What Is a Wormhole?

21 Feb 2023

What is a wormhole?

A favourite plot device of any science fiction writer, wormholes and their potential to allow travel over vast distances have inspired our imaginations just as much as they have inspired cinema. But what is a wormhole? In this article, we’ll look at the theories and facts and discuss whether these incredible intergalactic highways could be real.

What Is a Wormhole?

A wormhole, or an Einstein-Rosen bridge, is a hypothetical object allowing travel between two separate points in spacetime. After being initially suggested by Karl Schwarzschild in 1915, physicists Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen developed the idea of a wormhole in 1935. However, physicists didn’t use the term ‘wormhole’ to describe the theory until around 20 years later.

To try and visualise the concept of a wormhole, we can consider something a little more grounded to Earth. Imagine a vast mountain range that sits between two cities. You would have to take a long detour around the mountains to travel between each city by car. However, if we dig a tunnel through the mountain, the route becomes far more direct and the journey time is significantly reduced. Replace the two towns with two different points in space, substitute the mountain range for spacetime itself, and we have a wormhole.

A frequently used idea in science fiction is that black holes are actually wormhole entrances. In this theory, the exit of a wormhole would be a so-called ‘white hole’, which would be the exact opposite of a black hole. It would be impossible to enter a white hole, but matter, information and light could escape.

While theoretical, a wormhole could allow travel between great distances by creating a tunnel through spacetime.

How Far Could You Travel in a Wormhole?

If wormholes exist in our universe, you could potentially use them to travel a colossal distance – perhaps millions of lightyears. Interestingly, some physicists also theorise that it might even be possible to travel between different universes using wormholes.

Could You Use a Wormhole to Travel Through Time?

Some astronomers believe that our theories of wormhole physics suggest that it would be possible to travel in time using a wormhole. However, not everyone shares this view, with some scientists arguing that a wormhole would simply be a shortcut through spacetime that would allow you to travel across large distances quickly.

Even if travelling through time is impossible, wormhole travel may still effectively cause time travel courtesy of time dilation. Einstein famously posited that time is relative to the traveller, with less time passing the faster you travel. When taken to great extremes, someone travelling near the speed of light for some time would experience significantly shorter timeframes than a stationary observer. If travelling through wormholes results in the traveller experiencing such speeds, then someone making a return journey through a wormhole would return to Earth many years later than the amount of time they have travelled.

While debatable, some physicists argue that womrhole theory allows for time travel.

Could Humans Safely Travel Through a Wormhole?

Regrettably, if wormholes do exist, then the chances of being able to use them for human transportation are slim. Firstly, due to the mechanics required for wormholes to exist, such as negative energy, they would probably be microscopically small. Even worse, for something to essentially bend space in such a way as to create a tunnel, it’s probable that the amount of gravity possessed by such an object would cause problems. Finally, the potential for high energy radiation, or even the sudden collapse of the wormhole, would make travelling through one more than a little risky!

As in many science fiction movies, some hypothesise that black holes are actually entrances to wormholes.

Do Wormholes Exist?

At the moment, we don’t know whether wormholes are real or confined to the realms of science fiction. No evidence is available to suggest that they exist; however, astronomers are currently developing experiments to try and discover more information.

It’s worth mentioning that while wormholes sound like the stuff of fantasy, they are theoretically possible according to Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Considering that Einstein’s theory also had other ‘out there’ notions that have since been proven correct, such as black holes and gravity waves, there’s every chance that wormholes are out there just waiting for us to discover them.

We might not have the answers to prove the existence of wormholes just yet, but you can take a tour of our galactic neighbourhood! Try out the OSR’s One Million Stars App and learn more about some of the famous stars and constellations in our night sky.

One Million Stars App