Will We Time Travel This Century?

Posted by on January 3, 2014

If time travel is possible…

Well, that’s a really big if, isn’t it? But if it is possible, and human beings are ultimately capable of traveling backwards through time, when do you suppose it will happen?

One professor believes we’ll time travel within this century, maybe even within the next few years. His name is Dr. Ronald Mallett, a theoretical physicist who teaches at the University of Connecticut.

His obsession with time travel is rather typical among those who fantasize about traveling to the past. When he was ten years old, his father died of a heart attack. This tragic event, coupled with his love of science fiction stories like H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, led to a lifelong interest in physics and, more importantly, in devising a way to travel back in time to save his father’s life.

His ideas have garnered him a fair amount of criticism, but he remains undeterred. In the above video, Mallet discusses the professional obstacles he’s faced in the pursuit of creating a time machine, as well as his ideas for how time travel is possible.

The “time machine” would consist of circulating beams of laser light (that is, energy), which would warp space and, in doing so, warp time. Imagine stirring a cup of water with a spoon, and the vortex that results. Eventually, this would create a closed timelike curve, allowing travel to the past or the future, with one caveat: you can’t travel back to before the machine was built.

water-vortex
Image: Flickr/Tony Hisgett via CC by 2.0

Mallett’s idea isn’t so far off from another time machine design: the Tipler Cylinder, devised by physicist Frank Tipler. Both “time machines” would distort spacetime in a similar manner, allowing travel to the past or the future.

Unfortunately, both designs have another thing in common: they’re incredibly impractical, if just for the insane amounts of energy (and, well, space) needed to distort spacetime in such a way. There’s also this pesky little thing thought up by Stephen Hawking called the chronology protection conjecture, which would theoretically prevent such closed timelike curves from appearing at all.

But, again, Mallett is unfazed. He’s been working on a prototype of his machine, using a ring laser to hopefully warp a small area of space. As I said, he believes it’s possible we’ll time travel within this century, perhaps even during his lifetime. Do you think it could happen?

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Post by Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.