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A question on the Higgs fields and Mass

  1. May 10, 2009 #1
    Assuming the existence of the higgs field, what would happen to an inertial object if it were to 'magically' reduce it's mass, through reducing it's ability to interact with the higgs field? Would it's velocity relative to a stationary object increase, decrease, or remain unaffected? Are there any other effects that I may not be considering?

    I am asking because I am writing a story in which I want the main characters to be accidentally transported forwards in time about 1000 years, and I came up with a possible mechanism:
    I imagined a 'higgs suppression' field which could be generated by a device on board a space craft, allowing rather meager means of propulsion to become much more effective. In my story, I have the first test of this device encountering a problem which causes it to overload and reduce the mass of the ship to a few planck masses, causing them to accelerate to within 99.9% of the speed of light.
    My question is because I am curious if this would really happen, assuming there was no additional thrust being added to the ship, or if I would need it to happen during an engine burn in order for them to reach that speed. I am assuming that the 'higgs suppression' field affects only the matter of the ship and it's contents, and not the reacting mass of the fuel as it is exploded behind the ship. (otherwise it'd be a pretty pointless thing to test it on a ship in space, instead of doing so in a gravitational field, where the measuring of it's mass is quite a bit easier.)

    Thanks in advance for the help. I hope this was the right forum for such a speculative question.
     
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  3. May 10, 2009 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    It's "magic" - you can do whatever you like with it.
     
  4. May 10, 2009 #3
    Well, I said "magically" because I wanted to make it clear that it was accomplished through some hitherto-unknown means, not through anything more mundane like shedding some of the matter of the spaceship.
    I didn't mean magical in the sense that it's accomplished by magical means, it's meant to be accomplished through technological means.
     
  5. May 11, 2009 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    Yes, but when you invoke "hitherto-unknown means", you're in exactly the same boat. These "hitherto-unknown means" can have any properties you would like, so you can still do whatever you like with it.
     
  6. May 11, 2009 #5
    But I already spelled out the extent of those properties:
    The only effect this means has is of lowering the level of interactions with the higgs field of the particles it encompasses. I don't want to simply say "It was a a problem with the transverse hyper drive that caused the accident" because if I read that myself, I'd cringe and say "What the hell is a transverse hyper drive?"

    I'm attempting to make the science in the story as hard as is possible, but if I were to limit myself entirely to known science, it wouldn't make for very good science fiction. My goal here is to avoid having to rely on "It's future technology that we can't understand" to explain how things work they way they do. I want to present a story which is both compelling in terms of it's use of future technologies, but does not make the scientifically literate reader cringe and say "That wouldn't happen if you lowered the ships interactions with the higgs field!" I want to write a story which represents a believable, realistic view of how technology may advance in the future, not one which relies on such old plot gimmicks as hyperspace and treknobabble.
     
  7. May 11, 2009 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    Once you posit something that is not known to be possible, all sorts of things can happen.

    Personally, I doubt your spaceship would survive such an event. You'd end up drastically changing particle properties, and thus atomic and nuclear properties, and thus the chemistry and biology of your spaceship. You'd be lucky to get some sort of goo out the other end.

    I don't find the idea of changing the Higgs coupling "a believable, realistic view".
     
  8. May 11, 2009 #7
    That's much more the sort of response I've been looking for.... Do you have any thoughts as to why it would produce such deleterious effects and what sort of effects it would produce? Absent such ideas (and while I have thought a bit about it, I'm not familiar enough with the subject to think up any)I'm going to just ignore the notion of deleterious side effects (or at least mention it as accounted for), since "It probably will have some nasty side effects," doesn't equate to "It will almost definitely have some nasty side effects, because of the following principles...."

    Do you have any suggestions as to what you would consider a believable mechanism for subjecting a spacecraft to such time dilation effects, which could be accomplished in the solar system? The context of this assumes there are no means of FTL travel at the time of the experiment, and no generation ships having been built before that time, so humans live exclusively in the solar system. I'm open to input, especially any input which might make it more believable.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2009
  9. May 11, 2009 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Let's back up for a second.

    You have an object of mass m moving at velocity v. It has momentum mv and kinetic energy 1/2 mv^2. Now you turn on your gadget and m changes. There is no velocity that will allow both momentum and energy to be conserved.

    Now given that you have a device that violates momentum and energy conservation, you have your spaceship. You don't need to add anything about a Higgs. Indeed, once you give up momentum and energy conservation, you pretty much give up all of physics. It's impossible to predict what will happen in a self-consistent way, because you're already inconsistent.
     
  10. May 11, 2009 #9
    The SI unit of momentum is kg m/s, the SI unit of mass is the kilogram, and the SI unit of velocity is the meter per second.
    So anytime you divide the mass by a factor x, you need merely multiply the velocity by the same factor x to maintain momentum. And since you're releasing energy by lowering the higgs coupling, there's energy there to accomplish this acceleration.
    As for the excess energy, (bear in mind that I'm ignoring technical limitations) why couldn't it be stored in the form of heat or electricity and released back into the mass through the same mechanism that got it when this fictional field is dissipated? There would be less energy released because of the energy used up in the acceleration, but since I'm ignoring technical limitations I could say that energy from the ship's main power source could be used to make up the difference.

    That's what I'm trying to avoid: Ignoring known physical principles. I want to conserve momentum and energy, and I'm simply trying to figure out a fictional method of doing so, without sacrificing my ability to posit new methods of interstellar travel.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2009
  11. May 12, 2009 #10

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    I already know this.

    And how do you know this? How do you know it doesn't work the other way and you don't lose energy?

    You're making up some sort of fantasy physics for your plot device. That's fine; it's fiction. You might as well carry it all the way through. Given that you are not conserving energy and momentum, you might as well use this for your plot device.
     
  12. May 12, 2009 #11

    diazona

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    That's why so many scifi stories rely on futuristic technology, "magical" materials (Star Trek's dilithium, Stargate's naqahdah, etc.), and technobabble. If you try to tinker with the forefront of modern science in the way that you're suggesting, you may just wind up giving your readers the ammunition to shoot down your fictional science, so to speak - in other words, being too faithful to physics and too detailed just makes it easier for people to see why the technology in your story couldn't be real. The fact is, a lot of the cool stuff that we see in science fiction seems practically impossible based on current physics, so if you commit yourself to working with known physical principles, there's not that much you can do to make your story interesting - you're pretty much forced to invent a fairly large new area of physics to make things like high-speed interstellar travel possible, and you're probably better off coming up with some sort of major groundbreaking discovery to justify it than trying to work it in to the Standard Model.

    Of course, done properly, even large new areas of science aren't necessarily going to make scientifically literate readers cringe; you just need to make it seem believable as an extension of modern science. Remember that science is a process - the results of the process (i.e. known physical laws) are always subject to change, so you can play around with those, but keep the process realistic.
     
  13. May 12, 2009 #12
    You mean the energy difference between the 'lost' mass and the energy needed to accelerate it?
    Because I'm ignoring technical limitations, as is the norm in sci-fi. I'm assuming some fictional mechanism to store this energy so that it can be released when the fictional field is, in order to return the ship to it's original mass.

    So there's no known way to determine what would happen to an object whose mass was spontaneously reduced, is that what you're saying? That much I can live with.


    I understand what you're saying. What I'm trying to avoid is including details that the reader educated in physics can point to and say "That wouldn't happen that way."
    Examples of such details are the (annoyingly ubiquitous) presence of sound in space, the ignoring of time dilation when traveling at speeds which are a significant fraction of c, the notion that 'reversing the polarity' of something will actually do anything, people exploding when exposed to a vacuum, etc...
    I'm fine with a reader saying "Suppressing the higgs field! That's ridiculous!" because any such reader probably shouldn't be reading sci-fi, anways. What I worry about is a reader who says "Suppressing the higgs field would most certainly not make that happen..."

    I have an issue with this particular fictional tech because there are (naturally) scientists and engineers involved in it's testing and design, and scientists and engineers who are on board the ship when the fictional device malfunctions, and have to fix it.
    In the future setting, I have no problem putting forth less rigorous elements like using the alcubierre metric as a form of FTL propulsion, because the character from that time with whom the main characters interact is not a scientist, and so his explanation of how the alcubierre metric works is "Something about high energy symmetry breaking and goldstone bosons, I don't know, I just fly the damn thing."
    I can easily explain how a non-scientist can operate a space ship in the far future (AI and robotics assisting him in flying and repairing the ship), but I find it difficult to explain why either there's no scientists on board a ship testing out a new form of technology for interplanetary travel, or why those scientist seem to lack a basic understanding of modern-day physics, yet have no difficulty in understanding late 21st century physics.
     
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