Sci-Fi In Real Life: FTL Neutrinos May Make Time Travel Possible

By Saralyn Smith | 11 years ago

The ever-interesting “Ask a Physist” column over at i09 tackles an issue close to the hearts of many sci-fi fans: faster than light travel.  Scientists involved in the OPERA experiment – connected to CERN – have measured subatomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light. If you want a deep explanation of the actual science involved, you should head over to the column at i09.  If you want to really get down with the math, you should go to Dr Dave Goldberg’s equation-laden explanation over at his blog.  What I can do is give you a quick and dirty rundown.

The OPERA experiment recorded that neutrinos – those electrically neutral subatomic particles you learned about in your high school physics class and then probably forgot existed – can travel about 2 parts in 100,000 faster than the speed of light.  Fairly insignificant, but Goldberg says “it’s only a matter of fine tuning to get any superluminal speed we like” after the light barrier is broken. Pair this with their potential to travel interstellar distances (their weak interactions mean they don’t mess with other things on the way), and the scientific world is a-buzz.  Goldberg is still skeptical as to whether OPERA’s current experiments will be replicated or hold up under heavier scrutiny but says that (if the results do hold) “the simple ability to send signals faster than light would allow us, in a very real way, to affect the past”.  You could send a message to someone, have them receive it before you sent it, then get their response to that message before you sent your original one.  Crazy, right?

Obviously, this isn’t full-on Doctor Who or Star Trek: The Voyage Home time travel, but it does still raise a host of interesting questions and potential paradoxes.  Would you choose to essentially change history, if you could send or receive messages about events before they happened?  What new information could we learn if we could communicate with the past or future?  Does this have something to do with how Hope Plaza communicates with Terra Nova?