The warp core is a matter and antimatter intermix chamber. It mixes the two to cause particle annihilation and thus liberate energy, which is utilized to power the warp drive and all other systems aboard the Starship Enterprise (and other Trek vessels).
The big question is this: If the warp core reacts matter and antimatter to get energy, where does it get the antimatter in the first place? In order to create antimatter using present technology, a very large particle accelerator such as those at CERN or Fermilab is used to create particle collisions with extremely high energies. During the annihilation of some of these matter particles, antimatter (in the form of antiprotons or positrons, perhaps both) is expelled and 'caught' using magnetic fields in vacuum.
The catch is that in order to make antimatter, you have to put enough energy into the system to account for 1/2 the amount of energy that will be liberated when your resultant antimatter reacts with matter. At least, I think this is true. Someone will, I'm sure, correct me (please!) if not. Thus, the net gain in energy that results from annihilating your antimatter comes from the released energy of the matter particles (according to e=mc^2). So, if the Enterprise warpcore is forced to expend this energy to create the antimatter in the first place, why not just use that to drive the system without all this dangerous mucking about with antimatter?
DANGER: Excessive treknology treknobabble ahead! Abort now if this will cause your head to explode!
Here's my hypothesis. Let's look at what 'facts' we do have regarding the warp core, and engage in vigorous handwaving while we assume they're all 'right' and 'consistent'.
- The warpcore reacts matter and antimatter.
- The warpcore operates by, and is designed to, 'warp' space, hence the name.
- Antimatter is, in some sense, the 'mirror image' of matter.
- The operation of the warp drive takes hellish amounts of energy.
- Starting a 'cold' warp drive is an extremely energy-intensive (and time-intensive, for safety) process.
- The U.S.S. Enterprise-D, at least, carries slush deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen useful for fusion) as 'fuel', and replenishes its supplies with Bussard collectors.
Okay. I posit that the warpcore is capable of 'bending' space in such a fashion that passing matter through the field results in the 'mirroring' of that matter; ergo, matter becomes antimatter. This flipping of matter, by the way, doesn't take nearly as much energy as 'making' antimatter. Due to the complexity of the process and the extremely dangerous nature of the resultant antimatter, this can only be done with small quantities at a time of very simple materials. Hydrogen is ideal.
So, the steps involved in making energy in the warpcore are as follows:
- The warpcore creates a localized entry into subspace, or a field which passes matter into and out of subspace. It does this using stored power.
- Slush deuterium is passed through this field in small quantities. It comes out the other side with a reversed charge, or as antihydrogen.
- This antihydrogen is intermixed with unmolested slush deuterium in a precisely monitored ratio (1:1).
- The hydrogen and antihydrogen annihilate each other, liberating energy. The amount of energy liberated is calculated by:
... where m=mass of each fuel, and c is the speed of light.
- This energy is used to power the warp drive (as opposed to the warp core) to drive the ship. Some of it is diverted back into the process to keep the conversion field powered; some more of it is diverted to the operation of the ship's systems.
This process thus means that creating and reacting antimatter can suddenly be a profitable enterprise. (Sorry, couldn't resist!) You end up with the above equation's worth of energy (the total content of both the antimatter, which you 'paid' for, and the annihilated matter).
Even if the 'conversion field' took as much power as the conventional process to make antimatter, it's definitely safer, and it allows a doubling of efficiency or more though the annihilation of plain matter.
Whew. Anyone care to object/argue/correct/comment?