Finally, for light to travel to the furthest known point in the universe it would take fifteen billion years (and the universe is still expanding at an accelerating rate.) But just as Einstein's equation confined man to never travel at more than the speed of light, his theories on time dilation opened up other possibilities of interstellar space travel. Einstein demonstrated that as the traveller speeds up, time for him/her slows down. As Michael White, science editor of GQ explains, "if we imagine for a moment a journey of 50 light years from the alien's home world to Earth. At 0.95c (95% the speed of light), this will take 47.5 years to complete, one way. 47.5 years to the people back home, that is. Because of the consequence of special relativity that, as we space travel faster, relative time slows, to the crew of the spaceship, this 47.5 years will only be 14.8 years." (2)
Scientist Stanton B Friedman, along with co-author B Ann Slate, applied this science to establish whether or not claims made by two American so-called 'abductees' could be of any substance. Betty and Barney Hill (above) alleged that they had been taken on board a UFO whilst out driving through the White Mountains in New Hampshire in September 1961. They later sought professional assistance to resolve personal difficulties that later surfaced and during regression, undertaken by psychiatrist and neurologist Dr Benjamin Simon, the Hills revealed that they believed they believed they had been taken on board a space craft where they had undergone a detailed physical examination. Following this examination, Betty Hill claimed that a crew-member of the spacecraft had shown her a star map of what were supposedly trade routes and "paths of exploration". During further hypnosis in 1964 Betty Hill reproduced this alleged 'star map' as a drawing (below).
Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for Betty if their story was fabricated, no-one could recognise the star chart she had drawn and it therefore neither helped prove nor disprove the story. However an American schoolteacher, Marjorie Fish, undertook the mammoth task of attempting to identify which stars Betty's map could have represented. She constructed three dimensional models of all stars within approximately sixty light years of our own sun, and in July 1969, some five years following the original 'abduction', Fish came across a nine star pattern that appeared to represent the star chart drawn by Betty Hill.
Additional support for the Hill claims came in 1969 when a revised star catalogue was issued. This catalogue containing information that appeared to confirm the Hill's original story, for three of the stars shown on Hill and Fisher's maps were not known to anybody on Earth at the time of the alleged abduction. (These stars were called named Gliese 86.1, 95 and 97.) This information suggested that the 'aliens' who 'abducted' the Hills were from Zeta 1 Reticuli and Zeta 2 Reticuli (the 12th and 13th nearest stars to our Sun), some 176,340,000m miles away. Quite why they should travel 37 light years and simply want to subject Betty and Barney Hill to a medical examination, have a chat around a star map, then dump them back on Earth, has never been adequately explained, but then, hey, maybe these aliens have got another set of values.
Seriously though, there is no reason to believe that we would ever be able to actually communicate with any such aliens should they manage to reach us. Even on Earth we share the planet with other life forms that are acknowledged as being 'intelligent'. Yet, to date, we have not been able to achieve any real communication outside Hollywood remakes of 1970s Australian television shows and US science fiction programmes. In any event, once the home star system had been identified, Friedman and Slate set to work. "What this implies," they concluded, "is that the Reticulan crew would not have had to be going faster than the speed of light to pay a visit to our solar system and return facing the prospect of residence in a home for the elderly. Using Einstein's time-change factor, a one way trip at 80% of the speed of light at a constant velocity would take them 22 years. At 99% of the speed of light, it would take them five years and two months, but at 99.9% of that velocity, the trip could be made in only twenty months." (3)
Their calculations for the amount of time the journey would have taken may be correct, but they had forgotten that travelling at the speed of light brings about its own problems. Stephen Hawking explains: "Because of the equivalence of energy and mass, the energy which an object has due to its motion, will add to its mass. In other words, it will make it harder to increase its speed. This effect is only really significant for objects moving at the speed of light. For example, at 10% of the speed of light, an object's mass is only 0.5% more than normal, while at 90% of the speed of light it would be twice its normal mass.
As an object approaches the speed of light, its mass rises ever more quickly, so it takes more and more energy to speed it up further. "It can in fact never reach the speed of light, because by then its mass would have become infinite, and by the equivalence of mass and energy, it would have taken an infinite amount of energy to get there. For this reason, any normal object is forever confined by relativity to move at speeds slower than the speed of light. Only light, or other waves that have no intrinsic mass, can move at the speed of light." (4). And there are other complications to this travel. As White points out; "even if we assume alien longevity is greater than ours ... crews sent out on round trips of almost a century might return to their home worlds to find the political structure changed. The organisation that sent them may no longer exist. Such a crew would find all their relatives either dead or ancient, and almost everything once familiar, irreversibly altered.
Explore forgotton clues scattered throughout history that are suggestive
of an alternative history.
Join the world-wide search for evidence
of a lost civilisation that predates
Has Earth already been contacted by other civilisations either in the distant past or in recent centuries?
A discussion of sightings of UFOs in the sky above Earth and within the solar system, including Moon anomalies.
Evidence the Earth has been visited by extraterrestrials and how the public had been subject to disinformation.
A list of credits and sources for the themes and issues explored