While something like a warp drive is a staple of ftl technology in sci-fi, I wonder how this sort of spatial warping would operate on a smaller scale on earth.

The idea has occurred to me to have a character with gravity and antigravity powers try to warp distance. This distance warping wouldn't extend more than half a meter from the character's body at most, and at minimum would only be skin-tight. This special warping would bear some resemblance to a alcubierre warp drive, though based on answers I am now informed a natario drive is more plausible. This power can't used to reach anything approaching relativistic speeds, however I wonder how this would work as a form of superspeed.

Another detail that needs to be covered is how it works when the character interacts with objects: What happens when the character tries to move a stationary or slow moving object? What about trying to move bullets and other objects that are fast in relation to the hero's actual speed, and are slow compared to the movement of them and other stuff in their warp bubble.

(The hero is also a vampire which grants the required secondary powers)

How exactly would something like a warp bubble work in a atmosphere at non-relativistic speeds? Could it avoid the collateral damage normal super-speed entails? How would this spatial warping affect the atmosphere that occupies the warped space? What would this power do when the character interacted with objects not in the field: both slow moving objects and stuff like bullets. What would such a power look and sound like, both to the user and bystanders (I'm assuming the hero has super fast perception and some degree of super senses to cope, and can already run ~400 mph without warping space, or otherwise using gravity control).

Ultimately I'm really hoping this power will allow things like this scene (except with superspeed that isn't wildly inconsistent)

Bonus Question: What other clever uses would you use a gravity control power for, other than the standard and obvious uses. Assume you have all the other powers mentioned as well:

Super senses, super toughness/strength and a baseline speed around 400 mph, In addition assume an ability to increase perception speed to a nigh unlimited amounts. Super-reflexes also protect you by immediately ramping up perception speed in response to danger sensed by super senses, effectively one's subconscious is always perceiving things in slow-motion watching for danger.

  • $\begingroup$ I feel like this is somehow related to my question on dramatic time dilation, but not in any way that answers in one are relevant to the other... $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jan 21, 2016 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I was partially inspired by that quicksilver scene, which I found linked to in a question (might have been that one not sure). I was also inspired by some of the ad-hoc explanations for characters with super speed I found online. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2016 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ According to the math on this page, Quicksilver has a speed between 9,000 and 20,000 mph. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jan 25, 2016 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 I actually knew that quicksilver isn't anywhere near the speed he was in x-men DoFP anywhere else. In x-men dofp quicksilver is at least mach 100 $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 18:48

5 Answers 5


@Thucidides does raise some valid points, but those were first and second gen Alcubierre drives, which for advanced star-faring civilizations have long since been superseded by the more efficient Natario drives.

Those drives were truly built for interstellar voyages at effectively super-optic speeds. We don't need super-optic speeds, so a much lighter version of the Natario should do for our needs. So instead of moving masses of thousands of tons at 20x lightspeed, we only need to warp about 100kg at strongly suboptical speeds. Much more reasonable. You probably[citation needed] only need a few hundred grams of negative energy mass (usually obtained from the raw unobtanium ores), which is a lot easier to get than a few tons of negative energy mass.[citation needed]

Moreover, thanks to advances in warping technology, your vampire does not have to have the ring - ball design of the early prototypes. It makes the instant warping calculations a few orders of magnitude more difficult, but that's what pocket-sized quantum supercomputers are for, right?

Now, let's leave the warping to the unobtanium core and the man-shape of the bubble to the quantum supercomputer. How would it look like?

Well, there are several factors:

  1. Gravitational effects. - Massive distortions are associated with massive speeds, but the level of distortion required for non-devastating speeds would be much less.
  2. Atmospheric distortion and disruption. This would normally be a huge case of concern, given the fact that high intra-atmospheric speeds normally break the speed of sound and that breaks widows and does all sorts of bad things to the ground around ground-based runners. This would be multiplied a thousand fold with a warp drive -- think of it as akin to driving at really high speed into a granite wall. Thankfully, (unlike the side-fields in the Alcubierre drive that leave the front-end wide open and unprotected) the Natario's drive frontal negative-energy field acts to repel matter. A properly tuned Natario field will have the right density to precisely repel atoms along the way, accelerating them at a few thousand gees to the side the front of the warp field and decelerating them in the rear warp field. The net effect will differ by molecular mass, presumably, but if properly tuned, should simply leave a ripple and (a very light) plasma in its wake (caused by the few accelerated particles that reach the highest-distortion point in our field). The ocean of air should (mostly) part before our Natario drive as the seas before Noah, and (mostly) close back behind us.

  3. Acceleration and Unruh Radiation - this stuff can cook astronauts traveling a super-optical speeds but it thankfully not applicable in our case.

From the perspective of someone previously moving at walking/running speed inside the bubble, a distant point suddenly zooms in as the distance between that observer and the destination appears to contract, while the rear seems to suffer an equivalent zoom-out.

From the perspective of an outside observer (who, thanks to our careful Natario drive tuning, would even survive the observation), the vampire would briefly appear to lengthen in the direction of their movement, and then would be gone, with nothing but a slight CO2 breeze in its wake (and sparkle, of course).

  • $\begingroup$ Huh this is pretty cool, so this puts this warp field back on top of my list on ways to get superspeed for a character without obliterating the surroundings. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2016 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ I had forgotten to ask this in the question previously (which has now been edited), this allows the character to do many of the things in the quicksilver DoFP scene. However one thing I realized I need addressed to know all the implications of this power, is how it works when the character interacts with objects? What happens when trying to say move bullets, what about slower objects? What about objects that would normally be pretty fast to the character even at 400 mph but would be slow compared to the 26 mach warp field? $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2016 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ Also what happens if the character has an object part in the warp field and part outside? $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2016 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ @VakusDrake Nothing good will happen to any physical objects that are entering the warp field. That said, the repulsive capabilities of a neg-en warp field this size will be limited, so the granite-wall situation could apply to something like, say, a bullet. I'd have to do actual math, which is hard, which is why I'm not inclined to do it for free. :) $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2016 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ Shame I don't exactly have anything have anything to bribe you with. Not like 200 rep really means much to you, though I strongly suspect this will end up being the best answer, but then again predicting the level of expertise of others is quite difficult for someone without such expertise... Kind of a shame there aren't many pop-culture sources talking about this kind of stuff in great detail, I mean this is cutting edge speculation right here! $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2016 at 1:31

One aspect of the Alcubierre warp drive that many people don't seem to realize is the bubble inside is both cut off from the outside universe and in a free geodesic: everything inside is in free fall.

enter image description here

There are other aspects to using something like the Alcubierre warp drive on the surface of a planet: the massive folding of space-time around the bubble will have some pretty dramatic effects on the planet in the area of the warp. If you remember that many calculations of how the Alcubierre drive was supposed to work involved rings of stellar or Jovian mass to stabilize the warp bubble, then you can imagine what people in the path of the bubble will undergo (massive gravitational tsunamis of earth being displaced will be the "best case" scenario).

Once the person inside the bubble comes to a halt, there is another potential issue. Apparently, according to some calculations, photons will be accumulating on the leading edge of the bubble as it passes through space. When you stop, this will be released from the bubble a burst of highly blue shifted energy, potentially frying anyone in the direction of motion.

So perhaps it might be best to avoid using Alcubierre warp drives on or near the surface of a planet. The neighbours will complain.

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    $\begingroup$ Well at the very least the warp bubble in question would be person sized and self contained. It would also be going only at bullet-time speeds not at relativistic speeds. Also you haven't addressed how it would interact when moving through a atmosphere, I also really want to know exactly what you mean when you say it's cut off from the outside universe. Ultimately I think a lot of this answer seems to look at a standard ftl alcubierre drive used on earth instead of the smaller version described. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2016 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ Goodness. I am in love with the concept of Alcubierre drives and I learned a lot of new stuff from this answer. +1 $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2016 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ I have no reason to believe that an Alcubierre drive "scales", you still have to warp space and stabilize the bubble with monstrous amounts of energy or mass. Maybe you no longer need stellar or jovian mass, but you will still need at least planetary mass. Cut off from the outside universe means exactly that: no signals can propagate from inside the bubble to the outside, nor will you receive any signals from the outside universe inside the bubble. Navigation will be "dead reckoning". $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jan 21, 2016 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ @VakusDrake Yup. They'd have to guess and be really accurate AND account for both special and general relativity. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ If you calculate wrong then "Dead Reckoning" has a new meaning.... $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jan 26, 2016 at 2:48


This ends badly. This ends so very badly it's quite hard to quantify the effects, but I'll try:

1: One of the major objections to the Alcubierre warp drive is that the stuff in front of you doesn't flow around you. This isn't like water being pushed around a stone, you're literally ramming things into ever decreasing space at the front of your warp bubble, or as this guy would call it, a few millimetres in front of his skin. This spatial warping isn't helping him avoid the atmosphere: it's just trapping it in a layer just in front of him. This is not good for him, nor is it good for anyone else when he stops moving. Assuming his secondary superpowers stop the incandescent plasma sheath at the front of the bubble from cooking him he's going to release a huge burst of high velocity plasma as soon as he stops moving. Please note: This is still at relatively low velocities. Unlike the Alcubierre drive in space there is a lot of high density material for you to ram through. Oh, and the vacuum following you isn't going to be made better by the molten footsteps you'll be leaving behind.

2:OK, lets assume that you can adjust these fields so that you can fling the atmosphere out and around you to avoid this issue. You still have to deal with the fact that this kind of spatial distortion acts as a speed modifier, not really a 'speed enhancer' (this ties in with Thucydides point on it being it's own little bubble). If you run, activate the field, then stand still; you will still be moving forwards until you stop the field. This isn't good for your control over where you're going. Nor is it good for the floor. Remember those molten footsteps? They just turned into molten skid marks every time you slow down or change direction. Again: This is at low speeds. The field around your feet is mashing atoms of solid matter together. If you try to not have the field around your feet then you come apart at the shins. Sorry about that.

3: OK, lets assume that we've got around the issue of atmospheric disturbance and changing direction by having this field only really come into play when the guy is heading in a straight line and not touching the floor. Now we just have to deal with the way that we're constantly, inconsistently, catastrophically warping space. This is Not Good with capital letters, even if you aren't moving very fast. If you're warping the space by 3x (to boost up to 1200 MPH), then the distortions are exactly the same as if you're boosting from 0.4C to 1.2C. It needs the same amount of oomph to do and causes the same level of tidal-forces-pain. This isn't helped by the way you keep turning the field on and off, changing direction, and changing the shape of the field to move air around you. You know the lovely diagram in Thucydides answer? Forget it. You'll be leaving behind not just gravitational waves, but gravitational eddies, gravitational bow waves and gravitational upwellings. Say you take a right turn in a city (obeying all appropriate traffic laws using your super-senses, naturally) the gravitational distortions will tear up the junction and knock down (or at the least cause serious damage to) the building you turn away from. Again: This isn't at high speeds. This is at low speeds with a big multiplier. Weirdly: restricting the initial bubble effect to near your protagonist only makes this worse, in the same way that floods are worse when all the water comes downstream at once.

So: To reiterate: This isn't a good idea, unless your protagonist has such astounding control of his superpower that he can damp out the destructive effects of his bubble without thinking about it, turns it off every time his foot hits the floor, only uses it when he isn't in contact with anything and can somehow push everything in front of him out and around the bubble.

If he can do all that then a better use of his superpower is simply to make the bad guys' spleens suddenly 500 times further away from their pancreas than they used to be. But if he prefers super speed:

This will look quite strange to outside observers, a little like taking a surprise trip through a hall of mirrors without intending to, not only from the initial spatial disturbances but also from the subsequent ones used to damp out the tidal effects. From his perspective it'll be a bit like wearing 7 league boots: every leap will take him further than it should. From the perspective of the atmosphere a lot of atoms will get rearranged every time your protagonists foot hits the floor, resulting in a series of gentle puffs of wind.


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    $\begingroup$ Actually, on your comment that it requires the same amount of "oomph" as boosting from .4c to 1.2c: that's flat-out wrong. Sorry if that wasn't the nicest way to comment, but because of the effects of relativity, the higher the speed, the harder the boost. Boosting from .1c to .2 c takes much less energy than from .5c to .6c. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ I certainly like the detail you put into this. Ultimately I'm not sure whether I will just accept that his subconscious vampire brain can handle the insane amounts of calculations and fine control required, or whether I will try another method of superspeed. There's also the fact that if the character were to purposely use this kind of power offensively it might be too powerful for the story. If you have any other suggestions for ways to plausibly manage superspeed within a setting where superpowers have to be well defined I would love to hear it. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DevilApple227: OK, just saying 'oomph' wasn't the most exacting way to put it: In terms of the magnitude of the spatial distortion, you need to distort space just as much to achieve a x3 boost regardless of your speed. Which leads to the same level of pain from a tidal perspective. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jan 26, 2016 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ I like the 'AAAAH' factor ; ) $\endgroup$
    – Maciej
    Jul 24, 2017 at 8:07

He can already move at 400 mph on the ground. At those speeds you don't want to do anything that requires maneuvering, like dodging a tree.
There is a reason they use the salt flats for things like that.

26,000 mph is past escape velocity. Anything moving that fast will be leaving the planets gravity well shortly, no matter what it is.
It's faster than reentry speeds, where ablative shielding is needed to keep things from disintegrating. Mach 25 is only 19,031 mph, and thermal control is a dominant design consideration at that speed. Anything going that fast near the ground will cause major damage to people and property. A better idea would be to use the gravity power to lift up to altitude, then engage the super speed, assuming he can survive the thin atmosphere and wild temperature fluctuations.

It seems like a time dilation would be what you really want, where he isn't actually moving that fast, it just seems like it to outside observers.

Getting to close to a large gravity source will slow down time, which is kind of the opposite of what you want.
BUT he does have some kind of anti-gravity. Since the further you get from a gravity source, the faster time passes. If you had a way to make negative gravity in a localized area, then you could get maybe speed up the rate that time passes inside the bubble, which would look the same as slowing down time outside of the bubble.
So he would be moving very fast compared to the rest of the world, dodging bullets and anything else. He could even have a bit of a throttle, depending on how high he turned up the anti-gravity field.

Ok, as Joe Bloggs points out the Alcubierre drive as theorized doesn't work well with anything much denser than interstellar space.

However, with a fine control of gravity manipulation you could get a similar effect that would have less damaging results. The problem is the atmosphere.
You ram something through it hard enough and the shock wave caused by all the little air molecules being violently pushed out of the way will do some damage.
The higher the altitude, the less air molecules there are, and the smaller the shock wave.

But you want to run it at ground level. So you use the gravity manipulation to reduce the air pressure directly in front of him to a partial vacuum, and allow it to return to normal pressure right behind him.
cone of vacuum
This would remove the air resistance and fix the sonic boom problem, and the high pressure behind him would be pushing into the vacuum, which means pushing on him, boosting the super speed.

You could even increase gravity immediately in front of him to pull him along even faster.

You might not be able to get the full 9,000 to 20,000 mph Quicksilver speeds, but you should be able to double or triple the 700 mph Flash speeds.
That'll take you across North America a little over an hour...

  • $\begingroup$ Well the idea of the warp bubble is that he's bending space so that he travels less distance, so even if he's going mach 26 he's technically only going less 400mph. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ As for the time dilation effect, well I like it but I'm not really sure how that would work. He can already increase his mental perception of time, and I'm not sure how that time dilation would actually solve the problem of collateral damage, after all from the perspective of your surrounding you're still going super fast. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ As for his 400 mph speed: Well as mentioned in the question this is his base speed just running, however by using his gravity control he could be much faster it would also allow him to change direction and speed quite quickly. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @VakusDrake Sorry, wasn't well yesterday, feeling better, can hopefully make a better showing. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jan 26, 2016 at 17:06

I unfortunately don't have a detailed understanding of the math required to figure out how it would work, but if this character of yours has gravity manipulation powers, I can see two ways to use those powers to travel other than what other people have already mentioned.

  1. Use the gravity powers to create a mini wormhole and simply teleport yourself to the destination. This would have the advantage that you don't have to worry about destroying things in between your character and his destination. The downside is that it would take a lot of focused gravity around two spots at the same time and one of those spots is at a distance. If your character can handle that, then this might be a viable option.
  2. Use the gravity powers to alter the direction that gravity is pulling you in a localized field around you. If you can bend gravity in such a small space and forwards becomes down, then you could move quickly by increasing the pull of gravity by a lot. One of the characters in Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings has abilities similar to this. Admittedly that's a fantasy universe and not sci-fi but that's an example of the type of movement I'm talking about.

Also, for using the Alcubierre Drive as a personal warp drive, there's two books that have that concept. Travis S. Taylor's Warp Speed and The Quantum Connection. Warp Speed comes first and has the protagonist inventing a working Alcubierre Drive. Things develop from there. I'm not saying his science is completely right but a little bit of handwavium can go a long way and I found the books to be entertaining.

  • $\begingroup$ Well I'v found as of late that the alcubierre drive isn't viable however the natario drive is. As for the wormhole idea, well since the gravity control doesn't extend more than half a meter past his body that would limit its use drastically. Also I'm not sure that just using using gravity control would be enough to make a wormhole and control where it leads. $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2016 at 21:37

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