There has been quite a bit of a hustle and bustle on social media this week for a rather bizarre story. The Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences could not help but issue an official statement to deny that it is in the process of building a time machine.
To be precise, they have circulated some rather suspicious documents. Documents referring to the collaboration between the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a private technology company to build an "experimental device for the generation of space-time tunnels".
A business plan accompanied by a leaked Powerpoint presentation offered promising details without revealing the science or specifics of the theory behind this technology. The presentation said they were a few months away from the launch of this device, and the project looked promising.
The approval of physicist Gao Kun was even mentioned.
What's fake? A lot, at a guess. It is not clear why China has bothered to issue a denial, but from the statement we learn that obviously no such project is currently in the pipeline. Moreover, Gao Kun is yes a researcher in geophysics at Princeton, but it has nothing in common with this matter. In short, many nerd jokes and memes on social media, but no confirmations. Indeed, denials.
The original question is still worth pondering, though: is it possible to travel through time?
The answer is: yes, and it always happens. Your humble editor doesn't want to tell you how to build a DeLorean, but there are some basic notions that are understandable even to me.
It's true! Anyone reading this post is a time traveler. We are all traveling forward in time at the speed of one second per second, or at least that's how we perceive it.
The trick is being able to reverse that movement, or at least alter the speed.
Four steps into the future
As it turns out, time travel happens regularly, and we have evidence of this thanks to Albert Einstein's well-known work. The speed with which time passes depends on the physical speed with which you move in space.
The Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka he is known to be one of the most skilled time travelers on the planet: it was 0,0227 seconds into the future for spending so much time in orbit around the Earth at thousands of kilometers per hour compared to the rest of us stuck on the surface.
Even our satellites always travel in time. During the early days of global positioning systems (GPS), scientists and technicians working on the nascent technology realized that it wouldn't work without taking into account that their satellites were moving a little bit forward in time relative to devices that received the data on the ground.
Perhaps an even more extreme example comes from the particles thrown into the LHC, the Geneva particle accelerator. In there the particles accelerate to over 99% of the speed of light, so they travel into the future every time the system is activated.
No DeLorean, then?
Given the current circumstances and the scientific literature, the time travel we see in movies is far from possible.
The denied Chinese project hints at something that "could prolong life by using Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity to distort space-time." From the descriptions it looks like a way to force humans into a prolonged period of "hibernation" before long space travel.
Sure, when you wake up it will seem like you have traveled into the future, but it's a deception, isn't it? All that time will have passed: we just wouldn't be aware of it. Nothing else.
Waiting for the space-time tunnel
Until someone understands how to change the position of a person or object on the timeline in a way other than just going faster than everyone else, "Back to the Future" won't happen. Most of the physicists working on the subject seem to agree, except Ron Mallet.
Traveling back in time seems to be considered largely impossible, at least according to our current understanding of the universe. There are many theories involving concepts like using a space-time tunnel to handle it, but you are looking for them yourself.