The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was built to replicate the conditions at the Big Bang, and answer humanity's most basic questions — what are we made of and how did we come to exist? Scientists are still working on that, but have stumbled across something that promises to be even more exciting: The possibility of time travel. Here, an instant guide:
What is the Large Hadron Collider, again?
It's a 17-mile-long particle accelerator built deep underground in Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists hope to use it to discover the Higgs boson, or the "God particle." This mysterious subatomic particle is the piece of the atom that supposedly endows all other bits of matter with mass. If scientists are able to study the Higgs boson, they may discover how matter was produced — in other words, the secret of our existence.
So how could it be used for time travel?
Here's where it gets complicated. If the LHC does manage to produce a Higgs boson, some theorize it will also create a particle known as the Higgs singlet. The singlet, the theory goes, would be able to travel in and out of the hidden fifth dimension and pop out at any point along the space-time continuum.
Wait, fifth dimension? How many dimensions are there?
According to M-theory, or the so-called "theory of everything," there are as many as 11 dimensions, of which our universe only uses four. But the Higgs singlet, if it exists, is theoretically not restrained by the basic laws of physics that govern our universe.
Is it time to break out the DeLorean?
No. According to this theory, it will never be possible for a man (or a 1980s sports car) to travel through time. And besides, the LHC hasn't even located the Higgs boson yet, let alone the Higgs singlet. But, "if scientists could control the production of Higgs singlets," says physicist Tom Weiler of Vanderbilt University, "they might be able to send messages to the past or future."
Haven't people had time travel theories about the LHC before?
Yes. You may remember the development of the LHC was plagued with near-constant malfunctions and long delays. Two physicists came up with the theory in October 2009 that the Higgs boson is "so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one." No less a figure than God, said the scientists, is preventing us from discovering the elusive particle.
That sounds far-fetched. They got the LHC working eventually, didn't they?
They did. But even though the LHC is now up and running, it still hasn't found a Higgs boson. And God does move in mysterious ways...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The girl who wouldn't die
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
- California's epic drought
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
Subscribe to the Week