(Photo: Kate Ter Haar via Flickr)

(Photo: Kate Ter Haar via Flickr)

Scientists have managed to create a hole in time, making it appear as if an event never happened at all.

It’s not quite Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, but researchers at Cornell University demonstrated time cloaking was possible, if only for a fraction of a second.

They managed the feat by creating what they call a temporal – or time related – cloak.

Now, before you surmise science has finally uncovered the secrets of the space-time continuum – and that we may one day edit or eliminate bits and pieces of time – I should tell you this accomplishment was made with a sort-of “trick of the light.”  The experiment dealt with the transport of information by a beam of light.

Dr. Alexander Gaeta, a physics and engineering professor, and his colleagues, developed this temporal cloak by creating a gap in the movement of a beam of light.

The object or event they wanted to hide occurred during that gap. The scientists then put the beam back together again without the gap, effectively hiding the object or event.

Gaeta and his team developed  a time lens, which controls and focuses signals in time, similar to the way a typical optical lens focuses light in space.

With this time lens, the researchers first split the light in time into two parts. Then, by manipulating the wavelength of each beam of light,  they sped up one part while slowing down the other. That created the gap in the beam of light.

Anything that took place during that gap – which the light beam would normally interact with –  was hidden or masked.

Afterward, the two beams of light were reassembled back into one.  This was done by speeding up the part that was slowed to create the gap and slowing down the part that was sped up.

The reassembled beam of light doesn’t show any trace of the gap, and no evidence of the hidden object or that the event took place.

So far, the amount of time Gaeta and his team can mask is incredibly small, clocking in at just 40 trillionths of a second.

As far as future practical applications, Gaeta sees it being quite useful in data transmission.  For example, if you needed to put in an emergency message within the data stream of a modern telephone transmission, you could create this gap, put in your emergency message, transmit it, take it back out and then put the data stream back together without ever interrupting or disturbing it.

Meanwhile Gaeta and his team continue their experiments, hoping to expand the amount of cloaking time and finding new practical ways in which this technology can be applied.

The research was partly funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), which is responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military.

This weekend on the radio edition of “Science World,” Dr. Gaeta tells us more about his latest efforts to mask time. Tune in (see right column for scheduled times) or check out the interview below.

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Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include: