Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmic Conspiracy of the Highest Order

Feb 9, 2023
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Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, pp. 123-124: "If everyone, everywhere and at all times, is to measure the same speed for the beam from your imaginary spacecraft, a number of things have to happen. First of all, as the speed of your spacecraft increases, the length of everything - you, your measuring devices, your spacecraft - shortens in the direction of motion, as seen by everyone else. Furthermore, your own time slows down exactly enough so that when you haul out your newly shortened yardstick, you are guaranteed to be duped into measuring the same old constant value for the speed of light. What we have here is a COSMIC CONSPIRACY OF THE HIGHEST ORDER."

Let us see how the cosmic conspiracy of the highest order works. Assume that a light source emits equidistant pulses and an observer starts moving towards the source:


The speed of the light pulses relative to the stationary observer is

c = df

where d is the distance between subsequent pulses and f is the frequency at the stationary observer. The speed of the pulses relative to the moving observer is

c'= df' > c

where f' > f is the frequency at the moving observer.

That is, the speed of light relative to the observer VARIES with the speed of the observer.

In order to save Einstein's relativity, the cosmic conspiracy of the highest order can do two things:

1. It can change the distance between subsequent light pulses just in front of the moving observer. If, in front of the moving observer, this distance shifts from d to d'=dc/(c+v), the moving observer will be "duped into measuring the same old constant value for the speed of light" and Einstein's relativity is saved.

2. If changing the distance d in front of the moving observer is too difficult, the cosmic conspiracy of the highest order can supply all human minds with an unconditional belief in Einstein's constancy of the speed of light. The situation will become analogous to that in Big Brother's world:

George Orwell: "In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable what then?"
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Feb 9, 2023
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"Emission theory, also called emitter theory or ballistic theory of light, was a competing theory for the special theory of relativity, explaining the results of the Michelson–Morley experiment of 1887...The name most often associated with emission theory is Isaac Newton. In his corpuscular theory Newton visualized light "corpuscles" being thrown off from hot bodies at a nominal speed of c with respect to the emitting object, and obeying the usual laws of Newtonian mechanics, and we then expect light to be moving towards us with a speed that is offset by the speed of the distant emitter (c ± v)."

That is, originally, the Michelson-Morley experiment was compatible with Newton's variable speed of light, c'=c±v, and, "without recourse to contracting lengths, local time, or Lorentz transformations", incompatible with the constant (independent of the speed of the emitter) speed of light, c'=c:

"Moreover, if light consists of particles, as Einstein had suggested in his paper submitted just thirteen weeks before this one, the second principle seems absurd: A stone thrown from a speeding train can do far more damage than one thrown from a train at rest; the speed of the particle is not independent of the motion of the object emitting it. And if we take light to consist of particles and assume that these particles obey Newton's laws, they will conform to Newtonian relativity and thus automatically account for the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment without recourse to contracting lengths, local time, or Lorentz transformations. Yet, as we have seen, Einstein resisted the temptation to account for the null result in terms of particles of light and simple, familiar Newtonian ideas, and introduced as his second postulate something that was more or less obvious when thought of in terms of waves in an ether." Banesh Hoffmann, Relativity and Its Roots, p.92

Then the cosmic conspiracy of the highest order introduced "contracting lengths, local time, or Lorentz transformations" and the Michelson-Morley experiment shifted allegiance - it became compatible with the constant (independent of the speed of the emitter) speed of light, c'=c, and incompatible with Newton's variable speed of light, c'=c±v. Einstein was happy with this and, in 1921, informed the world about the new meaning of the Michelson-Morley experiment (without mentioning the original meaning of course):

The New York Times, April 19, 1921: "The special relativity arose from the question of whether light had an invariable velocity in free space, he [Einstein] said. The velocity of light could only be measured relative to a body or a co-ordinate system. He sketched a co-ordinate system K to which light had a velocity C. Whether the system was in motion or not was the fundamental principle. This has been developed through the researches of Maxwell and Lorentz, the principle of the constancy of the velocity of light having been based on many of their experiments. But did it hold for only one system? he asked. He gave the example of a street and a vehicle moving on that street. If the velocity of light was C for the street was it also C for the vehicle? If a second co-ordinate system K was introduced, moving with the velocity V, did light have the velocity of C here? When the light traveled the system moved with it, so it would appear that light moved slower and the principle apparently did not hold. Many famous experiments had been made on this point. Michelson showed that relative to the moving co-ordinate system K1, the light traveled with the same velocity as relative to K, which is contrary to the above observation. How could this be reconciled? Professor Einstein asked."

Nowadays the cosmic conspiracy of the highest order has no alternative:

"The conclusion of the Michelson-Morley experiment was that the speed of light was a constant c in any inertial frame. Why is this result so surprising? First, it invalidates the Galilean coordinate transformation. Note that with the frames as defined in the previous section, if light is travelling in the x' direction in frame O' with velocity c, then its speed in the O frame is, by the Galilean transform, c+v, not c as measured. This invalidates two thousand years of understanding of the nature of time and space. The only comparable discovery is the discovery that the earth isn't flat! The Michelson Morley experiment has inevitably brought about a profound change in our understanding of the world."

Joao Magueijo, Faster Than the Speed of Light: "A missile fired from a plane moves faster than one fired from the ground because the plane's speed adds to the missile's speed. If I throw something forward on a moving train, its speed with respect to the platform is the speed of that object plus that of the train. You might think that the same should happen to light: Light flashed from a train should travel faster. However, what the Michelson-Morley experiments showed was that this was not the case: Light always moves stubbornly at the same speed. This means that if I take a light ray and ask several observers moving with respect to each other to measure the speed of this light ray, they will all agree on the same apparent speed!"

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Chapter 2: "The special theory of relativity was very successful in explaining that the speed of light appears the same to all observers (as shown by the Michelson-Morley experiment)..."

Brian Cox, p. 91: "...Maxwell's brilliant synthesis of the experimental results of Faraday and others strongly suggested that the speed of light should be the same for all observers. This conclusion was supported by the experimental result of Michelson and Morley, and taken at face value by Einstein."
Feb 9, 2023
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The cosmic conspiracy of the highest order has allowed Neil deGrasse Tyson to change his mind about the Big Bang:

"Changing Times, Changing Minds - The Slow Death of the Big Bang"

However the cosmic conspiracy of the highest order would never allow Tyson to change his mind about the speed of light. This lie is existential. No constancy of the speed of light, no cosmic conspiracy of the highest order:

Neil deGrasse Tyson: "One of the towering great achievements of the human mind in our understanding of the universe is Einstein's theories of relativity...It makes only two assumptions: that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant no matter who is doing the measurement and no matter in what direction you are moving or how fast. You always get the same measurement for the speed of light. That's Assumption 1 which by the way the experiment has shown to be true."
I have the impression that our current concepts of Time & "the Speed of Light" will be viewed in the future the way we currently view the flat-Earthers of antiquity.
I think we need a very different, "lateral" perspective to be able to perceive how the frontiers of our reality, Time, Space, Mass/Gravity and (electromagnetic) Energy interact. Once we correct a few basic yet hitherto immutable assumptions, the entire picture changes.
Time is mushy. It's variable. Some have called it wibbly-wobbly. And it turns out, you can manipulate it if you try hard enough, thanks to Einstein.

We evolved in a sort of medium environment. Human beings are medium-sized objects, somewhere between the very small (quarks, electrons, atoms, and the like) and the very large (planets, stars, and supermassive black holes). And we operate at medium speeds, faster than the slow movements of tectonic plates, but slower than the speed of light.

Physics operates in pretty predictable ways in the world we inhabit. Gravity impacts objects in ways we can accurately measure; comets orbit and return at regular intervals. We know when solar eclipses will happen because the cosmic dance of the sun and moon follows along a known path. Time ticks onward in one direction and at a consistent rate. All is as it should be, all is according to plan.

Outside of our medium-sized world, however, things can get weird.

Physics breaks down when you get too small, or too massive. Gravity does things we can't quite work out, quantum effects find their way in. Things cease to play by the rules as we know them. Likewise, the faster we accelerate beyond our medium speed, the weirder time gets.

Special relativity concluded that the speed of light is consistent for all observers. Photons moving through a vacuum travel at a staggering 186,282 miles per second.

That speed is impressive all on its own. It's fast enough that the time delay between when light hits an object, bounces off, and enters our eyes is so short as to not be noticed. Which is good, especially for our ancient ancestors. It would have been difficult to evade predators if we were already half-swallowed by the time we noticed them.

The speed of light, though, becomes even more impressive and bizarre, because of the way it remains constant no matter the position or speed of the observer. Let's break down what that means. The actual speed of any given object is a combination of its personal speed, combined with the speed of any other objects acting upon it.

For instance, let's suppose you're reading this while sitting down. Your personal speed is zero. You aren't moving at all, relative to any objects you're in contact with. Easy enough. But maybe you're on a train on your way to work, and that train is traveling at 75 miles per hour.

Your speed then becomes the combined speed of you and the speed of the train. Let's go further. The train is traveling at 75 miles per hour relative to the Earth, but the Earth is traveling at 67,000 miles per hour around the Sun. Furthermore, the Sun is traveling at 514,000 miles per hour around the center of our galaxy.

Assuming the train, the Earth, and the Sun are all traveling in the same direction, your total speed is actually 581,075 miles per hour.

That doesn't even take into account the speed of the galaxy through space, but you get the point. To someone sitting on the train with you, our speed is zero. Your speed is different to an observer standing on the ground outside the train, it's different to someone observing from the Sun, or from the center of the galaxy. The position of the observer matters, it changes the outcome.

Though speeds compound, the way things work in the Medium world. Not so with light.

Replace the train traveler with light and everything we expect about compounding speeds goes out the window. The apparent speed of light remains the same, 186,282 miles per second, regardless of the position or relative speed of the observer. Light gets no faster and no slower.

Special Relativity suggests an elegant, if counterintuitive, solution to this problem. As objects increase in speed, time moves more slowly. Changing the length of each tick of the clock allows the speed of light to remain consistent no matter how fast you're traveling in respect to it.

When Special Relativity was published, these ideas were just numbers on a page, but they've been confirmed by observation and experimentation. In fact, engineers have to account for time dilation when designing satellites.

Because they are orbiting at speeds much faster than we're accustomed to on the ground, a satellite's internal clocks will run more slowly. The difference is very small, but can stack up over time. Since satellites often need to have accurate timekeeping, this time dilation has to be accounted and corrected for.

It gets even more complicated because of gravity.

Gravity bends spacetime and, since GPS satellites orbit so far away from the surface of the Earth, they feel the effects of gravity less than we do, which has the opposite effect of causing the clocks to tick more quickly. All told, GPS satellites in orbit would drift 38 microseconds into the future every day if we didn't account for relativity.

It's a small amount, it would take about 72 years for their clocks to drift ahead of ours by one second, but it's enough to wreak havoc with GPS services, pretty quickly.

Besides, the synchronicity of our clocks isn't the important bit. What's important is the reality that those satellites are actually time-traveling at a rate of one second every 72 years. The effect is slow, but that's only because the fraction of the speed of light at which their traveling is small.

Time isn't static. It's personal. We aren't all experiencing the passage of time in the same way or at the same rate. Every time you get in a car, a train, or a plane, every time you go for a jog or even stagger to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you're altering the way you travel through time.

Now that we know we can alter our relationship to time, by altering our speed or by manipulating gravity, how can we use that to our advantage and travel to distant temporal locales?

Speed is probably our best bet right now.

Considering the timescale of human existence, we've made incredible strides in increasing our maximum speed over the last several decades. It was once believed we would never break the sound barrier; that was accomplished by Chuck Yeager in 1947, a little more than 70 years ago.

That was the first time a human being traveled faster than 343 meters per second. That's about ten-thousandth of a percent of the speed of light. Pretty fast by human standards — very slow on the cosmic scale.

A little more than a decade later, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins blasted off in a rocket, headed for the Moon. Their top speed was 25,000 miles per hour, more than 32 times faster than Yeager. Still, the crew of Apollo 11 was traveling at only 6.94 miles per second, roughly 0.0037 percent of the speed of light.

Getting closer, some of those zeroes are falling off. Still, it's a long way away.
However we have created faster spacecraft.

The Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, was sent on a mission to study the Sun's corona. It approached to within 18.7 million kilometers, granting it the honor of closest approach of any artificial object.

At its fastest, it was traveling 430,000 miles per hour, or, 119.4 miles per second. That gets us to 0.064 of the speed of light.

We'd have to get moving more than 15 times faster than the fastest craft we've ever built to hit one percent the speed of light.

Even at those speeds, we'd notice a difference in relative time of about 26 minutes over the course of a year.

If you really want to time-travel in a significant way, you have to get much faster.

At 90 percent of the speed of light (167,653.8 miles per second), a craft traveling for 10 years according to their own clock would arrive back on Earth to discover that nearly 23 years had passed.

At 99.99 percent of the speed of light, a craft traveling for one year would come back to a world that had aged more than 70 years in their absence.

At 99.99999 percent of the speed of light, for a year, more than 2000 years would pass on Earth.

The point is, the closer you get to the speed of light, the more time dilation is experienced.

Achieving those speeds, however, is incredibly unlikely and probably impossible. Physics conspires against us in this regard. Any object with mass increases in mass as it approaches the speed of light. In effect, it gets heavier, which requires more fuel to continue to accelerate. Eventually, you reach an infinite mass and infinite energy requirement. It's like pushing a stone up a continuously inclining hill. It gets harder the closer you get to the top.

Which is too bad, because nearing the speed of light would allow us to travel forward in time, with minimal investment of personal time. And, if we could break the light speed barrier, all bets are off. The math suggests that it might allow us to violate causality and travel back.

If speed isn't the answer, then what about gravity?

Since we know space and time are intimately tied together, and that gravity impacts both (see GPS satellites, above) sufficiently warping space-time would create closed time loops. At least according to research by theoretical physicist Amos Ori at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Ori suggests using focused gravitational fields to bend spacetime into a donut-shaped vacuum.

There is one speed bump: A traveler would only be able to go to time-destinations that occurred after the creation of the donut. No going back to see the dinosaurs or save your mom from marrying the wrong person. No preventing things that have already happened before the creation of the machine. Additionally, the gravitational fields required are on the order of those created by black holes, far beyond what we're capable of creating or controlling.

For now, time travel is outside of our capability, at least as it's portrayed in movies. If you really want to evade the ticking of the clock, your best bet is to run as fast as you can.

Albert Einstein came along and changed everything. In 1905, Einstein published his theory of special relativity, which put forth a startling idea: There is no preferred frame of reference. Everything, even time, is relative.

Two important principles underpinned his theory. The first stated that the same laws of physics apply equally in all constantly moving frames of reference. The second said that the speed of light — about 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kilometers per second) — is constant and independent of the observer's motion or the source of light.

According to Einstein, if Superman were to chase a light beam at half the speed of light, the beam would continue to move away from him at exactly the same speed [source: Stein,].

These concepts seem deceptively simple, but they have some mind-bending implications. One of the biggest is represented by Einstein's famous equation, E = mc², where E is energy, m is mass and c is the speed of light.

According to this equation, mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed into each other. Because of this equivalence, the energy an object has due to its motion will increase its mass. In other words, the faster an object moves, the greater its mass. This only becomes noticeable when an object moves really quickly. If it moves at 10 percent the speed of light, for example, its mass will only be 0.5 percent more than normal. But if it moves at 90 percent the speed of light, its mass will double [source:].

As an object approaches the speed of light, its mass rises precipitously. If an object tries to travel 186,000 miles per second, its mass becomes infinite, and so does the energy required to move it. For this reason, no normal object can travel as fast or faster than the speed of light.

That answers our question, but let's have a little fun and modify the question slightly.

We covered the original question, but what if we tweaked it to say, "What if you traveled almost as fast as the speed of light?" In that case, you would experience some interesting effects. One famous result is something physicists call time dilation, which describes how time runs more slowly for objects moving very rapidly. If you flew on a rocket traveling 90 percent of light-speed, the passage of time for you would be halved. Your watch would advance only 10 minutes, while more than 20 minutes would pass for an Earthbound observer [source: May]

You would also experience some strange visual consequences. One such consequence is called aberration, and it refers to how your entire field of view would shrink down to a tiny, tunnel-shaped "window" out in front of your spacecraft. This happens because photons (those exceedingly tiny packets of light) — even photons behind you — appear to come in from the forward direction.

In addition, you would notice an extreme Doppler effect, which would cause light waves from stars in front of you to crowd together, making the objects appear blue. Light waves from stars behind you would spread apart and appear red. The faster you go, the more extreme this phenomenon becomes until all visible light from stars in front of the spacecraft and stars to the rear become completely shifted out of the known visible spectrum (the colors humans can see). When these stars move out of your perceptible wavelength, they simply appear to fade to black or vanish against the background.

Of course, if you want to travel faster than a speeding photon, you'll need more than the same rocket technology we've been using for decades.

In a March 2021 paper published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, astrophysicist Erik Lentz of the University of Göttingen in Germany proposed the idea of rearranging space-time to create a warp bubble, inside which a spacecraft might be able to travel at faster-than-light speeds.

If humanity is going to stand the test of time, we need to expand beyond Earth. But where can we go? Elon Musk might have his heart set on Mars, but conditions there are hardly ideal. In fact, nowhere else in our solar system really works for us. So we should turn our attention to other stars.

While there are almost certainly other Earth-like planets out there somewhere, the universe is just too damn big for us to reach them in any practical time frame. Using current chemical rockets, it would take more than 50,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbor.

And that’s where the FTL dream comes in. If we could travel at the speed of light, the journey drops to a little over four years, meaning a return trip could easily fit into a normal human lifespan. Some hypothetical warp drive designs could get there in as little as five months – shorter than our current journey time to Mars.

According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, it’s physically impossible for anything to travel faster than the speed of light. That’s because as an object moves faster, its mass increases, so by the time you reach the speed of light that mass would approach infinity. Plus, it would require infinite energy to accelerate to that speed.

The future may offer something different than the Einsteinian view of light speed and mass, where mass becomes infinite as it approaches the speed of light, c.

Perhaps there are some loopholes. In 1994, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre outlined a design for a warp drive that could theoretically allow something to travel faster than light without breaking any physical laws. The idea involves generating a bubble of negative energy around an object, so that the fabric of spacetime ahead of the object contracts and the space behind it expands. In the center is a “flat” region of spacetime where the object can travel in comfort, where any occupants wouldn’t even feel like they’re moving.

alcubierre drive.jpeg
An Alcubierre warp drive bubble, showing spatial compression ahead of the bubble, and spatial expansion behind. NASA

Of course, this Alcubierre warp drive had problems of its own. It’s all well and good to casually talk about generating a bubble of negative energy, but doing so would require exotic forms of matter that aren’t exactly easy to come by – if they even exist.

Solving this issue was the goal of the new paper. Göttingen University astrophysicist Erik Lentz proposes a way to create one of these “warp bubbles” from positive energy sources, instead of negative ones.

While studying previous warp drive proposals, Lentz realized there were specific configurations of spacetime bubbles that had been overlooked. These bubbles took the form of solitons, compact waves that travel at a constant velocity without losing their shape. Solitons are seen under certain circumstances in waves in water, atmospheric motions that produce strange cloud formations, or light traveling through different media. In this case, solitons are propagating through spacetime itself.

Lentz found that certain soliton configurations could be formed using conventional energy sources, without violating any of Einstein’s equations – and without requiring any 'negative energy densities*'.

In another interesting twist, the passage of time would be conserved for any travelers. Normally, objects traveling at the speed of light would be thought to age much more slowly, relative to the outside world. So, as an old thought experiment suggests, if you put one twin on a spaceship traveling at the speed of light, they would seem to be much younger than their twin who stayed behind on Earth. But the new concept overcomes this potential paradox – because there are minimal tidal forces in the center of the soliton, time would pass at the same rate both inside and outside the warp bubble.

While a warp drive that uses conventional energy sources could be a major breakthrough, the new soliton method has its own hurdles, of course. It would still require an absolutely enormous amount of energy that just isn’t feasible right now, but there may be hope yet.

“The energy savings would need to be drastic, of approximately 30 orders of magnitude to be in range of modern nuclear fission reactors,” says Lentz. “Fortunately, several energy-saving mechanisms have been proposed in earlier research that can potentially lower the energy required by nearly 60 orders of magnitude.”

Investigating these will be Lentz’s priority in future work. As intriguing as it all sounds, don’t expect to be drag-racing the Starship Enterprise any time soon – the study remains mostly theoretical.

“This work has moved the problem of faster-than-light travel one step away from theoretical research in fundamental physics and closer to engineering,” says Lentz. “The next step is to figure out how to bring down the astronomical amount of energy needed to within the range of today's technologies, such as a large modern nuclear fission power plant. Then we can talk about building the first prototypes.”

The research was published in Classical and Quantum Gravity.




* Negative energy densities - Energy densities of the quantum states that are superposition of two multi-electron–positron states. It is shown that the energy densities can be negative when two multi-particle states have the same number of electrons and positrons or when one state has one more electron–positron pair than the other. In the cases in which negative energy could arise, we find that the energy is that of a positive constant plus a propagating part which oscillates between positive and negative, and the energy can dip to negative at some places for a certain period of time if the quantum states are properly manipulated. It can be seen that the negative energy densities satisfy the quantum inequality. Our results also reveal that for a given particle content, the detection of negative energy is an operation that depends on the frame where any measurement is to be performed. This suggests that the sign of energy density for a quantum state may be a coordinate-dependent quantity in quantum theory.

Although the energy density of a field in classical physics is strictly positive, the local energy density in quantum field theory can be negative due to quantum coherence effects. The Casimir effect** and squeezed states of light are two familiar examples which have been studied experimentally. As a result, all the known pointwise energy conditions in classical general relativity, such as the weak energy condition and null energy condition, are allowed to be violated. However, if the laws of quantum field theory place no restrictions on negative energy, then it might be possible to produce gross macroscopic effects such as violation of the second law of thermodynamics, traversable wormholes, “warp drive”, and even time machines.

In acoustics the vibration of a violin string may be broken down into a combination of normal modes of oscillation, defined by the distance between the ends of the string. Oscillating electromagnetic fields can also be described in terms of such modes—for example, the different possible standing wave fields in a vacuum inside a metal box. According to classical physics, if there is no field in the box, no energy is present in any normal mode. Quantum theory, however, predicts that even when there is no field in the box, the vacuum still contains normal modes of vibration that each possess a tiny energy, called the zero-point energy.


** Casimir effect - the effect arising from the quantum theory of electromagnetic radiation in which the energy present in empty space might produce a tiny attractive force between two objects. The effect was first postulated in 1948 by Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir.

Casimir realized that the number of modes in a closed box with its walls very close together would be restricted by the space between the walls, which would make the number smaller than the number in the space outside. Hence, there would be a lower total zero-point energy in the box than outside. This difference would produce a tiny but finite inward force on the walls of the box. In 1996 American physicist Steven Lamoreaux measured this force for the first time. The amount of the attractive force, less than a billionth of a newton, agreed with the theory to within 5 percent.

In 1956 Russian physicist Yevgeny Lifshitz applied Casimir’s work to materials with different dielectric properties and found that in some cases the Casimir effect could be repulsive. In 2008 American physicist Jeremy Munday and Italian American physicist Federico Capasso first observed the repulsive Casimir effect between a gold-plated polystyrene sphere and a silica plate immersed in bromobenzene. The attractive Casimir effect can cause parts of nanomachines to stick together, and use of the repulsive Casimir effect has been proposed as a solution to this problem.


Riley Connors, Katie Dexter, Joshua Argyle, and Cameron Scoular (, discovered that, as the crew approaches near-lightspeed, they would only see a central disc of bright light — the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.

And fascinatingly, they would not see any signs of stars in the distance or in the peripheries. This would be on account of a cosmological Doppler effect — the same effect that causes a police car siren or train bell to change pitch as it travels past an observer.

In this case, a Doppler blueshift effect would be created by the electromagnetic radiation — including visible light — that is rapidly moving towards the crew. This effect, say the researchers, would shorten the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation. From the perspective of Han, Luke, and Leia, the wavelength of the light from neighboring stars would decrease and shift out of the visible spectrum into the X-ray range — thus making these stars invisible to the human eye.

Consequently, the Millennium Falcon's crew would be limited to seeing a central orb of light as the cosmic microwave background radiation is shifted into the visible spectrum (this background radiation was caused by the Big Bang and is spread evenly across the universe).

And interestingly, the students also realized that, when traveling at such an intense speed, a ship would be subject to the incredible pressure exerted by X-rays — an effect that would push back against the ship, causing it to slow down. The researchers likened the effect to the high pressure exerted against deep-ocean submersibles exploring extreme depths. To deal with this, a spaceship would have to store extra amounts of energy to compensate for this added pressure.