Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Logan. Logan Wonders, “What does a wormhole do?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Logan!
You're sitting behind the control panel of your Star Cruiser, silently playing a game of chess against the onboard computer while it autopilots your craft to your next destination. Suddenly, your communications device emits a squawk of static followed by a plea for help.
Your mentor and oldest friend is in dire need of help, but there's a problem. It's 4.7 gazillion parsecs to his location. What can you do? Warp speed will only get you so far. To make this trip in time to save the day, you'll need a special portal to help you jump through space-time. You're going to need a wormhole.
If you're a fan of science fiction books or movies, then you've probably heard about wormholes before. They're usually depicted as tunnel-like structures that connect two points in space-time that are extremely far apart.
Wormholes thus allow nearly-instantaneous travel between two points that would otherwise take an incredibly long time to travel between through normal space. Wormholes sound like the perfect solution to covering the astronomical distances between places in our far-flung universe. But are they real?
Unfortunately, that's not an easy question to answer. What scientists do know is that wormholes like you've read about or seen in movies probably don't exist. At least, no one has ever seen any scientific evidence of such wormholes.
At this point, wormholes are purely theoretical, but the idea has been around a long time. Their existence was first theorized by Albert Einstein as part of his theory of General Relativity.
Einstein's field equations for gravity and his mathematical solutions for black holes suggested a geometric interpretation that looked like two black holes connected by a throat or tunnel called an Einstein-Rosen bridge, more commonly known now as a wormhole. Other scientists have since suggested that the entrance of a wormhole might be a black hole and the exit would be a theoretical "white" hole, but no scientists have ever found any evidence of either wormholes or "white" holes.
So is it likely that scientists will discover wormholes that allow intergalactic travel in your lifetime? Unfortunately, that's highly unlikely. Some scientists believe that wormholes, if they exist at all, might only exist on a subatomic scale for fractions of a second.
Other scientists believe that wormholes don't occur naturally but might be able to be produced with something known as exotic matter. Exotic matter has negative energy density and, like wormholes themselves, is only theoretical at this point.
What if you were able to one day find a small wormhole and enlarge it with exotic matter, so that a spaceship could fit through it? Could you then travel to a faraway galaxy in the blink of an eye? Probably not. Scientists fear that inserting anything into a wormhole would cause it to destabilize and disappear, destroying the spaceship in the process!
Before you get bummed out that wormholes might not exist and traveling to a galaxy far, far away might never be possible, consider this: scientists who have studied wormholes have also noted that, by their very nature, they would also have to allow you to travel back in time.
While time travel might sound cool, just think about what effect your actions might have if you change the past. What if you traveled to the past and accidentally landed your spaceship on your grandfather? That would mean your father was never born and thus you were never born. Would you disappear immediately? Or would the universe explode? Wrap your mind around that!