You are here

To the Future!

StarDate: 
February 18, 2016

If you’d like to travel into the future — even the far-distant future — you don’t need a time machine. Instead, a starship will do just fine. Fire up the engines, head into space, and keep your foot on the gas.

The laws of physics seem to make it impossible — or nearly so — to travel through time in anything like the modern concept of a time machine — something that allows you to move through the centuries at will. Yet those same laws make it possible to zoom into the future.

The concept is known as time dilation. It says that as you travel faster, your clock ticks more slowly compared to those you left behind. That concept has been proven by putting atomic clocks in airplanes and aboard GPS satellites. In fact, if GPS clocks weren’t adjusted to account for time dilation, the entire system would fail.

At the orbital speed of a satellite, the difference is tiny — a few millionths of a second per day. As speed increases, though, the effect becomes more significant.

If you could travel at 90 percent of the speed of light for one year as measured by the clock on your ship, more than two-and-a-quarter years would pass back on Earth. At 99 percent of lightspeed, it’s more than seven years per ship year. And at 99.99 percent, the ratio is 70 Earth years per ship year.

Of course, there is the problem of finding a fast starship to carry you. But so far, that’s the only known way to beat Time by just a little — and travel into the future.

 

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.