholes and Warp Drive,” Scientific American, Vol. 13, 2003, pp. 84-91.
2. Clark, C., Hiscock, W. A., and Larson, S. L., “Null geodesics in the Alcubierre warp drive spacetime: the view from the bridge,” Class. Quant. Grav., Vol. 16, 1999, pp. 3965-3972.
3. McKinley, J. M., and Doherty, P., “In search of the ‘starbow’: The appearance of the starfield from a relativistic spaceship,” Am. J. Phys., Vol. 47, 1979, pp. 309-316.
4. Stimets, R. W., and Sheldon, E., “The Celestial View From A Relativistic Starship,” JBIS, Vol. 34, 1981, pp. 83-99.
5. Sheldon, E., and Giles, R. H., “Celestial Views From Nonrelativistic And Relativistic Interstellar Spacecraft,” JBIS, Vol. 36, 1983, pp. 99-114.
6. Davis, E. W., “Faster-Than-Light Space Warps, Status and Next Steps,” JBIS, Vol. 66, 2013, pp. 68-84.

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6 Responses to What Would You See Traveling at Warp Speed?

  1. Gerry says:

    Dr. Davis, thanks for this interesting article. I have been following the papers and presentations on this line of research with great interest, and I am curious about a few things.

    First, to flip things around, what would a ship passing by in a warp bubble look like to a stationary observer “on the side of the road” outside the bubble? Would there be an effect similar to relativistic Lorentz length contraction, and/or perhaps a blast of Cerenkov radiation or even gravity waves, analogous to a sonic boom?

    Paul Woodward and Sonny White arrive at a similar place from different theoretical beginnings: a ring which generates a warp bubble. This ring embodies an amount of negative mass/energy, perhaps several hundred kg with some clever adjustments, according to Sonny White. Is there any indication of how that mass figure relates to the amount of energy needed to establish and maintain the effect? Would this mean 500kg of mass/energy per second (i.e. 4.6 * 10e19 joules) for instance?

    One more thing that I’ve always wondered about. Could we fly trajectories with these ships that ended up producing causality violations, from the point of view either of the travelers or of outside observers?

    From what I understand of GR, since there is FTL travel from the point of view of the outside universe (eg. Earth–>Alpha Centauri and back in two weeks), there must be some frame in which causality is violated even though the ship doesn’t actually move through spacetime faster than light. Rather than being a deal-breaker, perhaps this might offer an opportunity to probe the notions of Chronology Protection or the Multiverse experimentally…

  2. Ron Stahl says:

    Great stuff Eric! Have you seen Cramer’s recent stuff on wormhole navigation? I’m still looking for that. Also Jim has a nice bit online worth watching:


  3. Have you considered how the view would be different from a Van den Broeck warp bubble.

    Given the tiny orifice, I suspect you wouldn’t be able to see anything shorter wavelength than gamma rays, if that, but there might be some interesting quantum effects. “Witch Light?”

  4. rick collins says:

    The answer is probably nothing. I suspect that neither FTL propulson nor warp drive propulson are ever going to see the light of day and no one has yet detected traversable wormholes in nature. Iwish that there was either a fastrack or a shortcut to traverse 4lys or 100K lys or 22M lys. However I strongly suspect that there is not. I would like to be proven completely wrong. We will reach the stars just not at warp speed.

  5. william collins says:

    Probably not much. Odds are fairly high that warp drive propulsion and FTL propulsion are feasible means of interstellar/intergalatic exploration by human crewed vessels at least not in this physical universe. And no one has ever detected a traversable wormhole – probably a dream. It would be really great for me to be proven wrong during my lifetime!

  6. Asher Syed says:


    Thank you Dr. Eric for an excellent article. I would like to present some questions and ideas for you opinions.

    Is it possible to detect external gravitational forces from within the warp bubble?

    Will the gravitational forces intensify lets say on passing a nearby star at super luminal speed?

    Apart from the current discussion is it possible to stretch space, if so what will be limits of the stretch. That is, is there a similar analogy to Chandrasekhar’s limit?

    Best regards

    Asher Syed

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