Let’s do the Time Warp Again

At the conclusion of  Star Trek’s “The Naked Time” episode Captain Sulu notices that the ship’s chronometer is running backwards and declares that they must have gone through a time warp! In the Lost in Space episode “Visit to a Hostile Planet” , once they return to Earth briefly at the beginning of the third season and begin to realize that it is a much earlier time period than the late 1990’s (the period in which the show is placed) Will Robinson declares that they must have been through a time warp! Similarly, in Space: 1999, they travel through various phenomena labelled as time and space warps. They are shown screen as rotating star clusters, shimmering and roiling horizons, and so, what on Earth (or off Earth!) are they referring to? My best guess is that they are very loosely referring to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, in which unique arrangements of matter and energy lead to unique spatial geometries. Put simply, mass/energy should warp space and time. Usually, as depicted in relatively early science fiction, this is accomplished by moving at high velocity near a very massive body, such as a planet, star, or even black hole. Of these objects, probably a black hole is the only one that’s capable of effecting time in a significant manner.

However, as Kip Thorne discovered several decades ago (theoretically…not by going there!), its likely that any astronaut approaching a black hole will be torn apart long before he has any chance of perceiving any differences in time. He sought another solution, and that solution was a wormhole. Essentially a wormhole is a short cut through space. If you could travel near the speed of light through a wormhole, you could effectively go back in time while going from one mouth to the other. Unfortunately for those wishing to cut through time and space, a wormhole can only be stable if it is made of matter or energy that is negative. We know of no mass that first this category, and negative energy should be extremely rare.  Rare or not, wormholes at present look to be only way to create a true space/time warp in the way depicted in the sci fi of old.

If you like reading about these ideas, take a look at my (Steve Bloom’s) recent book, The Physics and Astronomy of Science Fiction, published by McFarland and available via the publisher and many online booksellers.





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