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Travelling back in time

November 8th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Phoenix > Lifestyle Features > Space cowboy

For more than 50 years, UConn physics professor Ronald Mallett had a secret. Now that it’s out, we may be one step closer to traveling back in time.

Traveling into the future is easy. Anyone familiar with Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity knows a moving clock ticks slower than a stationary one. So it’s simple, really: all you have to do is build a spaceship that moves nearly as fast as the speed of light, pump it with enough fuel for a long — long, long — round-trip voyage, and head for the stars. By the time you return to Earth in, say, five years (as marked by you onboard your light-year-traveling spaceship, of course), you’ll have aged half a decade while everyone and everything else on Earth has aged considerably more.

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For more than 50 years, he’s been obsessed with finding a way to return to the past.

Mallett is convinced that time travel will become a reality sooner rather than later. “What I’m doing, I like to think of as analogous to the Wright brothers,” he says. “They sent this rickety craft across a few hundred yards of beach. But with the technological acceleration that happened after that, by the middle of the century we had intercontinental air travel. This is only the beginning. Once it can be shown to be done, even in the simplest case, then what we learn from that will be incredible.”

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If that experiment succeeds, then it would be on to the next: trying to confirm that that twisting of space leads to the twisting of time. The idea is to drop tiny neutrons into that tortioned space. If Mallett’s theories held water, the subatomic particles would travel fractions of a second backward in time.

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The actual science behind all this is dauntingly complex. And —though he once took out a provisional patent for what he called a LOTART (Laser Optical Time Machine and Receiver Transmitter), an early-warning device that might allow the reception of signals from the future that could warn us of disasters — Mallett concedes that any practical implementation of his ideas is a ways off.

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