Set in modern day Antarctica, a group of very talented scientists are working on a highly confidential scientific experiment which would one day allow us to manipulate time literally. They are working deep inside an abandoned mine to develop a machine that can extract the energy of time, the machine when switched on will convert all relative times within the radius of 15000Km of space-time into vast amount energy in a mere 1 second. (one time use only)


  1. No worry no matter or energy is harmed during and after the experiment.

  2. Speed of light is invariant for all reference frames including time, hence when the machine stole 1 second from a photon (light) and since space and time is treated as an inseparable object you can assume the distance is somewhat affected. (revised)

  3. I'm not sure if I can completely trust a clock hovering many miles above my head (new)

  4. The most accurate clock ever is located on Earth.(new)


Should the machine be activated and stole 1 second from every particles and fields within the specified range above will anyone excluding the scientists involved notice their time is robbed?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How can time be converted to energy? The concept of energy is intimately related to time, as hinted at by the uncertainty conjunction between the two measurements, and Noether's Theorm shows that energy is a concerved quantity because the laws of physics don't change over time. But how can you convert time, and what does that even mean? Think 4D spacetime: the time axis is not absolute. Warping spacetime will affect time to some observer and space to another, depending on their motion. The closest thing I can think of is the missing pie wedge around a cosmic string. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 4:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz that's the reason why this question is not posted on Physics.SE and beside if you can accept perfect vacuum can contains energy then why having some much difficulty with time. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ If this is analogous to vacuum energy then no, we wouldn't notice mostly because we'd all be dead. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_vacuum#Vacuum_metastability_event $\endgroup$
    – alessandro
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ Why not? Because it's not relativistic invariant. Time is not a separate thing from space. A description of events needs to make sense in all reference frames. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ In any case, my musings can inspire some exposition to make it sound more sensable. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 14:12

2 Answers 2


Yes, we'd notice. Thank you modern technology.

GPS depends on astonishingly precise clocks. You would not believe how precise. They are so precise that the few nanoseconds of jitter we see in their signals is more associated with changes in propagation through the atmosphere than errors in their 4 redundant cesium or rubidium atomic clocks.

The GPS constellation flies at roughly 20,000km. It would be impossible for you to hit them all with your device, so they would keep reporting the old time.

You'd better believe someone would notice. The metrologists who keep GPS ticking along accurately would defaecate rectangular building materials if they thought the satellites lost a second. Worse, you'd probably manage to catch a few satellites in your blast directly overhead. Now they not only have GPS satellites that are "a second behind," but some of them have the "right" answer too!

It would be loud. Very loud. Much screaming. If you want some sense of it, go sneak up behind a metrologist and spook him or her while they're carrying a calibrated 1kg mass, like K20 (one of the 5 US copies of the official kilogram measure). Spook them hard enough to get them to drop it.

Loud. Very loud. Much flowery vocabulary as well. I recommend running.

  • $\begingroup$ Beautiful answer just a tiny flaw the signals (see mass-energy equivalence) between the satellites and Earth will be affected as well if they fall within the range and just nice this range would devour the entire earth that includes all human being in space(ISS orbit at 400Km above sea level) $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ @user6760, I think you have misunderstood how the GPS constellation works. They all have to agree, and your range misses most of the constellation. And there's 32 of them, and they talk to lots of devices - the entire system depends on everyone agreeing what time it is. Programmers would probably be the second group of people to notice in a big way, provided it didn't cause a media frenzy. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanBoddy Yeah, Sysadmins too. I know a few sysadmins who would loudly decry the "unannounced leap second" and the horrors of UTC before pulling up their root console and adjusting the times. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 I assumed such destructive behaviors did not occur. Otherwise, the answer would be too simple: "No, no one would notice because the signals from our sun called 'light' would annihilate everything." While the idea of stealing a second is handwavium, I figured we at least wanted a good story from it =) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ I would argue the effect would be akin to waking up one day to notice that everyone on your street is driving BMWs except you. Can memory be trusted? Maybe in reality, everyone was driving BMWs the whole time? Possible. But I'd absolutely say without a question that you noticed. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 5:10

It's hard to know precisely what you mean, but I'll assume the net effect is that for someone watching from Mars, they see the contents of your bubble of space disappear for one second, and when it reappears the clocks inside it will be a second behind.

Even if you size the bubble to include the GPS fleet, lots of people on Earth are listening to signals from much further away than that. Radio astronomers track highly regular pulsars, and NASA tracks deep space probes, for example, so the event would appear in many independent logs. That would actually be more compelling evidence than a GPS discrepancy-- if that were all, you'd just assume a bug in the GPS system. So yes, a diverse but fairly small subset of people would know about it. Many of them would be government employees, so they could be in on the cover-up (and tweak GPS to hide it), but a few amateur astronomers would detect it too.

Since your effect (unlike in Robert Charles Wilson's related novel Spin) involves a discontinuity in time, there are some tricky physical consequences. The magnetic and gravitational fields interacting with the Earth would change over 1 second, only by a little amount, but the change would be experienced instantly and that means the rate of change would be infinite-- for example you'd get an induced electrical field of infinite size-- violating the conservation of energy and breaking physics in all kinds of ways. The side effects might well destroy the Earth, if not the entire universe, so I suppose you'd just have to ignore all that.


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