Laws of physics and our general understanding of how the world works hinge on the principle that nothing can actually travel faster than the speed of light, except maybe mall Chinese food through your digestive tract. But prepare to shit your pants a second time, because the most fundamental principle of the universe may no longer be on the table. Scientists at CERN (the ones responsible for the Large Hadron Collider) and OPERA may have accidentally discovered that, under certain circumstances, subatomic particles known as neutrinos can maybe, possibly, potentially travel faster than the speed of light.
We got all pissed off when we heard it, too, Angry Scientist.
Right now there are ongoing slapfights in the scientific community over the validity of this discovery, so until the dust settles, we can't know for certain if the results were right. Sadly, the most we can do at Cracked is sit on the sidelines with zero doctorate degrees in our hands and heckle. What we do know, however, because scientists have pointed it out, is that an interesting side effect of these faster-than-light neutrinos is that it might mean we can get our motherfucking time travel on.
All we have to do is get them to fly around the Earth really fast so our rotation reverses, and ..."
But before you start deciding which dinosaurs you want to see, or which episodes of Dinosaurs you want to see (depending on how lazy you are), keep in mind that we're not talking about time machines, unfortunately. Scientists say that, at least at first, we'd probably only be able to send short messages back in time and not people or sports almanacs.
Think Twitter instead of Terminator. But even then, neutrinos are invisible and pass right through matter, so it wouldn't be all that useful for things in the distant past, where they wouldn't even be noticed. With no way to detect or read the messages, it'd be pointless to send them much further than the recent past. But that brings up an important question of why we're not getting hundreds of microscopic messages today from our future selves ...
A common misconception with black holes is that they suck up everything around them like a vacuum, but that's not entirely accurate. What's really going on is that black holes are so incredibly dense that there is a point of infinite gravity at the center, called a gravitational singularity, and that's what pulls stuff in -- everything from asteroids to light itself. And we've already established that gravity and time don't play well together. So what happens to time when it gets tangled up with a gravitational force so extreme that not even light itself can get free of it?
'80s music gets redefined, that's what.
It stops. Encircling any given black hole is an area known as the event horizon. It is, for all intents and purposes, the point of no return for a black hole. After the event horizon, the gravitational forces are so powerful that nothing can ever escape.
And because of that insane amount of gravity, an interesting quirk of reality emerges when someone outside an event horizon watches someone inside of one. Imagine your astronaut buddy is David Bowie. Now, say David Bowie calls you (your name is Ground Control for the purposes of this exercise) and tells you he's floating in the most peculiar way -- directly into a black hole.
Don't worry, the hair will most definitely survive the trip.
If you were watching David Bowie from a safe distance away, you'd see something really weird as he crosses the event horizon: David Bowie's descent would get slower and slower, and then he'd just stop, and he'd appear to be floating there forever.
From your perspective, it would actually take him an infinite amount of time to fall into the black hole. David Bowie, meanwhile, would notice nothing different, assuming he hadn't been ripped apart yet. Time would pass normally for him, and he'd still be a snappy dresser to boot.
In fact, if you could somehow exit the event horizon of a black hole after entering it, you'd find that the universe outside had probably aged a significant amount while a much shorter time had passed for you. It's a foolproof way to travel into the future, except that a black hole can be as small as a tennis ball, and you'd surely be crushed to death.
Shrink rays, Science. Get on it.
Though there's just as good a chance that we may never have the opportunity to wander through time willy-nilly, because ...
Time waits for no man, as the old proverb says. It can get all weird under certain circumstances, sure, but that steady beat will keep on going long after we're dead.
But not too long.
At least not until Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt have a chance to fix it all.
See, the way scientists determine various formulas for how the universe works is via probabilities. The problem is that, if you assume that space-time is infinite, everything -- from the mail arriving on time to our sun going supernova and wiping us all out -- suddenly has an equal probability on a universal scale.
Since the universe doesn't work like that and it was fucking with all their formulas, scientists have decided that there must be another answer, and the best they could come up with is that time isn't infinite.
We have six and a half minutes. Get busy.
So how long have we got? In four out of five possible calculated scenarios, time is most likely to end in about 3.3 to 3.7 billion years. Whew. But in the fifth scenario, time could end before you finish this sentence.
So it turns out we live in a reality that's like an old pocket watch, and one day it's just going to wind down. In fact, when it happens, we won't even see it coming. The scientists describe it like watching someone falling into the event horizon of a black hole, like we covered earlier. Things slow down and eventually just ... stop.
Oh, irony, you are a cruel minx.
The whole of reality will just turn into one big Zach Morris time stop, minus a sassy teenaged guy speaking directly to an implied television audience. We won't even be aware of what's happened. Everything will work one second and won't the next. We'll all just be frozen in place, completely still. Forever and ever. If nothing else, this should be good incentive for you to literally shit or get off the pot, because you run the risk of being immortalized like that forever.
For more facts that will rock your friggin' world, check out 6 Time Travel Realities Doc Brown Didn't Warn Us About and The 6 Weirdest Dangers of Space Travel.