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Time travel: five ways that we could do it

Time travel: five ways that we could do it

In 2009 the British physicist Stephen Hawking held a party for time travellers – the twist was he sent out the invites a year later (No guests showed up). Time travel is probably impossible. Even if it were possible, Hawking and others have argued that you could never travel back before the moment your time machine was built.

But travel to the future? That’s a different story.Of course, we are all time travellers as we are swept along in the current of time, from past to future, at a rate of one hour per hour.But, as with a river, the current flows at different speeds in different places.

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1. Time travel via speed

1. Time travel via speed

This is the easiest and most practical way to time travel into the far future – go really fast.

According to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, when you travel at speeds approaching the speed of light, time slows down for you relative to the outside world.

This is not a just a conjecture or thought experiment – it’s been measured. Using twin atomic clocks (one flown in a jet aircraft, the other stationary on Earth) physicists have shown that a flying clock ticks slower, because of its speed.

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2. Time travel via gravity

2. Time travel via gravity

The next method of time travel is also inspired by Einstein. According to his theory of general relativity, the stronger the gravity you feel, the slower time moves.

As you get closer to the centre of the Earth, for example, the strength of gravity increases. Time runs slower for your feet than your head.

In 2010, physicists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) placed two atomic clocks on shelves, one 33 centimetres above the other, and measured the difference in their rate of ticking. The lower one ticked slower because it feels a slightly stronger gravity.

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3. Time travel via suspended animation

3. Time travel via suspended animation

Another way to time travel to the future may be to slow your perception of time by slowing down, or stopping, your bodily processes and then restarting them later.

Bacterial spores can live for millions of years in a state of suspended animation, until the right conditions of temperature, moisture, food kick start their metabolisms again. Some mammals, such as bears and squirrels, can slow down their metabolism during hibernation, dramatically reducing their cells’ requirement for food and oxygen.

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4. Time travel via wormholes

4. Time travel via wormholes

General relativity also allows for the possibility for shortcuts through spacetime, known as wormholes, which might be able to bridge distances of a billion light years or more, or different points in time.

Many physicists, including Stephen Hawking, believe wormholes are constantly popping in and out of existence at the quantum scale, far smaller than atoms. The trick would be to capture one, and inflate it to human scales – a feat that would require a huge amount of energy, but which might just be possible, in theory.

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5. Time travel using light

5. Time travel using light

Another time travel idea, put forward by the American physicist Ron Mallet, is to use a rotating cylinder of light to twist spacetime. Anything dropped inside the swirling cylinder could theoretically be dragged around in space and in time, in a similar way to how a bubble runs around on top your coffee after you swirl it with a spoon.

According to Mallet, the right geometry could lead to time travel into either the past and the future.

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