Many movies such as Star Wars and star trek open up the imagination of traveling millions of kilometers within seconds. But sorry guys according to Einstein it’s not possible! Einstein’s theory of relativity states that an object with mass cannot travel faster than the speed of light nor can one reach it. The speed of light is 300,000 km/s. for comparison, the fastest man-made object is the Parker Solar Probe, traveling with a speed of 192km/s. So, the speed of light is great, but on the cosmic scale, the speed of light is pretty slow. For Perspective, it would take about 4.5 years to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. With our current capabilities, it could take more than 18,000 years.
How to travel faster?
The most effective way to generate huge amounts of energy by minimum weight for acceleration is converting mass into energy. This can be done using Einstein’s famous equation E= mc^2. Modern-day nuclear fission reactors work on the same principle, but they are only 1% efficient i.e they would require a huge amount of mass to generate high energy. The other alternative is anti-matter matter annihilation which is almost 100% efficient.
Anti Matter and its use for travel across the Galaxy
Anti-matter is just the opposite of normal matter i.e an anti-electron is positively charged and called a positron and an anti-proton has a negative charge. When antimatter and matter come in contact with each other they annihilate and produce huge amounts of energy. This energy is in the form of gamma radiation. The same property could be exploited to fuel a ship to achieve higher acceleration and travel at very high speeds. Only a few kgs of antimatter could be used to accelerate a space ship to about 50% the speed of light and could bring down the travel time to the nearest star to 9 years or less.
Why haven’t we built it?
So, if it’s so efficient and powerful then why aren’t we building it. The problem is we don’t have the capacity to produce enough antimatter. 1 gram of it might cost up to 60 trillion dollars and has only been created on the scale of atoms in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for research purposes, we are still probably a long way away from traveling in a space ship powered by antimatter engines.