The Inner Geek: A brief conversation on matters of time…
By Thom Kuss
On my hour-long commute home to beautiful southern Wisconsin with my now 13-year-old stepdaughter, I was posed a question: “Is time travel really possible?” These conversations happen often in our household. They could be derived from several different influences, not excluding my incessant and constant quoting of the Back To The Future movies staring Michael J. Fox. Instead of questioning the nature of her query, I got excited. It is these types of questions that get my blood going and my wheels turning, so without hesitation, I blurted out a loud, and resonant YES!
I made the decision instead of boring her with possible holes in Einstein’s general theory of relativity as a result of advances in quantum physics, which, because of my extreme level of geekiness, I most likely could do. I decided to take another approach, as the young mind is a truly visual one, indeed.
It was after dark on a clear, starry night, I pointed west out of the truck window to the constellation of Orion and then the star affectionately named Betelgeuse. The mere mention of a star named Betelgeuse left her with a look of snarky disbelief as the only mention of Betelgeuse she had ever heard was from the Tim Burton cult classic, for which the star was actually the inspiration for the namesake. Upon a little further explanation and pop-culture education, we were back on track.
As she gazed upon the star I directed her to, I explained that Betelgeuse could explode or go supernova any day, and it could get to be the brightest object in the night sky. This more firmly holding her attention, I continued … “Though we might see it explode right in front of our eyes, it would have happened long, long ago in the past.” With a truly awesome look of confusion on her face, she pondered this a moment. I continued, “Betelgeuse is some odd 641 light years away from Earth, which means it takes light 641-plus years to travel from Betelgeuse to Earth, ergo; by the time we see it happen with our eyes or telescopes, it would have happened somewhere around 641 years prior, a picture of the past.” She sat there silent for some time, staring at the star and trying to absorb what she had just learned. “Seeing what we’re seeing right now is a direct window into the past, hence a type of visual time travel.” Like the Oracle of Delphi, peering into the past through vast expanses of time was suddenly a more attainable bit of fantasy for her than prior to the beginning of our now 10-minute-old conversation.
Though we can visualize time travel into the past this way, we have not yet attained actual physical time travel, or have we?
CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) might have something to say about that. They have said measurements taken over the course of three years show neutrinos pumped to a receiver in Gran Sasso, Italy, had arrived on an average of 60 nanoseconds sooner than light would have done. Though only a tiny difference, it could, in fact, undermine Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In response to these findings, Steven Hawking, the world’s most well-known theoretical physicist, says: “It is premature to comment on this. Further experiments and clarifications are needed.”
Jeff Forshaw, a professor of particle physics at Britain’s Manchester University, said: “If something travels faster than the cosmic speed limit, then it becomes possible to send information into the past … in other words, time travel into the past would become possible. That does not mean we’ll be building time machines anytime soon, though there is quite a gulf between a time-traveling neutrino to a time-traveling human.”
So, will we be traversing time and space in a snazzy DeLorean? Not yet, folks, but with a little time and a whole lot of imagination, you just might be able to visit Hilldale, Calif., in 1955, sporting an awesome red vest.
For more about Betelgeuse, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betelgeuse, for more information about CERN, visit www.cern.ch If you have an idea for an upcoming science/history/nerd-based story, please send your thoughts to email@example.com.
From the Nov. 20-26, 2013, issue