After some serious number crunching, a Canadian researcher has come up with a mathematical model for a viable time machine.

Ben Tippett, a mathematics and physics instructor at University of British Columbia, recently published a study about the feasibility of time travel.

Tippett, whose field of expertise is Einstein's theory of general relativity, studies black holes and science fiction when he's not teaching.

Using math and physics, he has created a formula that describes a method for time travel.


"People think of time travel as something of fiction," he says.

"And we tend to think it's not possible because we don't actually do it. But, mathematically, it is possible."

Ever since H.G. Wells published his book Time Machine in 1885, people have been curious about time travel - and scientists have worked to solve or disprove the theory.

In 1915, Albert Einstein announced his theory of general relativity, stating that gravitational fields are caused by distortions in the fabric of space and time.

More than 100 years later, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration - an international team of physics institutes and research groups - announced the detection of gravitational waves generated by colliding black holes billions of light years away, confirming Einstein's theory.

The division of space into three dimensions, with time in a separate dimension by itself, is incorrect, Tippett says.

The four dimensions should be imagined simultaneously, where different directions are connected, as a space-time continuum.

Using Einstein's theory, Tippett said that the curvature of space-time accounts for the curved orbits of the planets.

In "flat"- or uncurved - space-time, planets and stars would move in straight lines. In the vicinity of a massive star, space-time geometry becomes curved and the straight trajectories of nearby planets will follow the curvature and bend around the star.

"The time direction of the space-time surface also shows curvature.

"There is evidence showing the closer to a black hole we get, time moves slower.

"My model of a time machine uses the curved space-time - to bend time into a circle for the passengers, not in a straight line.

"That circle takes us back in time."

But while it is possible to describe this type of time travel using a mathematical equation, Tippett doubts that anyone will ever build a machine to make it work.

First Steve, now Arnie and Danny

Daviesia schwarzenegger (left) and devito. Photo / Stuart Hay, ANU.
Daviesia schwarzenegger (left) and devito. Photo / Stuart Hay, ANU.

It's been a week of odd names in science news.

A group of aurora chasers in Canada noticed a bright arc in pictures they took of the Northern Lights, so, as you do, decided to name it Steve.

Now scientists are actually looking into what causes the phenomenon, which means it will probably get an overly-technical science name but hopefully people will keep calling it Steve anyway.

Professor Eric Donovan, of the University of Calgary, was among the first to offer an explanation: and it had little to do with aliens.

"The temperature 300km above Earth's surface jumped by 3000C and the data revealed a 25km-wide ribbon of gas flowing westwards at about 6km/s compared to a speed of about 10m/s either side of the ribbon.

"It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn't noticed it before.

"It's thanks to ground-based observations, satellites, today's explosion of access to data and an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, biologists from the Australian National University have named an unlikely pair of plants after Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, the stars of the 1988 movie Twins.

Emeritus Professor Mike Crisp said one of the species of Daviesia, a genus of Australian pea flowers, was much more robust than the other, calling to mind the movie about Julius and his twin brother Vincent, the products of a genetic project.

"We discover early on in the movie that the embryo split in two, but it didn't split equally - all the purity and strength went into Schwarzenegger's character Julius, while the dregs went into Vincent, DeVito's character."

Daviesia schwarzenegger and devito are among 131 different sub-species that Crisp and his colleagues have identified within the genus Daviesia, which are known as "egg and bacon peas" due to the colours of their flowers.

New colour scheme for bricks: Martian red

A compacted
A compacted "Martian brick". Photo / Brian J. Chow, Yu Qiao

Explorers planning to settle on Mars might be able to turn the planet's red soil into bricks without needing to use an oven or additional ingredients.

Instead, they would just need to apply pressure to compact the soil - the equivalent of a blow from a hammer.

It comes as the US Congress has just passed a bill directing Nasa to send a manned mission to Mars in 2033.

"The people who will go to Mars will be incredibly brave - they will be pioneers," said the University of California's Professor Yu Qiao.

"And I would be honoured to be their brick maker."

Proposals to use Martian soil to build habitats for manned missions on the planet are not new.

But a study led by Qiao was the first that shows astronauts would need minimal resources to do so.

Microscopy shows that Martian soil simulant grains are bonded by iron oxide nanoparticulates. Photo / Brian J. Chow, Yu Qiao
Microscopy shows that Martian soil simulant grains are bonded by iron oxide nanoparticulates. Photo / Brian J. Chow, Yu Qiao

Previous plans included nuclear-powered brick kilns or using complex chemistry to turn organic compounds found on Mars into binding polymers.

In fact, Qiao and his team were initially trying to cut down on the amount of polymers required to shape Martian soil into bricks, and accidentally discovered that none was needed.

To make bricks out of Mars soil simulant, without additives and without heating or baking the material, two steps were key.

One was to enclose the simulant in a flexible container, in this case a rubber tube, and the other was to compact the simulant at a high enough pressure.

The amount of pressure needed for a small sample is roughly the equivalent of someone dropping a large hammer from a height of one metre.

This process produced small round soil pallets that could then be cut into brick shapes.

Finally, the engineers believe that the iron oxide, which gives Martian soil its signature reddish hue, would act as the binding agent.

Dinosaur reunited with its head

The Corythosaurus skull, collected in 1920 by George Sternberg, is in the University of Alberta's Paleontology Museum. Photo / Katherine Bramble
The Corythosaurus skull, collected in 1920 by George Sternberg, is in the University of Alberta's Paleontology Museum. Photo / Katherine Bramble

After being headless for almost a century, a dinosaur skeleton that had become a tourist attraction in Canada's Dinosaur Provincial Park was finally reconnected to its head.

Researchers at the University of Alberta have matched the headless skeleton to a Corythosaurus skull from the university's Paleontology Museum that had been collected in 1920 by George Sternberg to the headless dinosaur.

"In the early days of dinosaur hunting and exploration, explorers only took impressive and exciting specimens for their collections, such as skulls, tail spines and claws," explained graduate student Katherine Bramble, adding the practice was commonly referred to as "head hunting".

"Now, it's common for palaeontologists to come across specimens in the field without their skulls."

Using anatomical measurements of the skull and the skeleton, Bramble and her colleagues conducted a statistical analysis that showed there was potential that the two belonged together.

As scientists develop new methods for matching specimens, Bramble hopes more dinosaurs skeletons will be reunited as well.

"It's becoming more and more common," she said.

"One institution will have one part of a skeleton; years later, another will collect another part of a skeleton that could belong to the same animal."