Advantages of an 8-minute jump-start - Clay Wilson

Scientists tell us that light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach Earth.

I'm not exactly sure how they know this, but, hey, they're scientists, so we can trust what they say, right?

In any case, this assertion raises an interesting concept – at least in my mind (which, admittedly, probably doesn't work like most of the non-institutionalized population's).

But my idea is this: If light from the sun is eight minutes old by the time we see it, then theoretically that light when it originated would have illuminated events here on Earth eight minutes in the past.

Now, if we could somehow figure out how to harness the sun's light when it originates and get it to illuminate events so that we can see them here, we could theoretically get an eight-minute jump start on the future.

Imagine what we could change with an eight-minute lead time. On a grand scale, of course, we could prevent things like 9-11 or the Kennedy assassination. It's even possible, although more unlikely, that somehow we could have prevented World War II.

But even on a personal scale, an eight-minute premonition could save countless lives, heartaches or simply embarrassments.

The obvious problem, of course, is how exactly to take advantage of the eight-minute light lag. When I first discussed this with some of my newsroom colleagues, I was simply speaking in metaphorical terms.

"What if," I asked, "we could see what the sun sees eight minutes ago, or the light from the sun could tell us what it sees when it originates?"

Alas, my co-workers' apparently more literal minds quickly destroyed my idealism.

"That would require that the sun be able to see," said Mike. "That would require that the light particles somehow be able to communicate with us," said Rob.

And then I realized the most formidable logical obstacle to my idea: The sun's light is not on Earth when it originates eight minutes in our past – it's on the sun, so of course it can't illuminate events here.

This little truth deflated me for a few moments, but then I remembered tachyons. Tachyons are theoretical subatomic particles that some scientists contend travel faster than the speed of light.

I didn't have time to adequately research how fast tachyons actually travel, so I'm just going to make it up. Hey, it worked for Jayson Blair.

But let's say that tachyons travel eight times the speed of light, which would conveniently work into our eight-minute equation. Then, theoretically, the tachyons emitted by the sun would arrive here as soon as they originate. So if we could see the events defined by the tachyons, our time-lag difficulty would be solved.

Then the problem becomes how to see what the tachyons are "seeing." As much as I hate to admit it, I'm indebted to Rob for the solution to this one. If we could invent a camera that picks up images produced by tachyon bombardment, and then get it to instantaneously broadcast signals to Earth, we could watch television from eight minutes in the past.

Of course, there's still the question of where the camera would be trained and who would watch the monitor. Perhaps there could be multiple cameras that would provide a subscription broadcast service similar to today's satellite TV.

But I don't have time to ponder those technicalities just now. This column is late, and until I can get this seeing into the past thing perfected, I'm in trouble.

Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.