Time Travel and Aging

Eric Braun Blog

time-travel_pair-746546_960_720Last night, I watched a television show about time travel (Genius by Stephen Hawking), which I was compelled to watch due to my recent desire to explore black holes and quantum physics to find ways to make the topics more accessible to kids. When you talk about time travel, it’s impossible to ignore black holes, and I fell into the program by its gravitational pull. Like most intellectual endeavors, this exploration left me with clarity but also with more questions and more obscurity.

First and foremost, I wondered, “Would one age faster or slower when traveling in time?” Let’s explore this a bit.

The Genius Show

The Genius show could also be named “Can you think like a genius?”. Hawking sets up challenges for 3 “average” people. The challenges are meant to lead them to conclusions made by great scientific minds to show that the concepts may not be as difficult to comprehend as one might think, just that the mind needs to be prepared in the right manner and, most likely, coached in the proper way. This comes across well and helps the viewer follow the same path. Although we do not know what was edited out, the participants grasp the concepts easily and we are shown that we can understand the concepts, too.

And think about this: Why would this not be true? Many concepts that we fully grasp and believe today were not so obvious in the past. The Earth is round, not flat. The Earth rotates around the Sun, not vice versa. Our brain is responsible for our thoughts and emotions.

Still the concept that space and time are dimensions of the same thing is a more difficult concept to grasp, along with all of its ramifications. For our brief exploration of time travel, let’s put space-time aside for now and come back to it in the future.black-hole-time-708561_960_720

Gravity’s Affect on Time

Here’s an enlightening concept from modern physics: The speed of time changes based on the strength of the gravitational pull. The stronger the gravity, the slower time moves. Gravity slows down time. That is an amazing fact!

To better understand this, Hawking uses a black hole as an example of something with an extreme gravitational pull, so the contrasts are greater. Let’s compare how much surface gravity is on different celestial bodies:

Celestial Body Surface Gravity
The Earth 1g
The Sun 28g’s
A Neutron Star 1 trillion g’s
A Black Hole Nearing infinity

A neutron star, which is not as dense as a black hole, could have 1 trillion times the surface gravity of the Earth or more. The gravitational pull of a black hole can approach infinity (but never reach it). If we are far away from a black hole, but still within its gravitational pull, there is a lot of room for time to move at very different rates.

If we are closer to the source of gravity, time moves more slowly than if we are farther away where the gravitational pull is weaker. This is true for Earth, the Sun, a neutron star or a black hole, as well. Since gravity is not as strong on Earth, the impact of the speed differences in time do not matter as much, but they still exist. Hawking has the 3 participants conduct an experiment that proves how time travels faster when it is farther away from the source of gravity, in this case, the Earth. They synchronize a set of atomic clocks, then drive 2 of the clocks up to the top of a mountain near Tucson and stay there for 24 hours. The other clocks remain in Tucson, which is 4,000 feet closer to the Earth. The next day, they drive back down the mountain and compare the time on the clocks. Lo and behold, there is a very minute difference in the time. The time on the clocks on top of the mountain moved a little bit faster, and therefore the people who were up there with it came back to Tucson a little bit older than those who stayed in Tucson.

When you are farther away from the source of gravity, you travel ahead in time compared to those who are still on the surface of Earth. In a small way, many of us travel in time continually. What does this mean to us? Is it beneficial or detrimental to our well being?

How Does Time Travel Affect Aging?

This is my question. And there are more related questions, as well.

  • Does time travel make you older?
  • Does your body age faster when time travels faster, or do you actually appear to age more slowly?
  • Does gravity impact the age of our cells, our DNA or any of the processes that keep us alive and define our lifespan?
  • Are we better off staying close to the Earth or traveling up mountains and venturing around the world in airplanes?

These are the questions I set out to answer, but I’m not sure I can without some sort of complex scientific experimentation, like comparing the DNA and cells of astronauts in space for an extended period of time with the DNA and cells of similar people on Earth. Perhaps, this could be done most effectively with an astronaut who has a twin on Earth.

What do you think? Will you be the one to find the answer?

I will not make any speculations here. Critical thinking requires evidence to support an argument. Logical thinking is not enough. Until some great scientist go down this exploratory path, I will choose to live life as an adventure and explore up and down and all around. The fountain of youth may well lie in the way we live our lives more than where we live them.

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