Atomic Clocks, Exploding Stars and the Stretchiness of Time : Short Wave Time is a concept so central to our daily lives. Yet, the closer scientists look at it, the more it seems to fall apart. Time ticks by differently at sea level than it does on a mountaintop. The universe's expansion slows time's passage. "And some scientists think time might not even be 'real' — or at least not fundamental," says NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel. Geoff joined Short Wave Scientist in Residence Regina G. Barber to bend our brains with his learnings about the true nature of time. Along the way, we visit the atomic clocks at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, consider distant exploding stars and parse the remains of subatomic collisions.

Want to know more about fundamental physics? Email shortwave@npr.org.

Time is so much weirder than it seems

Time is so much weirder than it seems

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1148240811/1200393137" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
LUVLIMAGE/Getty Images
Three clocks stretched on a black background.
LUVLIMAGE/Getty Images

Listen to Short Wave on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Time is a concept so central to our daily lives. Yet, the closer scientists look at it, the more it seems to fall apart.

Time ticks by differently at sea level than it does on a mountaintop. The universe's expansion slows the passing of time. There are periods of the universe's existence where time gets twisted beyond recognition.

"And some scientists think time might not even be 'real' — or at least not fundamental," says NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel.

Geoff joined Short Wave Scientist in Residence Regina G. Barber to bend our brains with his learnings about the true nature of time. Along the way, we visit the atomic clocks at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, consider distant exploding stars and parse the remains of subatomic collisions.

Want to know more about fundamental physics? Email shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Berly McCoy, edited by Gabriel Spitzer and fact-checked by Abe Levine. Amina Khan edited the broadcast version. The audio engineer was Natasha Branch.

Amina Khan edited the broadcast version of this reporting.