Sci-fi has thought of myriad contraptions to catapult folks backwards through time — a tricked-out phone booth that’s bigger on the inside, swirling portals that appear out of nowhere, an ’82 DeLorean that first needs to get to 88 mph — but what about lasers?
Physicist and UConn professor Ron Mallett believes that it could at least be possible someday. Motivated at a young age by the untimely loss of his father, Mallett became fascinated with science fiction and always wished to find a way to travel back in time. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine forever changed his life. Now, he’s created a prototype time machine that shows how a laser beaming light in circles could literally turn the clock back.
"By studying the type of gravitational field that was produced by a ring laser, this could lead to a new way of looking at the possibility of a time machine based on a circulating beam of light," Mallett told CNN. "Eventually a circulating beam of laser lights could act as a sort of a time machine and cause a twisting of time that would allow you to go back into the past.”
Space is already being bent by the gravity exerted from every single object that exists in the universe. That is Einstein’s theory of general relativity at work. When you add everything together, it’s as if the gravitational force from a behemoth mass out there is pulling on space. Pull hard enough, and you could (at least theoretically) twist space — and time. Both will end up twisted because whatever happens to space also happens to time. Einstein called it spacetime for that reason.
Here is where it gets kind of freaky. Say you did twist space, and simultaneously twisted time by doing so. Mallett thinks that by using a ring laser to twist time into a loop, you could fast-forward and rewind over and over again. While the laws of physics always seem to get in the way when theorizing about backwards time travel, there is nothing that says it is impossible. Sound familiar? Enter the wormhole.
If you’re a fan of sci-fi, you’ve probably seen someone get sucked through a wormhole, or a hypothetical tunnel in space that is a shortcut from one region of spacetime to another. Think of how John Crichton’s spaceship flew into one and ended up innumerable light-years away from Earth on Farscape (pictured above). The thing is, opening up a wormhole isn’t even easy in theory.
“Even an atomic bomb does not have enough energy to drive a time machine. For a time machine, you need the energy of an exploding star,” City University of New York physicist and professor Michio Kaku, who also acknowledges that Einstein’s theory allows for time travel, told Closer to Truth in a video interview.
There is a crack even in Mallett’s theoretical time machine. While information should be effectively zapped back in time, it can only go as far as the point at which you turned on the machine. Bummer.
The thing is, because physics is so weird, there might still be a loophole hiding somewhere in the time loop. Mallett is determined to fund real-life experiments with an actual laser as soon as he can. If he can so much as prove that there is a rewind button in the fabric of spacetime, it will be a tremendous breakthrough.
Until then, check out the very real DeLorean that might not be able to go back in time, but can drive itself through unbelievable twists and turns.