Thursday 9 February 2012

Captain Zeno Goes Faster Than Light!

We humans don't like the word "impossible", which is why, no matter how unlikely it is that the neutrino anomaly will lead to faster-than-light spaceships, I, for one, have my fingers crossed. Let us imagine, for the sake of an SF thought experiment, that Captain Zeno is on the bridge, ready to begin humanity's first voyage to Delta Pavonis. He's plotted his course as accurately as possible, but over 20 light years, the margin of error is pretty vast. Worse than that, when you're going faster than light, you can't see where you're going. How can he steer?

Fortunately, there's an answer. Halfway there, he stops, checks his position and corrects his course. After half the remaining distance, he does it again, and keeps doing it until he's close enough to Delta Parvonis to go the rest of the way at a normal speed.

I call this Zenonian Navigation, after Zeno of Alexandria, who claimed that motion is impossible, because before you can go anywhere, you first have to get halfwat there, and before you can get halfway there... Probably the most obviously wrong idea in the history of maths.