In mathematical physics, a closed timelike curve (CTC) is a world line in a Lorentzian manifold, of a material particle in spacetime that is "closed", returning to its starting point. This possibility was first discovered by Willem Jacob van Stockum in 1937 and later confirmed by Kurt Gödel in 1949, who discovered a solution to the equations of general relativity (GR) allowing CTCs known as the Gödel metric; and since then other GR solutions containing CTCs have been found, such as the Tipler cylinder and traversable wormholes. If CTCs exist, their existence would seem to imply at least the theoretical possibility of time travel backwards in time, raising the spectre of the grandfather paradox, although the Novikov self-consistency principle seems to show that such paradoxes could be avoided. Some physicists speculate that the CTCs which appear in certain GR solutions might be ruled out by a future theory of quantum gravity which would replace GR, an idea which Stephen Hawking has labeled the chronology protection conjecture. Others note that if every closed timelike curve in a given space-time passes through an event horizon, a property which can be called chronological censorship, then that space-time with event horizons excised would still be causally well behaved and an observer might not be able to detect the causal violation.
When discussing the evolution of a system in general relativity, or more specifically Minkowski space, physicists often refer to a "light cone". A light cone represents any possible future evolution of an object given its current state, or every possible location given its current location. An object's possible future locations are limited by the speed that the object can move, which is at best the speed of light. For instance, an object located at position p at time t0 can only move to locations within p + c(t1 − t0) by time t1.