Coefficient of Friction in Space
Name: Jacquie B.
You answered a question of is there friction in space. I
recently read that the density of particles or atoms in space is
about 1 atom to ever cubic yard of space. If this is correct, I have
been searching for the coefficient of friction in space in reference
to the amount of particles which exist in space. If a craft could
travel at the speed of light or faster, what would be the assigned
number of the coefficient of friction with the amount of free atoms
or particles (not dust and rock)in space. For example the TV show
Voyager, if Voyager did not have shields and as Voyager was
traveling at the speed of light or faster the atomic particles would
hit the ship and create heat. Voyager's computer would have the
coefficient of friction stored in its computer for this formula.
Friction results from one surface rubbing against another. Friction is
not the correct quantity for which to look. Air resistance is a better
model. Air resistance is due to the mass density of a gas and the
relative speed of an object moving through the gas. The shape and size
of the object can also be important. A ball-shaped ship would hit more
matter and feel more resistance than would a needle-shaped ship. At
small speeds, this would not be important. It could start to matter at
high speeds. Read up on air resistance to get a better idea of what
Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Illinois Central College
Faster-than-light travel of a spaceship is simply not possible given our
current understanding of the universe. Relativity tells us that the mass of
an object approaches infinity as it approaches light speed, and therefore no
matter how much you (finitely) accelerate, you cannot ever reach light
speed. So this question is not really answerable with science. If you invent
some special way of traveling faster than light, such as 'warping' in Star
Trek or some other kind of discontinuous path through space, the concept of
friction might be meaningless there as well.
In space, radiative heating -- heat generated from electromagnetic radiation
(such as from light) -- will cause more heating than friction. There are so
few particles in deep space that frictional heating is pretty much zero.
Voyager should be more concerned with radiation than with friction.
Hope this helps,
You ask a very difficult and very good question. Keep them coming.
Unfortunately, this question is outside my area of expertise, but I
am attaching two papers on the subject I found while searching
online. I hope these help to answer your question. If they don't, I
would recommend looking at the references section of each paper to
see if there are other papers that may address your question more
Click here to return to the Physics Archives
Update: June 2012