A common theme in science fiction media, time travel is fascinating. It was defined by the late philosopher David Lewis in his essay “The Paradoxes of Time Travel” as “[involving] a discrepancy between time and space-time. Every traveler departs and then arrives at his destination; the time elapsed from departure to arrival … is the duration of the journey.”
Time travel is usually understood by most as going back to a bygone era or jumping forward to a point in the future. But how much of the idea is based on reality? Is it possible to travel through time?
Is time travel possible?
According to NASA, time travel is possible, but not in the way you might expect. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity states that time and motion are relative to each other and nothing can go faster than the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second. Time travel occurs through what is called “time dilation”.
Time dilation, according to Live Science, is how one person’s perception of time is different from another, depending on their movement or where they are. Therefore, time is relative.
Dr. Ana Alonso-Serrano, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany, explained the possibility of time travel and how researchers test theories.
Space and time are not absolute values, Alonso-Serrano said. And what makes this more complex is that you are able to carve up space-time.
“The moment you carve out spacetime, you can play with that curvature to make time come in a circle and make a time machine,” Alonso-Serrano told USA TODAY.
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She explained how time travel is theoretically possible. The mathematics behind the creation of the curvature of space is robust, but trying to recreate the exacting physical conditions needed to prove these theories can be challenging.
“The tricky part of this is whether you can find a physical, realistic way to do it,” she said.
Alonso-Serrano said wormholes and warp disks are tools used to create this curvature. The matter needed to achieve space-time warping through a wormhole is exotic matter, which has not been done successfully. Researchers don’t even know if this kind of matter exists, she said.
“It’s something we work on because it’s theoretically possible and because it’s a very good way to test our theory, to look for possible paradoxes,” added Alonso-Serrano.
Apart from the methods mentioned above, Alonso-Serrano is not sure about other methods in which you travel through time.
“I can’t say that nothing is possible, but I can’t ignore the possibility,” she said.
She also mentioned the anecdote of Stephen Hawking’s champagne party for time travelers, where Hawking had a specific GPS location for the party. He didn’t send out invitations until the party had already happened, so only people who could travel to the past would be able to attend. No one showed up, and Hawking referred to the event as “experimental proof” that time travel was not possible.
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