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If you want a galaxy-spanning science fiction epic, you’re going to need faster than light travel. The alternative is taking decades or centuries to reach an alien star system, which isn’t nearly as much fun. So, you start with some wild scientific idea, add a bit of technobabble, and poof! Quam Celerrime ad Astra. Everything from wormholes to hyperspace has been used in sci-fi, but perhaps the best known FTL trope is warp drive.

Warp drive has been used in sci-fi since the 1930s, but it was popularized by the 1960s television show Star Trek. Although it’s based on the theory of general relativity, where space and time can be warped by gravity, the TV series didn’t go into details. Warp coils, mumble mumble, dilithium crystals. Never mind the fact that relativity clearly says objects can’t travel faster than light. Without warp drive, Captain Kirk would never be able to woo beautiful aliens.

Still, the idea was intriguing enough that a few scientists tried to develop a theory on how it might work. For example, physicist and science-fiction author Robert Forward proposed several ideas. But things really took off when Miguel Alcubierre published a paper in Classical and Quantum Gravity that could truly be called warp drive.

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