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THE CLOSEST NEIGHBORING STAR TO OUR SUN, a small red dwarf called Proxima Centauri, is about 4.24 light-years from Earth.

That might not sound like much — but even for one of the fastest spacecraft ever built by mankind, NASA’s interplanetary traveler New Horizons, it’d take more than 78,000 Earth years to travel there at top speed. If we ever want a chance of traveling to other parts of our galaxy, we’re going to have to go a lot faster than that.

One potential workaround would be a “warp drive,” popularized by the science fiction franchise “Star Trek,” which would bend the fabric of spacetime to achieve travel at the speed of light — or even, possibly, faster.

For the most part, warp drives have remained confined to the realm of sci-fi. But now — perhaps, and with numerous caveats — that may be starting to change.

A pair of researchers associated with a little-known startup called Applied Physics recently published a paper, accepted into the peer-reviewed journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, suggesting that actual warp drives could be “constructed based on the physical principles known to humanity today.”

Alexey Bobrick, a PhD student from Lund University in Sweden who co-authored the paper, admits that an immense amount of work is still needed before the idea could ever be practical.

“Simply put, a lot would still need to happen,” Bobrick said in an email. “Before our paper, the validity of warp drives technologically, given the science we know, was completely out of the question. Now it’s just extremely difficult, but doable.”

“Just because we have the mathematical understanding of how to achieve something, that does not mean we have the engineering ability,” he added.

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