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In many universes, typically those on TV shows or in movies, time travel is not much more difficult than driving downtown in any major city during rush hour. Sure, the traffic can get gnarly, but no law of physics prevents you from reaching your destination eventually.

In real life, time travel isn’t so easy. In fact, it’s probably impossible, a fantasy more farfetched than visiting Alice’s Wonderland, finding gold at the end of a rainbow or cleansing all the hate speech off of Facebook.

Yet time travel does not necessarily violate the laws of physics. In Einstein’s theory of gravity — general relativity — space and time are merged as spacetime, which allows for the possibility of pathways that could bend back to the past and loop back to the future.

Such paths are known as closed timelike curves. They’re a little like great circles around the surface of the Earth — if you start out in one direction and keep going straight, eventually you come back to where you started from. In that case the Earth’s curvature guides you back to your previous point in space; with closed timelike curves, the geometry of spacetime guides you back to an earlier moment in time.

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Category: Science