Any ideas how an advanced alien race could speed up time in a specific region of space?

I'm working on a storyline in which an alien race uses a time bubble to accelerate time so the construction of a structure can conclude quickly, as seen by outside observers. (The bubble is faster on the inside!)

I'd like this to be reasonable in plausible science fiction, not just a trope, to the extent possible.

  • $\begingroup$ "Are there any plausible theories to how...". No, there are not. We have no theories at all about how anyone can manipulate time. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jun 21, 2016 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by speeding up time? Experiencing 100 years for each 1 year passing outside (so speeding up yourself), or other way around (speeding up passage of time)? $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ You can speed up the passage of time for the outside Universe up to any arbitrary level by accelerating yourself to close to the speed of light. However, there is a limit to how much you can speed up the passage of time for yourself (sit far away from any gravity source are remain at a Relative stand still). $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Jun 21, 2016 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ See this post. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ To my understanding black holes are merely very very dense mass, to the point as to that they curve spacetime to an extent, that time further inside than the "event horizon" stops in the eyes of the observer. Mass is neither removed nor swallowed, neither is light, time simply passes way more slowly than outside of the black hole, shifting passing light to wavelengths that are undetectable. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 18:29

5 Answers 5


Quite simply, you cannot make this scientifically plausible, as no existing scientific theories support the manipulation of time.

I would advice you to just technobabble it, as increased entropy or spacetime distortion fields or whatever, and do not go into details of how it works.

Some things to be aware of though is that while we cannot speculate about how it would be done we can discuss consequences.

Power: You would most likely need generators inside the bubble, power coming in from outside is going to start dropping in frequency as the time dilation kicks in.

Light: Light from inside will look blue to observers on the outside. Light from outside will look redder and redder to people inside and eventually go dark if you speed up time enough. This is something people never consider in "time stop" scenarios. People moving through frozen time would need to keep moving or run out of air and would be able to see nothing outside of their "bubble". They would also need to carry a light source of some sort just to illuminate the area around them and that would only extend to the edge of the bubble. Everything else would be absolutely black, perfect absorption, as the light would leave the area around you and from your perspective stop.

Heat: I'm not sure on this one, it's possible that you would overheat due to heat not escaping but equally possible that you would freeze due to heat not coming in.

Air: Now this is interesting. Since air inside is moving faster it will tend to accumulate at the boundary. Effectively you become a high pressure area. It's possible your air will all leave the inside of the accelerated zone (or at least atmospheric pressure will drop). Again this one I'm not sure on, you could argue that the opposite will happen or nothing at all. Working out which would involve expertise I don't have.

Oxygen: This one is clear though, even if the pressure stays even (but see previous point, I think it would most likely drop) you are going to consume the oxygen inside and only have a limited supply coming in from outside.

Now all these consequences are going to start off mild and become more and more serious the more you ramp up the time dilation.

  • $\begingroup$ I thought of a few other idea's, now this goes really far out but the concept is interesting: a wormhole that leads to an alternate dimension where time travels faster. Or maybe even another wormhole that leads to the 6th dimension. Here's my favorite video that explains the concepts of the dimensions; its mind blowingly awesome: youtube.com/watch?v=XjsgoXvnStY $\endgroup$
    – Ruok2bu
    Jun 22, 2016 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ On the contrary there are scientific theories that involve the 'manipulation' of time. Although this does depend on what you mean by manipulation which is the reason why I put 'manipulation' in inverted commas. Theories in question are general and special relativity. Stand too close to a black hole or move at velocities near-lightspeed and time dilates or slows down in layman's parlance. More hypothetical entities like wormholes, negative mass and tachyons change time in other ways (see my answer below). Absolutely agree about air in frozen time scenarios. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jun 28, 2016 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ On the contrary, this is something that people have considered; most famously perhaps Larry Niven in his science fiction story ARM. In the story blueshifting, the consequences of having a light inside the low-inertia zone (more drastic than in the answer here), oxygen supply, and indeed some other things (enumerating which would spoil the plot for those who have not read the story) are all dealt with. $\endgroup$
    – JdeBP
    Oct 16, 2017 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ @JdeBP Very well, "rarely considered" if you prefer. I've certainly never seen any TV show freeze time and then have everyone wonder around in the dark for 30 seconds before they asphyxiate. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Oct 16, 2017 at 11:37

There's no way to achieve this in the known laws of physics.

However given that near a mass the time "goes slower". I guess if you could create a negative mass, near it time should "go faster". So if you assume there's a way to create a large negative mass, then you could do that near that mass.

OK, so how do you create negative mass? Well, you create negative energy, because thanks to $E=mc^2$ you then get negative mass.

But how do you create negative energy? Well, you simply postulate a field that has negative energy. Such a negative energy field doesn't exist in the real word (and probably would cause major problems), but unless you're writing hard-SF I think it's an acceptable deviation from reality.

So your aliens create a bubble of strong phlebotinum field which has negative energy, and due to that negative energy time goes much faster. Note that you'll have strong anti-gravitation; that is, you'll need to invest a lot of energy to get into that bubble. Probably it would be best to first bring all the materials into the space volume, and then activate the field bubble.

If you don't prevent it, things in that bubble will fall outwards. You might have a sphere where you can walk on the inside due to that outwards force (the sphere would be stabilized by the outwards force the same way as a balloon is; of course it would have to be strong enough to support all the structures built on it).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I gave you a +1 vote because your guess about negative mass making time go faster fits into gravitational theory, but adjusting it for the purely hypothetical concept of negative mass, Instead the aliens generating a strong phlebotinum field they generate a strong negative gravitational field. Everything for the construction the OPP wants his aliens to do would have to be brought inside prior to switching on the negative gravitational theory, Repulsive gravity will repel anyone attempting to break in. That's a lovely suggestion and a major plus for the OP's story. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jun 28, 2016 at 2:23

In real science, there is no such thing and nothing that looks like a way in for something like that. Everything has a world line that moves along at a constant velocity in spacetime. If not moving in space and applying all its motion in the time direction, time passes fastest. Contrast, if moving at the speed of light in space, there is zero movement through time and it experiences none.

Gravity bends spacetime and has similar effects. In a galactic void time is fastest, and strong gravity makes it run slow. But our minor gravity here doesn't have much effect, so going into space would only speed up time by a tiny amount. There are other questions specifically on that, here on WB.

This time and space thing is on the level of space and time, without regard to any atoms or quantum mechanical stuff. It's rock-bottom basic features.

So, it's not real. That has not stopped science fiction from postulating it. Star Trek has temporal anomalies that make fruit rot instantly and Picard's fingernails grow out. The original series had something in the water, and this was right out of H.G. Wells from 1901!

You can have a chamber where time runs faster inside, and if well-written need not be explained as hard SF would. Just realize that it's not "hard" SF.

If you want techobabble, maybe the chamber works by surrounding the occupied bubble of normal space with a different false vacuum state where different rules apply. Maybe they pop out into hyperspace, something you want for FTL anyway.

Now, here's an idea that can accomplish the same result. With any form of FTL travel you also have time travel. Sit in the box for a year, then jump it back to a week after you started.

With a wormhole, it's clear: events (coordinates in space-time) are separated by a week in normal space, but spur of spacetime connects two mouths. Rather than make it shorter to cross through the wormhole, which is the point of using it for travel, you make it longer. This can easily be explained and diagrammed, and is a natural side effect of the drive technology.

Or just use Narnia. Same thing really.


Commenting on @tim-b 's answer.

Temperature: Since temperature is related to the speed of motion/vibration of atoms, the materials inside will appear "hot" to an outsider. Interestingly, an object's temperature is proportional to the square of the (root-mean-square) speed of the atoms, while Wien's displacement law states that the peak in the black-body radiation spectrum is proportional to the speed, unsquared. It should therefore be possible to distinguish a hot and a time-sped object from afar.

What about the speed of light?
One caveat on light: for a photon, wavelength * frequency = speed of light. If the speed of light is always observed as a constant, but the frequency of anything inside the bubble speeds up, the observed wavelength will reduce, giving a blueshift as you state. But then you can have scenarios where something inside the bubble is observed as moving faster than the speed of light to an outside observer. This breaks relativity. If the speed of light is allowed to increase within the bubble, frequency and lightspeed will increase in lockstep, giving no blueshift.

Then people start hacking the system
Regardless of how you solve the speed of light problem, you would be able to transmit a signal into the sphere and have it exit the other side having travelled faster than the outside speed of light. This violates locality and opens the door to both faster-than-light travel and sending messages to the past.

This is looking more and more like a explanation for why this alien race went extinct. I'm calling for a ban on all time-bubble research!

  • $\begingroup$ I'm fairly sure you would still see a blue/red shift even if the speed of light remained constant. Either it accelerates as it crosses the bubble which blue shifts it or it is absorbed faster as it hits the eye which gives an apparent blue shift. TBH though I think we both agree that weird stuff is going to happen and you can pretty much justify anything you like at this point as you just hit the fabric of reality with a pretty big hammer. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Jun 22, 2016 at 13:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "But then you can have scenarios where something inside the bubble is observed as moving faster than the speed of light to an outside observer. This breaks relativity." — no, it doesn't. It would break relativity if you would locally see FTL. But seeing apparent FTL because of your time going "slower" than time where the light is can happen already in real physics, e.g. sitting near a BH and looking at far-away light (actually it also happens if on earth you determine the apparent speed of light in space using your earth-located clock; it's just that the effect is too small to notice). $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ @tim-b: couldn't agree more! $\endgroup$
    – Abulafia
    Jun 22, 2016 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ @celtschk agreed. Read in a physics article about a simulation of a planet at the edge of a BH, like in Interstellar, where the planet is traveling about .7C in its own frame of reference, but because of time dilation it would appear to be traveling faster than light to an outside observer further away from the gravity of the BH. This does not violate relativity,. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jun 26, 2016 at 17:56

The questioner wants plausible science fiction and there is plausible science to back it up. Let's not forget the time-bubble is constructed by an advanced alien race.

@celtschck suggested negative mass and negative energy, and quite correctly too. We may cast aside any objections about how to obtain negative matter and negative energy for the purposes of plausible science fiction and simply grant that our aliens are sufficiently advanced.

Robert L Forward described a negative matter time machine thus: "Suppose we had a negative matter which is very dense. Time would run faster near or in the negative mass and we could make a hollow sphere of dense negative mass to speed up time." (in Robert L Forward, "Far Out Physics", Analog, August 1975, pages 161 and 163).

This doesn't speed up time in an unlimited way,the speed-up factor is only square of two faster. This is roughly only forty percent faster. Forward proves this from basic gravitation equations which look like they're adapted from equations about the mass of black holes (my guess!). Forward's article isn't detailed like a scientific paper, alas.

Assuming special relativity is preserved inside a Forward-style dense negative-mass hollow sphere, then if time is faster lengths will be dilated so any measurements of lightspeed remain invariant as required by special relativity. Essentially as time is 'speeded-up' lengths inside the negative matter time machine will increase.

Like @Ruok2bu I had considered the possibility of a parallel universe where time is faster relative to that of our own universe. Yes, @JDLugosz, like Narnia.

Also various forms of time travel could be used to create an illusory version of speed-up time not just interesting arrangements of wormholes. A long space trip in a Godelian rotating universe would achieve in a similar result. The pity is rotating universes are always hard to find.

There is another way of creating speeded-up time. It involves special relativity and travelling at superluminal velocities. R T Jones published in the American Journal of Physics the possibility that travel faster than light results in time passing at the rate of the distance traversed. Basically for every light year a spacecraft travels one year passes shiptime.

So a FTL spacecraft only has to choose a suitable superluminal velocity to ensure enough speed-up time can pass. Since this is plausible science fiction, we can assume there is a chronology protection principle in this fictional universe to take care of any causality problems, Namely, there won't be any to worry about. This isn't exactly the time-bubble the OP wanted, but it is one way to speed up time.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments should be made as just that: comments to the answer in question. Punctuation and making paragraphs also greatly increases the legibility of your posts. This is just one big impenetrable block of text. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jun 26, 2016 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ I can see some of the points you make, however, this answer is hard to read! Can you try to make it a little more structured and use things like paragraphs? $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2016 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, guys, just getting used to the formatting and didn't realise it would result in a monstrous wodge of prose. I was referencing other answers as part of my thinking process in coming up with my answers. Hope this is now a bit more readable. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jun 27, 2016 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, guys, I had a few problems with the formatting. Didn't realise I needed to add a line space to separate the paragraphs. Hope this edit is more readable. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jun 27, 2016 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ About comments and putting them by the answer in question, this doesn't work for me. I'm a newcomer to this website and because I don't have enough Brownie points it doesn't let me comment anywhere except here or in an answer I compose. Fun and games. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jun 27, 2016 at 12:52

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