Article Title
Article Title

A Relative Retraction

by Josh Zeisel

In one of my previous articles, “Ingenuity and New Worlds”, I state that the human race would need to send a large group of friendly people in one space ship to Kepler-22B, a recently discovered planet with Earth-like characteristics, to be able to survive the trip and explore the planet. I stand corrected, slightly. I also send my apologies to Albert Einstein.

This past weekend during the drive up to Salem, Massachusetts for my good friend’s wedding, and during one of the rare lulls in conversation with friend and resident Inclusive cartoonist, Matt Lubchansky, I started thinking about the theory of relativity. I queried Matt as to what the effect of time would be if someone were to go to the exact center of the universe and not move with respect to all other matter in the universe, effectively slowing your velocity to exactly zero.

The conversation progressed first into the re-understanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The theory of relativity links time and space; time is affected by space or the movement through space (velocity), and space is affected by time. Matt and I struggled through this part of the conversation like we did during the modern physics class we took, starting at the equally mind-bending time of 8 AM. As Lewis Black once stated about economics, “Why are you teaching this at 8 AM? Are you trying to keep this shit a secret?!” Luckily, Matt and I took naps in a corresponding schedule allowing us to piece the theory together properly.

Say Matt was driving in a car on the highway at a high speed, and I was standing on the side of the highway trying to hitchhike. If Matt passed me by it would seem like he was only there for a split second. Now if I was driving in a car on the same highway and Matt was passing me only 1 MPH faster than what I was driving at, it would seem like he was there for a long time. That is the basics of the theory of relativity.

The amount of space covered in each scenario would be different as well. Compound this by millions of times so that Matt started traveling near or at the speed of light, Matt would age slower than me standing on the side of the road. Things around Matt were only there for a short period of time as he passed them by, therefore he would only age only millionths of a second while the things he passed by were aging at a normal rate.

A normal rate to humans is with respect to one Earth year. If Matt was traveling at the speed of light on the highway, he would go to jail for excessive speeding and evading police through state lines...if he ever got caught. But in reality he would outlive the cops, judges, and juries by hundreds of years and escape jail to boot.

If Matt were to travel to the center of the universe and stop his motion completely, he would age at a fast rate. People and other aliens around would be traveling at their normal speeds and age accordingly and outlive Matt…and never remember him again. To Matt, however, his life would seem like it lasted just as long as normal, but with galaxies, planets, and stars zooming past him.

As we came to the toll to transfer from I-84 to I-90, we moved the conversation to space travel, naturally. At this point I realized that what I had written before was slightly wrong. If Matt were to travel to Kepler-22B on a spacecraft that traveled at the speed of light he would probably make it to Kepler-22B without aging much. But, according to relativity, we here back on earth would be dead, and dead for a long time. Other people on the planet would have to pass along keeping tabs on Matt as he traveled farther away, like feeding a neighbor's cat forever.

It was at this point that Matt and I mutually agreed, using our great minds, that something like a wormhole would be needed.

A wormhole is a theoretical tunnel through space that allows matter to travel through it and not be affected by time. The matter can travel from here to Kepler-22B in a second, or even a split second, no one knows for sure. Matt would be able to explore Kepler-22B and send pictures back in real time. I would be able to follow him back on earth as he posted pictures of the alien creature that is about to eat him on his twitter feed. I would also be very sad in real time as there were no subsequent tweets.

The funny thing about wormholes is that there are many hypotheses on them, but no actual proof they exist. However, wormholes do not violate the equations of relativity. As I’ve argued in the past, if it can be proven mathematically it will probably be proven physically. Many believe that wormholes can be made; some believe that wormholes are the connections between two black holes. But bending space-time to create shorter distances is physically possible.

Matt would become a true American (Global?) hero as he would be the first person to travel through a wormhole, let alone to another planet. He would also be the first to be eaten by an alien blue monkey-bear-thing, or hopefully shake hand to tentacle with a friendly alien, I guess.

Please forgive me for my mistake on my previous article. It was bothering me all weekend. I hope this edit helps to pique your interest in space travel as high as mine. We as a species are incredibly far from discovering the technology needed to open a wormhole or travel at the speed of light. Yet, don’t those things seem more important to focus on than who we “let” marry whom?

Image courtesy of AP via The Daily Mail



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Josh Zeisel is a professional mechanical engineer and graduate of Boston University. His favorite meal is a chicken parm sub and an orange soda. On clear sunny days you might look up and find him flying something. Strike up a conversation with Josh at josh.zeisel[at]