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LOST In Time

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To understand most shows, all you need is time, a television and the ability to understand English.

For "Lost," we needed two physics professors.

Luckily for The Post, Dr. Michio Kaku of City University here in New York, and Richard Muller of the University of California at Berkeley, are not only experts in their field, they're big fans of ABC's sci-fi series, which returns in a two-hour premiere this Wednesday.

The surprising thing they discovered: One of the show's biggest secrets - what is the mysterious island our castaways landed on? - already has been revealed. Ready? The island is a ship, essentially, one that travels through space and time using a wormhole. Trippy.

For those who need some catching up: "Lost" began with the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, which deposited a number of survivors on a puzzling South Pacific island. The island could heal - one of the castaways, John Locke, no longer needed his wheelchair; another was cured of cancer - and wasn't visible by radar to the outside world. It was inhabited by "Others," natives who seemed not to age, and the remnants of some kind of research project called the Dharma Initiative.

In last season's finale, Locke found a tape made by a Dharma scientist, which for Kaku and Muller was a big clue to the island's nature. On the recording, the scientist says that the island has a natural "Casimir Effect," which created a pocket of "exotic matter" with which Dharma was going to conduct experiments.

Exotic matter!?

"Exotic matter falls up rather than down," says Kaku, author of "Physics of the Impossible. "It has anti-gravitational properties. It's the basic gasoline for time travel."

Does exotic matter exist? Maybe, Kaku says. At this point, it's just theoretical. However, in 1948, a Dutch physicist named Hendrik Casimir predicted the existence of something similar to it, negative matter. Most people laughed him off, Kaku says, until, a decade later, they were actually able to create a very minute amount of negative energy in a lab.

"Using new tools like the Large Hadron Collider, you can't rule anything out," Kaku says. "There are many things that were thought to be impossible that were discovered."

OK, so you created exotic matter using a Casimir Effect. What is it good for? Energy. Scientists laughed at "Back to the Future," because Doc Brown was only using plutonium. "Plutonium isn't powerful enough [to bend space-time]," Kaku says. "You need power of cosmic proportions."

Even using exotic matter, you'd require a power source the size of a star, Kaku says. "We have running debates," he says. "Not whether you could build such a machine, but if such a machine would kill you."

"Lost" has taken liberties with actual theories, since the exotic matter is much smaller than a star, yet nonetheless can bend time and space - and hasn't swallowed up the Earth.

It also can be manipulated. At the end of last season, to prevent the island from falling into unscrupulous hands, Other leader Benjamin Linus "moved" the island. What he really did, Muller says, is shift the island's connection to the world.

"The island is not actually located on the Earth," says Muller, who cites "Lost" in his physics classes and is the author of "Physics for Future Presidents." "It exists within a rip in the space-time continuum."

The island is connected to the South Pacific by a "wormhole-like warp in space-time," and by manipulating that warp, it shifts. Dharma was conducting experiments on the energy with animals; that's why there are polar bears and time-traveling rabbits on the island.

Once you realize the physics of "Lost," a lot of the plot twists fall into place. You can only approach wormholes from one trajectory, otherwise the distortions of space and time become too great. Same with the island. The island isn't visible to radar because it doesn't actually exist here. The button in one of the Dharma stations, the one the castaways had to push every 108 minutes, held in a rupture in the exotic matter. When it wasn't pushed, the station imploded (sucked in by the negative energy) and briefly made the island visible. By turning the key, Desmond sealed that breach but may have moved the island in the process (remember how the sky went white?).

Of course, questions remain, the main one being the origin of the island. Perhaps an ancient alien civilization (creatures with four toes, like the statue the castaways found) actually created the exotic matter, and used the island as a vessel to move through space and time. Could the Others be their descendants? With only two seasons left, we should find out soon.

Muller knows how he doesn't want the show to end. "I worry they'll time travel back to before the plane crashed. They'll remember everything, like 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' but nothing will change in reality," he says.

Instead, the physics professor would like to see a hero emerge - natch, it's a physics professor.

"I suspect Ben really is a physicist," Muller says. "He understands better than anyone what the island is, that's why he's terrified and will do anything to protect it. He'll save the world."

Source: NY Post

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