Trope-a-Day: Intangibility

Intangibility: Has yet to be successfully developed, for most of the reasons given in the trope page (although I disagree on one major point: intangible objects can and probably should have mass; it’s the electromagnetic interaction they need to be lack in order to properly interpenetrate).

There is one prominent failure mode, however: muon metals, thanks to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, can pass through normal (electron-ic) matter as if it wasn’t even there, since electrons and muons do not mutually exclude. This makes life interesting if the magnetic couple necessary to hold the (muonic, due to the spectacular refractory properties of muon matter) magnetic nozzle of your torch drive in place fails, since you may well see said nozzle fly right through the rest of your ship and indeed you, impelled by the remaining coupled thrust. People tend to find this disturbing.

(Well, briefly, since a mere moment thereafter they tend to be preoccupied with the stern of their starship melting, vaporizing, and exploding, due to the ensuing catastrophic drive containment failure. And yet.)

Handwavium: Muon Metals

A reader recently asked the relevant question: how do they stabilize the muons in muon metals, muons not being known for their stability, and when binding metals together, not exactly capable of being stabilized by moving at very high fractions of c, either?

Well, that would be space magic!

(Alas. But with sufficient futureward advancement, SFnal hardness inevitably becomes SFnal firmness.)

Which is to say, so far as I know, there isn’t a known process to do it. (Unless the people who claim that muons should be stable in electron-degenerate matter, like white dwarf material, due to Fermi suppression [the lack of free quantum states to accomodate the decay electron] are correct, but there are good reasons to suspect that they aren’t.)

What lets them do it is another by-product of ontotechnology – hinted at in this reference to a “boser” – that enables mucking about with the bosons that mediate the weak interaction, rendering the stuff stable or at least metastable by oh-look-a-furious-handwave means. If it can be done in reality, it’ll require a whole lot more knowledge of quantum flavordynamics than we have right now, at least.

(Side digression: I like to think that this and its general treatment illustrates what I consider one of the guiding principles of “firm SF”, as I call it. It is acceptable to invoke a little handwavium to generate your unobtainium, but having done it, your unobtanium will-by-Jove follow the laws of physics as they would apply to it. Hence my trying to figure out what exactly hypothetical muon metals would look like, why tangle channels absolutely do violate causality, etc., etc. Just because it’s not currently possible and may be absolutely impossible doesn’t mean that it’s magical, and certainly doesn’t mean that it’s inconsistent.)

The Incidental Problems of Handwavial Correctness

Today’s vexing aesthetic physics of handwavium problem:

INASMUCH as the energy levels and resulting orbitals of muon-proton atoms are completely different from those of electron-proton atoms –

WELL, obviously, or what would be the point in making muon metals in the first place –

AND INASMUCH as this makes muon-photon interactions differ remarkably from electron-photon interactions, thus changing radically the emission spectrum and other optical properties from their electronic equivalent –

WHAT do the blasted things look like?

(It is on those mornings when I find myself contemplating this before my first cup of coffee, inasmuch as said metals are a vitally important and visible component of a hypothetical fusion torch drive, that I have some sympathy for the technobabble approach to doing things. Somehow, I doubt the Star Trek writers ever had to deal with this sort of thing…)

Trope-a-Day: Unobtainium

Unobtainium: Of many kinds.  Sophisticated materials science is one of the major areas of advancement in this particular universe.  Of particular note: deuterium slush, metastable metallic hydrogen, helium-3 and antimatter (more specifically, antideuterium slush) for power, room-temperature superconductors, sapphiroids (the trade name for the high-grade kind is Adamant™ – not adamantium, because it’s not an element; after all, transparent aluminum has been used, even if accurate), carbon nanotubes, highly refractory cerametals and metallic glasses, muon metals, strangelets, raw tangle – oh, and fun nonbaryonic things like exotic matter (you make stargate frames out of it), gluonic string (held together by the strong force, thus with the best tensile strength available), and so on and so forth.  Less elementally, various nanofluids with fascinatingly exotic behavior, nanotech composites, and smart and biomimetic materials (living metal, nanowell-bearing programmable matter, etc.), computronium (okay, that’s not an element either, but…), and again, and so forth.

And medically speaking, of course, immortagens.

Trope-a-Day: Made of Indestructium

Made of Indestructium: … alas, the universe is hard on indestructium.

About as close as nature gets is probably neutronium – and whatever even more degenerate forms of quark matter, etc., you can get beyond it. Sadly for engineers everywhere, neutronium is rather hard to work at the best of times, behaving essentially like a fluid, and having a really nasty habit of evaporating in a giant whuff of neutron radiation the moment you remove it from the deep, deep gravity well necessary to make the stuff. Metastable neutronium would be nice, and there are people working on that…

In somewhat more practical terms, muon metals, which is what you get when you strip all the electrons out of metal and replace them with muons, their leptonic cousins. Since muons have the same charge as the electron but greater mass, they have much smaller ground-state waveforms than electrons in the atoms thus formed, resulting in matter than has similar chemistry – albeit rather more endothermic – to the original, but whose density and physical properties in re energy-resistance are pushed way, way, way up as the atomic spacing shrinks way down. It would make good armor, if the mass penalty wasn’t, inevitably, quite so harsh. On the other hand, it’s one of the things that makes torch drives practical (being so incredibly refractory, and thus letting you push the drive output/waste heat/resulting radiation rather further than you otherwise could), and also is invaluable to coat lighthugger wake shields with, being able to easily shrug off the sort of dust-particle impacts you get when plowing through interstellar space at 0.9c.

But neither of these is actual indestructium, ’cause, well, antimatter. Neutronium and antineutronium will annihilate quite nicely, and while regular antimatter isn’t quite as corrosive to muon matter as it is to everything else – an antimuon is not a positron – the proton-antiproton annihilation will proceed as normal and will make the whole thing come apart just fine.

Alas, indestructium, we barely knew ye.

(There’s also singularity-locking, the handwavium I promised to explain last time. That’s actually a simple reuse of existing handwavium – vector control – in this case being used to grab and redirect, while conserving, the momentum of things that would otherwise impact the surface of the singularity-locked thing into a giant kinetic energy sink.

The reason it’s called singularity-locking is because the sort of giant kinetic energy sink you want for this is a modestly-sized black hole. This is why stargates use it, because they already have a modestly-sized entangled kernel sitting in there to make their primary function work, so you might as well get the extra use out of it. It’s also why nothing else does, because if you think muon metals have a harsh mass penalty, they’ve got nothing on dragging millions of tons of hole around with you to make your armor work. A mass ratio of what, again?

[Also, people – with fairly good reason – don’t exactly want one in their back yard anyway, on general principles.]

Sadly, this isn’t pure-quill indestructium either, technically – while it would require a ridiculous amount of energy, it is theoretically possible to overload either the singularity-locking systems or the K-sink itself, and boom. Fortunately, it would be so much boom that so far no-one’s seemed inclined to hit a stargate with a small moon and see what happens…)