Astrophysicist Ron Mallett believes he has found a way to travel back in time.
The University of Connecticut senior professor of physics recently told CNN that he has written a scientific equation that could serve as the basis for a real-time machine. He has even built a prototype device to illustrate a key component of his theory, although Mallett’s colleagues remain unconvinced that their time machine will come to fruition.
To understand the Mallett machine, you need to know the basics of Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which states that time accelerates or decelerates depending on the speed at which an object is moving.
According to that theory, if a person were in a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light, time would pass more slowly for him than for someone staying on Earth. Essentially, the astronaut could travel through space for less than a week, and when he returned to Earth it would have been 10 years for the people he had left behind, making the astronaut look like he traveled to the future.
But while most physicists accept that it is probably possible to advance in time in that way, time travel to the past is an entirely different problem, and Mallett thinks he could solve it using lasers.
As the astrophysicist explained to CNN, his idea of a time machine depends on another Einstein theory, the general theory of relativity. According to that theory, massive objects bend spacetime, an effect we perceive as gravity, and the stronger the gravity, the slower time passes.
“If you can bend the space, there is a chance that you will twist the space,” Mallett said. “In Einstein’s theory, what we call space also implies time; that’s why it’s called space-time, whatever you do with space also happens to time.
He believes that it is theoretically possible to turn time into a loop that would allow time travel to the past. It has even built a prototype showing how lasers can help achieve this goal.
“Studying the type of gravitational field that was produced by a ring laser could lead to a new way of looking at the possibility of a time machine based on a circulating beam of light,” he said.
However optimistic Mallet may be about his work, his colleagues are skeptical about creating something that might work.
“I don’t think his work is necessarily fruitful,” astrophysicist Paul Sutter told CNN, “because I think there are profound flaws in his mathematics and his theory, making a practical device seem unattainable.”
Even Mallet admits that his idea is totally theoretical at this point. And that even if his time machine works, he admits, he would have a severe limitation that would prevent, say, time travel to kill baby Adolf Hitler.
You can send information back, but only to the point where you turned on the time machine.
While his quest to go back to the 1950s is no closer to reality, he remains optimistic and continues to ponder the possibilities.