Without any humility, I'm pretty darn ignorant. The amount I don't know could easily fill several national libraries.... Oh, wait! It already does!.... But I do love to learn and I do love to bullshit about star trek, star wars and scifi in general. And modern science. Modern engineering. Or, really, any kind of science and technology talk. But I know my limitations and I do try to state them when they're within the bounds of the conversation.
Still, I appreciate your complement.
I have been having difficulty with the definition of energy recently. It has come to my attention that I've never found or been given a good definition of energy. Instead I was told there's mass energy, electrical energy, potential energy, kinetic energy, thermal energy, etc, etc.
I have jested that the definition of energy is: that which causes mass to move; and the definition of mass is: that which requires energy to move. This circular definition, which defines nothing, made me laugh when I first invented it but it's become something of a mantra anymore as I've yet to find a better one.
So, Robert, when you ask if M/AM annihilation has any other energy to offer besides heat, I find myself strangely at a loss. If energy is simply movement and heat is the aggregate of the random movement of particles, then the energy released is going to be in the basic form of heat....and this is where my train of thought splits into many paths, involving thermodynamics, relativity, quanta, and becomes hard to track, and impossible to explain without writing a tome.
However, I know the question you mean to ask: Can the reaction's energy be more efficiently converted to power in a way other than via heat. The answer to that question is: I think so, but I'm not sure.
First it must be said the reaction must produce heat and can not produce momentum in any other form. Conservation of momentum requires the exhaust of a single M/AM annihilation to carry away whatever momentum the original particles had before they annihilated. This means, theoretically, only two particles need be formed by the reaction as long as they travel in the same direction as the original two particles. Bet in practice, this never happens. Instead, you get a plethora of particles whose combined momentum is the same as that carried by the originals. And with up to several kilograms of M/AM annihilating per second, that effectively translates into an aggregate of considerable random motion: lots of heat. So heat energy is not just inevitable it also the majority...
But converting energy into power using heat engines is quite inefficient, as I'm sure you know. It is far better to convert it electro-magnetically.
I always assumed the electric charge of the plasma would come into play when turned loose upon the warp coils. But now that I think of it, conservation of charge indicates the total charge of the plasma will be neutral. However, the energies of the reaction are so high that the cpt-asymmetry of the nuclear-weak force might come into play. If it does, I have no idea what that would mean. If it doesn't than one would want to separate the electric charges mixed in the plasma into positive and negative before trying to convert the plasma's energy into power. Indeed, I often thought the warp coils would use alternating positive and negative electric charges to create a warp field. I have no supporting evidence to this thought. However, my hypothesis seems corroborated, but not proven by the Daedalus series of books and its "ion cascade engines".
But it also seems possible the electric charges of the plasma are irrelevant to warp drive. That it's charges from the nuclear strong force --known as chromatic charges-- that are important. In this case, I am far beyond my depth!
Dilithium... Yeah, the statement that it's immune to antimatter is hogwash. I always assumed it had microscopic pours in its crystal matrix on the order of a few microns and, under the right circumstances --when they're "energized"?-- the pours would line themselves with electric and magnetic fields that would confine a plasma within them. Thus both matter and antimatter plasma streams would funnel through the pours, and in opposite directions, allowing for a nearly head-on collision and annihilation. The results would basically be pure gamma rays that would then transmute into a particle zoo of a plasma. But the time it would take for the gammas to transmute would probably be long enough for them to completely clear the crystal before-hand, this removing any heat of the reaction from the crystal and keeping it from melting down. This, of course, is a wild-ass guess.
If there were a way of pumping energy --probably electrically or magnetically, or both-- into the crystal so that the fields in the pours then applied some of that energy to the plasma, then you also have a plasma energizer... The effect might be a combination of the Hall effect and piezoelectric, making a magneto-hydro-dynamic accelerator out of each pour? Again, you'd have to somehow put energy in to get the energizing effect, and you'd lose some when all is said and done, but you be able to intermix M/AM and fusion plasma without dropping the total energy curve of the plasma.
Designs for fusion powerplants come in all shapes and sizes. My two modern-day favorites are the polywell and focus fusion types; in shape, the cores are a big sphere and a small cylinder, respectively. However, the cavity behind Scotty and Kirk in the above linked photo does not immediately suggest any proposed fusion reactor I am aware of, either from inside or out. I've often puzzled over what that space might be. I have no answers.
When I visualize the core of a shock-tube fusion reactor, I think of a scuba tank attached, via a valve sans regulator, to a 6" long tube, about an inch in diameter. Inside the tank is pressurized deuterium gas and the tube's inner walls are specifically shaped to use the the tank's pressure to accelerate the fuel to around Mach 5 or 6 and then past the shock inducing lumps.
Now, I'm pretty darn sure this visualization could not work if put into practice. First off, the amount of time a scuba tank could sustain a Mach 5 flow is really quite small: you're not going to get much power out of it. Second, the dimensions of the tube are ludicrous. The heat involved in the Mach flow would melt the tube rapidly, let alone the heat created by the fusion burn. You could solve those problems with active cooling and a very powerful pump. But that adds considerable complexity to the visualization, so I allow myself to realize the incompleteness of the visualization without correcting for it.
Increasing the diameter of the tube would increase the power output but would also require more fuel flow, needing a bigger fuel supply. Also, the burn efficiency is low: only a small percentage of the fuel gets burned. It is, at best, a secondary auxiliary option for a vessel the size of Enterprise, definitely not up to the task of heavy duty, reliable power supply...at least not as I understand it....I've been meaning to calculate a model of the interactions but the concrete equations for hydro- and thermo- dynamics are outside my understanding and would take quite a bit of study before I could attempt it. None the less I know such a reactor is possible, if currently impractical.
Still, using 23rd century tech, its simplicity might be useful aboard a shuttle craft, or other small vessel. (Honestly, I never considered it before now.) Especially as an auxiliary power source when the mains are offline. Plus, it would use the same fuel as the M/AM reactor: deuterium. But it would be the (DD) reaction I complained of being rather low energy in previous posts.
Frankly, I like the fission allusions. Fission is an ugly reaction, no doubt: neutrons, neutrons everywhere! But compared to fusion, it's easy, reliable energy. I can accept fission as "battery power" because when splitting a fissionable atom you're releasing energy stored from supernovae. You're not converting mass that would not be eventually converted on its own anyway. I don't like it as "battery power" because it's not really rechargeable and it gives off more energy than I really expect from "batteries". For these two reasons I prefer nuclear isomers for batteries... especially for shuttlecraft. And if this kind of battery could be made small enough, for phasers, too...None the less, a turn-key fission reaction could be considered a "battery" in its own right.
However, I really don't see many options for Cochrane's Phoenix to generate that much power for the duration demonstrated with tech that's lying around in 2060. I know there's enough plutonium in a modern nuclear bomb to run the Phoenix on her historic flight at least a hundred times and probably a couple thousand times over. (The difference in estimate is due to my ignorance as to how little plutonium is in a modern nuke. It's less than 16kg but I don't know how much less.) And for a one-off, throw away power supply, a simple fission reactor could be designed and implemented in that size for those power levels even if you had to scrape it together with scrap...though only if you had some extremely capable people on your staff. (Of course modifying the booster rocket to have the power it demonstrated is another matter. I have some thoughts, but...)
For me, the cool thing about fission powered warp drives, and fusion powered ones as well, is the possibilities. I mean, it opens up all kinds of avenues for stories and thought experiments, and different kinds of play within the universe that would not otherwise be possible. It becomes a bigger, more interesting galaxy.
However, for the sake of argument, I suppose it might be possible for the Phoenix to have been powered by a sonic-shock fusion power source. With superior knowledge and experience of plasma, fusion and high temp materials, and an adequate 3d printer, perhaps Cochrane's team could have created such a reactor in post apocalyptic Montana. The reactor itself is simple in concept, it's just really hard in practice.
Your questions about gamma rays have been making me think and speculate deeply on the possibilities of the nucleus.
Gammas don't tend to interact with electrons, simply because they're moving around so much within their atomic orbit. It's nucleons they interact with, and mostly protons. So the chemistry of any material meant to interact with gammas is only important in how tightly and solidly it can pack nuclei together and keep them together. That tells me that if the warp coils must interact with gamma rays, then it will do so most effectively if most of its electrons are metallically shared by neighbor nuclei; even the ones with lower, completed orbits that usually don't chemically bond. Indeed, if you could get ions to covalently bond at very low orbitals and then add electrons over the top in metallic bonds, you would have your material. But I don't know if that's even *theoretically* possible. And I can't think of how gammas interacting with such a material would be of any use...Of course, that doesn't really mean much.
Gammas are created in plasma bottles all the time: When a fast traveling nucleus brushes past another charge and is deflected, the nucleus gives up some of its momentum in the form of a gamma ray. This is bremsstrahlung radiation and it's the bane of all fusion reactors because this is the mechanism of plasma thermalization. Thermalization spreads out the heat-energy of the plasma into a gaussian distribution, making sure only a small portion of your carefully energized plasma is hot enough to fuse. Major pain!
But! If what you want is gamma rays, deliberately forcing really hot plasma into circumstances for bremsstrahlung would get you what you want! I can't really think of a good set up for doing this at the moment...but I bet it's possible! And if it's possible in this way, it's possible in others.
But here's my biggest objection against gamma rays: a free nucleus laser --similar to a free electron or free proton laser in principal-- could make all the gammas you could ever want. But the system would look much different than what we see in TOS. Free particle lasers --electron, proton, nucleon, etc.-- push a fast-moving, charged particle down a track of magnets. The magnets jiggle the particle hard and that makes laser light with a wavelength that depends on the oscillations of the particle. We're making x-rays now with free electron lasers and gammas are expected with protons. Heavier nuclei would allow for higher energy gammas. Which is to say, you could tune the output spectra to whatever you want.
However, though gamma rays as a method for transferring energy from the main reactor to the nacelles seems like a lost cause to me, maybe they're used as a method of keeping the nacelles responsive to a warp plasma that *does* transfer the power. I could imagine a material that would normally just accumulate temperature when impinged upon by plasma but that does interesting things to spacetime if some or all of its nuclei are in a higher energy quantum state...a state that could be created with gamma rays? And if a majority of those nuclei were not in that state, the nacelles could not make a warp field... This is PURE speculation without a SHRED of scientific or trek evidence to support it. It could solve some TOS problems, though, couldn't it?
Since the DS9 tachyon sailor episode, making tachyon's FTL doped and heavy interaction with matter canon in then Trek universe, I've suspected that the warp coils released tachyons when struck by a wave of of plasma. As stated above, I believed it had something to do with hitting the material with strong positive and negative electric charges, very rapidly. By striking each coil segment in the right order, you'd get what amounted to a oscillating field of tachyons. Oscillate the correctly and you get a warp field. (What "correctly" means in this context, I don't know.)
Making tachyons is hard. If it weren't, we'd have detected them already. Maybe you can do it by shaking a gamma-ray-induced nuclear-isomer really hard with an electric shock from highly energized plasma!
How's that for wild speculation?! Are you not entertained?!
But that brings me to another set of wild speculations. The alcubierre drive can work at slower than light speeds as well as faster. The warp drive cannot... at least, not easily. Indeed, AFAIK, alwarp drive does not need exotic, negative mass-energy if it is traveling STL. IE, it's easier to implement as STL. What if alwarp is "impulse" and "warp" is another form of FTL that is less power hungry? That would make Scotty's impulse statement mean the Romulans were using an inferior form of FTL, one that was power hungry, not one that was necessarily limited in speed. "We can outrun them because we can get more speed for less power: they're running on impulse."
I have more to say but it's already taken too long to get even this done.