Will we ever be able to freeze time?
Stasis is a way of pausing physical and chemical processes – including those of life. It could be a way for us to save the critically ill, or allow ultra-long space missions.
The American poet Delmore Schwartz once wrote: “Time is the fire in which we burn.” We are born, we live and we die. Yet throughout history, we have been fascinated with the possibility of sidestepping time, from fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty to stasis fields and suspended animation in science fiction.
In 1971, Joseph Hafele and Richard Keating placed four atomic clocks on aeroplanes, which flew twice around the world, first eastward, then westward. They were then compared with reference atomic clocks, and found to disagree.
As the Hafele–Keating experiment proved, the rate at which time passes is circumstantial and situational. “If you are travelling at super-relativistic speeds, which are close to the speed of light, or near a black hole (and somehow not being destroyed by it) the amount of time you will experience is going to be less than the amount of time of someone else,” says Katie Mack, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University.
Astronauts onboard the International Space Stationexperience time-dilation, as they age a little bit slower than people on Earth. “They are moving quickly, so they are affected by special relativity, but they are also further from the Earth, so they get less gravitational effects,” explains Mack.
However, this time dilation is only measured in seconds. In order to obtain significant time dilation, immense gravitational fields or near-lightspeed travel would be required. Both are completely untenable at present.
Despite the comedic overtones, the sci-fi series Red Dwarfprovided an intriguing theory for stasis fields; “Just as X-rays can’t pass through lead, time cannot penetrate a stasis field. So, although you exist, you no longer exist in time, and for you time itself does not exist.” This, along with some further technobabble, was designed so the character Lister could remark, “As simple as that?” It is nonetheless thought-provoking. Continue Reading