HOUSTON – NASA has published findings that seem to defy Newton’s third law of motion, thus casting doubt on a foundational premise of modern physics and astonishing the scientific community.
Nearly 20 years ago, a British scientist named Roger Shawyer invented a theoretical rocket propulsion system that creates thrust without needing propellant. Known as the “EmDrive,” Shawyer’s invention relies on microwave technology to generate momentum.
“[The] EmDrive generates thrust by bouncing around electromagnetic energy (in this case, microwave photons) in a closed, cone-shaped chamber,” explained “National Geographic” in a recent article. “As those photons collide with the chamber’s walls, they somehow propel the device forward, despite the fact that nothing is released from the chamber.”
Because rockets today are laden with heavy fuel tanks, the EmDrive would be an innovative, lightweight means of space travel that could significantly reduce costs and increase speeds. In theory, an EmDrive engine could send a spacecraft to Mars in just 70 days.
Scientists were initially skeptical of Shawyer’s idea because it seems to contradict Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. How could the EmDrive generate thrust in one direction if it does not expel propellant in the opposite direction?
“Without any propellant being pushed out, there should be no momentum, breaking the conservation of momentum rule,” an online report in “WIRED” stated. “Either the laws of physics as we know them are wrong, or the EmDrive theory isn’t quite right.”
Consequently, most of the scientific community dismissed the EmDrive concept as fringe pseudoscience, saying it contradicted both math and physics. One scientist described it as “a really bad idea” that defies “standard physics.”
In spite of the scientific community’s incredulity, NASA tested Shawyer’s concept at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. They published their findings earlier this month in an online peer-reviewed journal article, concluding that the EmDrive technology appears to work, producing 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt of thrust in NASA’s tests.
“[NASA’s paper ] is the first peer-reviewed research ever published on the EM Drive, which firmly takes it out of the realm of pseudoscience into a technology that’s worth taking skeptically, but seriously,” reported “Business Insider.” “The next step for the EM Drive is for it to be tested in space, which is scheduled to happen in the coming months, with plans to launch the first EM Drive having been made back in September.”
NASA’s physics-defying discovery underscores the point that scientific knowledge—even well-established scientific laws such as Newton’s laws of motion—is subject to change. Even the expression “scientifically proven” is a contradiction in terms, writes physicist Carlo Rovelli.
“There’s nothing that is scientifically proven. The core of science is the deep awareness that we have wrong ideas, we have prejudices. We have ingrained prejudices,” Rovelli wrote in a 2014 piece published by “New Republic.” “In our conceptual structure for grasping reality, there might be something not appropriate, something we may have to revise to understand better. So at any moment we have a vision of reality that is effective, it’s good, it’s the best we have found so far. It’s the most credible we have found so far; it’s mostly correct.”
In response to Rovelli’s column, Elizabeth Mitchell with Answers in Genesis proposed that the Bible is the only unfailingly true account of our origins—a reliable “yardstick by which to assess ideas relevant to the unobservable past.”
“If only all scientists wishing to explain our origins would allow their vision to include an understanding that the physical universe was brought into being by a Creator God, a God who has left us an eyewitness account of our origins and the early history of the earth in Genesis, a history that is consistent with the observable facts of science,” she wrote in an online article published on the Answers in Genesis website.
Newton, who attended Trinity College, also privately studied the Bible and church history. While he rejected the doctrine of the triune God, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences states that Newton did believe in the biblical creation account.
“[Newton] possessed a deep religious sense, venerated the Bible and accepted its account of creation,” the group explains. “In late editions of his scientific works he expressed a strong sense of God’s providential role in nature.”