A common theme in sci-fi media, time travel is gripping. It is defined by the late philosopher David Lewis in his essay “The Paradoxes of Time Travel” as “[involving] gap between time and space-time. Every traveler departs and then arrives at his destination; the time that elapsed from departure to arrival… is the duration of the journey.
Time travel is commonly understood by most as traveling back to a bygone era or jumping to a point in the future. But how much of the idea is based on reality? Is it possible to time travel?
Is time travel possible?
According to NASA, time travel is possible, but not in the way one might expect. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity says 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 goes 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. So time is relative.
Dr. Ana Alonso-Serrano, 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 all this more complex is that you are able to sculpt spacetime.
“As you sculpt spacetime, you can play with that curvature to make time come in a circle and create a time machine,” Alonso-Serrano told USA TODAY.
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She explained how theoretically time travel is possible. The math behind creating the curvature of spacetime is sound, but trying to recreate the strict physical conditions needed to prove these theories can be difficult.
“The tricky part is whether you can find a physical, realistic way to do it,” she said.
Alonso-Serrano said wormholes and warp engines are tools used to create this curvature. The matter needed to achieve space-time curvature via a wormhole is exotic matter, which has not been done successfully. Researchers don’t even know if this type of matter exists, she says.
“It’s something we’re working on because it’s theoretically possible, and because it’s a very nice way to test our theory, to look for possible paradoxes,” Alonso-Serrano added.
Apart from the methods mentioned above, Alonso-Serrano is unsure about other time travel methods.
“I can’t say 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 GPS-specific location for the party. He didn’t send out invitations until after the party had already taken place so that only people who could travel to the past could attend. No one showed up, and Hawking called this event “experimental proof” that time travel was not possible.