One of the most dynamic and exciting elements of a good science fiction story (Star Trek IV, Superman, etc.) is time travel. Whether it is a jump into the future to explore the unknown or a trip to the past to witness history as it unfolds, time travel offers limitless possibilities for storytelling.
While science has struggled to determine the necessary factors to achieve a temporal displacement, science fiction has no shortage of ways to bend the laws of physics and allow characters to skip through time. From the fairly plausible to the truly bizarre, there is no shortage of wild and crazy ways science fiction has showed us to jump through history.
With that in mind, let’s explore some of the times that science fiction flat out lied about the rules of space and time.
Star Trek IV
In Star Trek IV, Kirk and his faithful crew have the fate of the Earth in their hands as only a trip to the past can save humanity. Using their commandeered Klingon vessel, the former Enterprise crew formulate a plan to “slingshot” around the sun and travel back to the era of Ronald Reagan, Max Headroom and New Coke.
While achieving time travel through speed has been theorized by several scientists, most of them concur that travel using this method will only send someone to the future. By traveling near or at light speed, time only slows down for the traveler while it continues as normal for the rest of the universe. Throw in the gravity of the Sun (time moves slower with great gravity, just ask Einstein or Matthew McConaughey), and Kirk and Co. should have come out of their time warp and found a lifeless Earth that had been destroyed by the probe and had been uninhabitable for hundreds of years.
If time travel to the past were that easy in the Star Trek Universe, everyone would do it. Any loser in a space battle would simply whip around a star and get a do over. The paradoxes and volume of time changes alone seems like it would destroy space-time itself.
The subject of countless articles, theories and tweets. The famous scene in Superman where Christopher Reeves flies around the Earth and appears to change the direction of rotation in order to turn back the clock. There are a couple of big scientific problems with this theory.
First of all, I don’t believe that anyone thinks that simply changing the rotational direction of the planet will also change the direction of space-time. The only problem Big Blue would have solved by spinning the Earth in the opposite direction is overpopulation. The sheer kinetic force needed to change the rotational direction would cause massive tidal waves and devastating winds that would destroy every standing structure on the planet. Not to mention possibly interrupting the spin of the liquid outer core and allowing Earth to be blasted by solar radiation. The only people Superman would have killed are those he was attempting to protect.
Secondly, many people speculate that he was just achieving light speed travel and that the backwards-spinning Earth was illustrating his time travel. In this case, he would run into the same problem Kirk would have run into and jumped several years into the future. Whether he was turning the Earth the opposite direction, or reaching light speed, Superman would have either killed everyone or reappeared decades after the villain succeeded.
It appears that time hopping is a very popular subject among Trekkies. It is featured in 3 of the feature films and countless episodes of the television series. The most recent trip through the space-time continuum comes from J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie.
Following the destruction of Romulus, Eric Bana’s Nero takes a trip to the past by simply going through a black hole (and thus creating the Kelvin Timeline). Spock follows as his ship is pulled into the anomaly as well. Scientists’ theories vary as to what the inside of a black hole is like because they only have equations and distant observations. Most agree that it is simply a center of gravity that is so great that it rips apart anything that gets near (like Vulcan home worlds and such).
Given that the two black holes that appear in the film afterwards destroy a planet and Nero’s ship, it is hard to believe that a similar event would have simply whisked them to the past intact. As mentioned above, the intense gravity would have caused a time distortion that would have sent the Narada to the future if it would have miraculously survived going into the black hole.
Back to the Future Part II
Everyone’s favorite time traveling duo of Doc Brown and Marty McFly has gone everywhere from the old west to 2015 and everything in between. While some of their time travel adventures seem plausible, there is an instance where, in order to drive the story forward, Back to the Future Part II makes a glaring mistake when it comes to the laws of the universe.
When Biff steals the DeLorean and gives himself the sports almanac, he then goes back to the future (2015, it was the future back then!) and nicely drops off the time machine before dying behind a dumpster (most likely having been killed by Lorrain in the past).
As Doc Brown clearly explains in his destroyed lab in the alternate 1985, if they traveled back to 2015, it would be the 2015 of the new and alternate timeline. This should have been the same case for Biff. If he was flying the DeLorean back to 2015, it would have been to the alternate reality of 2015, and Doc, Marty and Jennifer would have been stuck in their timeline’s version of 2015. This would have caused a paradox because Marty would never have lived through the 90’s and had kids because he was stuck in the future. This paradox would have destroyed the original timeline, and because the time machine was never invented in the original reality, it could also destroy the new universe because Biff could never have traveled back. Just thinking of this will make your head hurt.
Whether he is saving people from a burning building or zooming (pun intended) through the multiverse, The Flash is always moving amazingly fast. With great speed, comes great time travel ability.
Seemingly jumping through the timeline at will, Barry has zapped to the past on more than one occasion. The most recent trip appears to have ended the previously existing universe and created a new Flashpoint timeline. While many scientists theorize that a second universe can spring out of the primary universe in one of these events, there are others that feel that that this paradox will simply destroy the universe (Doc Brown for one).
Mix his creation of the new Flashpoint paradox with his other travels where he interacts with Eobard Thawne and even himself, Barry should have destroyed several universes and perhaps even all of reality.
Whether it is J.J. Abrams’ black hole or Superman’s rotational nightmare, science fiction can lead us to amazing places, it just has to throw out everything we know about the universe.