A groundbreaking physics theory suggests that time travel may not be feasible.

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admin October 26, 2023
Updated 2023/10/26 at 9:00 AM

Moving effortlessly through the vast expanse of space, light travels at a constant speed of 299,792,458 meters per second. However, when it encounters electromagnetic fields emanating from matter, its velocity can dramatically decrease.

This deceleration of light is observed in various phenomena, such as its bending when passing through water or the enchanting dispersion of colors in a rainbow.

Although scientists have formulated 19th-century equations to explain this sluggishness in light’s motion caused by different mediums, they have not yet fully captured the sudden change in its speed in terms of physical wave measurements.

A team of physicists from Tampere University has proposed a potential solution to this dilemma. However, in doing so, they have had to reassess some fundamental principles regarding the progression of a light wave through time and a single dimension of space.

“The standard wave equation in 1+1 dimensions was derived in a very innovative manner,” explains Matias Koivurova, the study’s first author, who is now affiliated with the University of Eastern Finland.

He continues, “I only made one assumption, which was that the speed of the wave remains constant. However, I began to question this assumption and wondered what would happen if the speed was not always constant. This turned out to be an intriguing question.”

The speed of light, denoted as c, is a universal limit for the transmission of information in a vacuum. According to the special theory of relativity, while matter can affect the overall speed of a particle, the fundamental property of the speed of light cannot be altered.

However, in order to explore new concepts and possibilities, sometimes physicists must temporarily put aside these established truths. In this case, Koivurova, along with colleagues Charles Robson and Marco Ornigotti, disregarded this inconvenient truth in their investigation of the consequences of an arbitrary light wave accelerating in the standard wave equation.

At first, their solution seemed confusing. However, when they reintroduced a constant speed as a frame of reference, everything fell into place.

When a spaceship travels through space at high speeds, the experience of time and distance is different for the passengers compared to those observing from a distance. This phenomenon is explained by the theory of relativity, which has been successfully tested on various scales.

By comparing an accelerating wave to a constant speed of light, the team discovered that their unique solution to the wave equation produced similar effects as predicted by relativity. This realization had significant implications for a debate regarding the momentum of a light wave as it enters a new medium.

“What we have demonstrated is that, according to the wave’s perspective, nothing changes in its momentum. In other words, the momentum of the wave remains constant,” explains Koivurova.

Regardless of the type of wave, whether it is an electromagnetic wave, a ripple on a pond, or a vibration in a string, the laws of relativity and conservation of momentum must be taken into account as the waves gain speed. This generalization has an interesting consequence, albeit somewhat disappointing.

Whether it is our brave astronauts heading towards Alpha Centauri at a speed close to that of light, or their grieving loved ones aging slowly back on Earth, each experiences time passing at a rate that is considered “proper.” Although their respective clocks may disagree on the length of a second, they provide a reliable measure of the passage of years within their own reference frame.

Physicists argue that if all waves also experience proper time due to relativity, then any physics governed by waves should have a clear and unidirectional flow of time. This means that this temporal direction cannot simply be reversed for any part of the system.

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