Flight to the stars breaks free from realm of science fantasy

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The Independent Online
People could eventually travel through space and time to the far corners of the universe - and possibly come face to face with aliens - it will be claimed in a paper to be published by the Royal Astronomical Society.

The report, by Dr Ian Crawford, an astronomer at University College, London, challenges one of the fundamentals of modern science - that it is theoretically impossible to travel at speeds faster than light.

Scientists have generally accepted this for nearly 100 years, since Einstein proved that the mass of an object increases as its speed increases.

Ultimately, when an object approaches the speed of light - which travels at 300,000km a second - its mass becomes infinitely big, so that no amount of extra energy can make it go faster.

Dr Crawford's paper, "Some Thoughts on the Implications of Faster-Than- Light Interstellar Space Travel", will appear in September's edition of the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. In his report, which has passed strict vetting procedures by two independent referees in order to appear in the journal, Dr Crawford claims that faster-than- light (FTL) travel may in fact be possible.

Laws of physics, including Einstein's theories of relativity, would still apply in the everyday universe in which we live, where FTL is impossible. But Dr Crawford suggests that there may be exceptional structures - known as wormholes - within the universe where space and time are governed by different laws.

These holes, which have been the subject of wide speculation for 20 years, are effectively wrinkles in space and time, which act as short cuts between distant points in the universe.

Dr Crawford does not claim to have proved that FTL is possible, but he suggests that physicists should keep an open mind. He writes: "There are reasons for believing that FTL interstellar space travel may be consistent with the laws of physics."

Dr Simon Mitton, a Cambridge University member of the Royal Astronomical Society, said it was an "interesting" development. "I think these are legitimate areas of inquiry and it will excite a lot of interest."