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Tell It To The Time Lords

First, I’ll give you the opening of a press release from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology:

A group of physicists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) led by Prof Shengwang Du reported the direct observation of optical precursor of a single photon and proved that single photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light in vacuum. HKUST’s study reaffirms Einstein’s theory that nothing travels faster than light and closes a decade-long debate about the speed of a single photon.

You know what that means, right? No time travel. Time travel, they’re saying, is impossible. The study was a response to scientists’ discovery of what seemed to be optical pulses traveling faster than the speed of light, which proved to be a optical illusion, but got them thinking that it could happen, that we could someday go back and forth in time. But, according to this release, it can’t.

No TARDIS? No Doc Brown DeLorean? No San Dimas phone booth? Yes, time travel is a staple of nerd culture, from Star Trek to, well, everything. Are you ready to give up on the idea that time travel is possible? Is the Hong Kong report going to kill off your dreams? Debate in the comments below. And if you’re here from the future… hey, any hot investment tips?


  1. Arko says:

    Technically if you think about it, one way forward time travel is possible, due to special relativity. The closer you get to the speed of light the more time slows down for you but not for everyone else. This effect has been proven. It just time travel backwards in time is impossible.

  2. Mephistojoe says:

    Actually recently there has been a particle that has been discovered that is supposedly faster than light, there are many facilities dedicated to testing this out but so far it has been considered as plausible. Look up Neutrinos and faster than light travel.

  3. Machinetd says:

    Screw you Professor Du!

  4. adamsorkin says:

    It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the special relativity/time dilation equations, but I seem to remember them suggesting that at speeds faster than the speed of light, passage of time (as a mathematical quanity, anyway), became imaginary – i (or j, if you prefer) – rather than a negative quantity that would suggest some kind of time travel…

  5. Kazak the Space Dog says:

    Will I really hope they’re wrong… and if they aren’t then I hope Matt is right and there’s another way. I would be so freaking sad if we found out that time travel is impossible.

  6. Billy Pilgrim says:

    The Trafalmadorians will be crushed when they read this study.

  7. Marek says:

    Nice Futurama reference there JL!

  8. Hickspy says:

    “How does it work?”

    “Modern technology, William.”

    It’ll be modern eventually. I’m holding out hope.

  9. J-Rod says:

    @Mitchell Craig
    Their last contribution was loaning the Americans a huge shitpile of money that they’re going to default on paying back and cause a Worldwide economic downfall.

    China then rules the World.

    I for one welcome our new Communist Overlords.

  10. Hey, it’s the Chinese.
    Their last contribution to the world was take out food.

  11. Jonathan C says:

    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    -Arthur C. Clark’s 1st law of prediction.

  12. Daniel S says:

    Is this like that time when they built a ladder and discovered heaven?

  13. JL says:

    Nothing is impossible. Not if you can imagine it. That’s what being is a scientist is all about.

  14. Phil says:

    But I really need to get back to 1991 and punch me in the face……..

  15. joem18b says:

    the hong kong guys measured one photon and it was running along about average. i was in alabama this weekend and i saw some real slow photons down there, let me tell you. on a muddy road in the piney woods. then, a couple swigs of white lightning and some of them were going way faster than light, in circles.

  16. @sybarite_ says:

    I got two things to say:
    1. great podcast episode with Matt, Karen, et al
    B. fuck that study

  17. Kevin* says:

    But but but but… Tachyons! This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for particles to have always been traveling faster than light, does it?
    I mean, it probably does, but I’m not going to look into that far.

    Plus, this only (sort of) disproves faster-than-light travel. Various other made up time-travel solutions aren’t impossible i.e. trans-dimensional travel.
    The TARDIS doesn’t travel faster than light, it travels through the time vortex.

    So there.

  18. Time travel may never be possible, but it’s a great plot device. I don’t believe that alternate universes exist, either, but again, a great twist in a work of fiction.

  19. eric says:

    It may be true that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, but it is theoretically possible to ‘cheat’ by warping the space around an object, placing it ‘closer’ to a distant object (sort of like folding a blanket from one corner of a bed to the other), as shown in a series of papers by astrophysicist Miguel Alcubierre (1994)–meaning that time travel may be possible by this method, if we were ever able to develop the technology in the far future.

  20. Vashta Nerada says:

    @Captain Slinky
    actually the Church “proved” that a long time ago.

  21. Three toes of Fury says:

    pffft…these guys will be disproven as data-manipulating-hacks by weeks end. A couple years ago they did a similar trumped up experiment where they put a charles shultz character into a closed box his feline pet to prove they could determine both its position and activity without opening the lid in a failed attempt to disprove the Schroders Cat Theory.

    #thankyou!thankyou!be-sure-to-tip-your-waiter, #BadPunsR-US

  22. Nick T says:

    Yeah and the Vulcan Science Ministry said it was impossible too. All that got them was a blown up Vulcan.

  23. Nathaniel H. says:

    @Matt: Like in Primer? Everyone should see Primer at least seventy-three times.

  24. shane says:

    I just finished the third episode of series 3 of Dr. Who, and only started watching it based solely on the Nerdist Podcast. No time travel,, pshaa, Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Work it out scientists.

  25. Kate says:

    Invest in hearing aids. They’re gonna be big.
    I’m not a time traveler. Not at all…just helpful things that everyone should know. Especially you!

  26. Chris G says:

    Traveling forward through time would simply be scrambling ones molecules and re assembling them at a future point. Think about it like a microwave. Put in a glass of water. Hit it with nuclear energy. It will turn in to steam, and eventually back to water. The eventually is the time travel. It’s simplistic. Make sense?

  27. rogue3 says:

    But we can’t forget Clarke’s First Law. Simply by stating it is impossible, these scientists have proven themselves incorrect.

  28. Firbette says:

    I’ll be fine as long as I have my Cosmic Treadmill.

  29. Jon says:

    @Matt: I don’t know if any of what you wrote is really happening, but you just blew my mind

  30. Sean says:

    Well, technically you CAN travel in time using existing technology… but only in 1 direction: into the future.

    Every time we send astronauts up on the (former) Space Shuttle their speed and distance from the center of the Earth mean that when they return they are very very very very slightly younger than their counterparts here on Earth.

    They’ve effectively traveled very slightly into the future.

    Perhaps we should call them Chrononauts?


  31. JaneyMac says:

    I have a time machine. Unfortunately it only travels to the future, and it does it in real time. Not that great when you think about it.

  32. Sawyer says:

    I bet the Silence is behind this somehow.

  33. Graham Trudeau says:

    Naaaaa, time travel is possible, we just havn’t learned to poke holes in the universe and things like that. I dont think it’s going to happen any time soon, but can it happen? Sure.

    Time travel is to now, as the internet is to the 1800’s.

  34. todd says:

    Well, no one showed up to that time traveler party. To me that’s larger proof than this.

  35. Matt says:

    As Emily said, there’s more than one theory on how to time travel. In fact, from what I have read, American scientists are working on sending a particle back in time using frame dragging. Basically you turn the machine on and a beam of light spins around dragging a tiny bit of space with it. You put a particle in the beam and it loops it back. The only problem is that you can only go back as far as when the machine was turned on. Not much of a Tardis unfortunately

  36. josh says:

    The Doctor’s TARDIS can still travel in time as it does not travel through time but instead for shortness of explaining it opens its door to a specific time/place.

  37. Scott says:

    How do you prove that something can’t happen? Everything’s impossible until it isn’t.

  38. Shaun J says:

    Professor Du is a buzz-kill sent from the future…

  39. Captain Slinky says:

    Didn’t Science also once prove that the Earth was the center of the Universe, There was an edge of the world that we could sail ships off of and that pretty much any illness could be cured with a good set of leeches? All they’ve done is proven that *this* version of Time Travel is impossible.

  40. Marley Gilliam says:

    Well, uh, time travel is really science, like, uhm, the future. And, like, the science they do doesn’t, er, say that…

  41. duncan7 says:

    ..nor have they disproved that a toaster, in the hands of Homer J. Simpson, is capable of time travel.

  42. Katie says:

    I think China would keep the rest of the world in the dark if they discovered that time travel is indeed possible. They must be close. This is just to slow everyone else down.

  43. Momo says:

    With Quantum Mechanics, you don’t need “speed” to travel in time. Photons have been observed in two or more locations *simultaneously*. It’s all about observation [insert Schrodinger cat story here].

  44. I’ll NEVER give up on time travel as long as I have a time-turner 😉

  45. Emily says:

    Just because it’s not possible in this way doesn’t mean it’s not possible in another way not thought of yet… I refuse to stop believing.