A journey faster than light

We are going to perform a Gedanken experiment, so saddle up and hold tight as we travel faster than light to understand a simple truth about life and death.

Spring of 1995, I was at the planetarium attending a Saturday lecture by Prof. Shylaja. She was talking about light year as a unit of distance and that all the objects we see in the night sky are either dead or very old! They are not really what they appear to be. This completely surprised me beyond belief.

Think about it, light takes 510 seconds to reach the earth from the moment it leaves the surface of the sun. If we calculate the time taken by a photon (Particle of Light) emitted at the centre of the sun to reach its surface, there is a huge problem here.  Any guesses?

Physics tells us that light travelling at 3,00,000 kilometre per second  takes nearly 1.2 million years on an average to travel from the centre of the sun to its surface even though the distance is only 7,00,000 km. (This is called the random walk problem in physics)

Stay with me. This would mean that if the sun were to stop emitting light at the centre today (Sun were to die), we don’t need to worry about it for another 1.2 million years. Baffled? Let us look at another situation. Consider a star 60 million light years (MLy) away from the earth i.e., light takes 60 million years to reach us after leaving this star. Suppose, there are aliens out there and they are as intelligent as we are (if we really are!) then how would we appear to them?

This star is 60 MLy away from us, the civilization that is there would have received light from the sun that left 60 million years ago and they would be looking at the solar system that is 60 million years younger than it is today. So, for them the dinosaurs would be still alive.

We can extend this thought to the next level; let us by some means go faster than light to reach this amazing star, what would we see? Astronomers today are spending billions of dollars on searching for life elsewhere in the universe. Indeed a great human achievement, but isn’t it surprising that we are searching for life everywhere in the universe near and far without really bothering to respect and love the ones that are around us in real-time? Because, even if we find life elsewhere, it only means that the life existed there and we have no clue on its current status.

Anyway, let me tell you this secret, if we can travel faster than light and go to a star 50 light years away from us and then take a look at the earth, we will be able to see our parents in their infancy. But remember we will also see our grandparents who might be dead here on earth, but will be alive when seen from there. The only catch is that we may detect their presence but will not be able to interact with them.

Whatever is the consequence of my journey faster than light, my grandfather is still alive to some civilization that is far away from here! Isn’t this a solace that we will still be alive to someone somewhere out there?  It is just a matter of time and space.

– Dr. Sriraghavan S M

President, Education and Collaborations


10 thoughts on “A journey faster than light

Add yours

  1. Hmm !
    Someone said the world is an illusion (Maya !!).
    Leaving the religious/ spiritual mumbo jumbo aside, I am not sure if he fully understood the depth of his own utterances.

    What Mr. R2D2 on a planetary system 100 light years away is not my ‘live’ grandfather. It is ‘stored information’ about my grandfather – the information being ‘stored’ in the photons.

    Well science here, on planet earth has moved a couple of inches further from my grandfather’s times. We now have ways of storing the same information on magnetic tapes and other digital media and re-playing it any time.

    As memory capacities expand and the technology matures (people talking of ‘smart dust’ computing) there could be ways where every event from birth to death (and beyond) could be stored – for playing back anytime.

    Is this another kind of time travel? Or is this a kind of immortality?



  2. Hi Sriraghavan, this is Raghavendra D R, classmate and friend of Soumyashree. She gave me a visiting card, so browsed by and got to know the wonderful work you people are doing!

    I can relate to this very well. This was a stunning thought to me also when I first learnt about it (in fact, now also). Einstein thinking of the assumption of a cosmic speed limit (that too even before experiments) is really astonishing!


      1. Speaking of such striking things (in which things are not as they appear to be), during my PU days, I was really fascinated by the idea that motion along each axis can be studied independently in projectile motion.

        For example, if a bullet is shot from a gun horizontally (0 degrees) and at the same time if another bullet is simply let to fall from the same height, both of them reach the ground at the same time. I could hardly believe it at that time and it never fails to strike me even now.
        The explanation being that the velocity of the shot bullet along the vertical axis (vSin) is zero initially (same as the bullet that is simply being dropped) and they are subject to same acceleration ‘g’. So, they fall to the ground at the same time. The fact that the shot bullet is travelling horizontally along the x-axis also has no bearing on the free-fall along the y-axis.
        However, behind such a seemingly simple experiment is hidden something very deep like why gravity accelerates bodies independent of the nature of the bodies(equivalence principle)

        I really think students should be shown such an experiment in schools. Probably they could throw balls horizontally, simultaneously drop another one and time them on a simple stop-watch. Such simple things really urges one to ponder more deeply.


  3. Reminds me of the movie ‘Contact’. The concept is hard to understand but I believe it. 100 years back TV and internet would have sounded like this!. Regarding “intelligent” life other than on earth, it would be a miracle if we were the only ones. Like the SETI scientist who shows a glass of ocean water without fish and tells that doesn’t mean that there are no fish in the ocean.


  4. Whoa……That was an amazing trip. And it was good to know that some of my relatives (who passed away!) could really be alive to someone somewhere in space. And that is the power of imagination! I can imagine myself traveling at faster than the speed of light. 🙂


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