What is a Wormhole? – The Theory, Facts and Fiction Explained
Wormholes have served as fodder for numerous science fiction stories and movies for quite some time now. There have been several theories that try to explain how wormholes work and several more on how time travel could be made possible through these wormholes. Much like black holes, wormholes are beguiling and tend to leave people mesmerized with theirintricacies. If you have ever wondered about what these things are, or, if you want to better understand all their alluring intricacies, then, this article is exactly what you need. Read on to learn more about the splendor of these mysterious bodies.
Wormholes can be visualized as portals that can allow entities to travel through space and time. Black holes consist of a single point of singularity where all mass is said to accumulate. These black holes consume anything in their proximity. Scientists hypothesize that there also exists a white hole at the other end of a black hole. These white holes spit out the matter, and light, absorbed by the black hole. The entry point and the exit point exist as separate points in the universe. These bridges that link two separate points in space-time are referred to as Einstein-Rosen bridges. These bridges are named after the scientists, Albert Einstein, and Nathan Rosen.
These bridges, however, are highly unstable and tend to collapse due to the influence of the gravitational force on them. A wormhole, in this context, is a passage from one point in space-time to another. Each wormhole is expected to have two mouths and a neck, that, serves as a bridge between the two mouths. At one mouth is a black hole and at the other is a white hole. Both black holes and white holes are solutions to Einstein’s field equations. A black hole is Schwarzschild’s solution to Einstein’s field equations. Ludwig Flamm discovered the presence of another solution to these field equations while understanding the Schwarzschild’s solution, and this solution was referred to as the white hole. There exists a parameter, called the Schwarzschild’s radius for every entity with mass. This radius is the radius of a sphere such that if all the mass of an object were to be compressed within the sphere of radius equal to the Schwarzschild’s radius, the escape velocity from the surface of the object would equal to the speed of light.
Mathematically it could be represented as,
R is the Schwarzschild’s radius, G is the gravitational constant, c is the speed of light, and M the mass of the black hole
To understand a wormhole through better visualization, we would have to consider the analogy of a piece of paper consisting of two points on it. The two points represent different points in space-time. For those of you who are absolutely tired of hearing about this analogy (in various movies or explanations), skip the next couple of lines. For those of you who have not heard of this analogy, pay attention. When the paper is not bent or folded, there is a certain distance between the two points. Now, imagine that the paper is folded, poking a pencil through the paper to connect the two points would provide a shortcut between the points. This distance is seemingly much lesser than the distance between the points had the paper not been folded. A wormhole works in a similar manner to this shortcut. It provides a shortcut between two points in space-time. These points could even belong to different universes.
Wormholes have not been discovered yet. In theory, their existence is proven, but, nobody has ever found one. Many physicists and astronomers believe that the supermassive black holes that exist at the center of most galaxies could potentially be wormholes.
Wormhole vs black hole
What’s the difference between black holes and wormholes? Like I have mentioned, wormholes are better explained as passages while a black hole is just a mouth to this passage. Before I get to the specific differences, let’s look at some of the similarities between the two. Both the terms, ‘black holes’ and ‘white holes’ were coined by John Wheeler. Both have never been observed directly. Both are mathematically consistent. Both are immensely fascinating, and both have not been fully understood!
Now, let’s get to the differences between the two. One distinguishing factor between black holes and wormholes is the Hawking radiation. Black holes lose energy continuously through the emission of Hawking radiation. This emission is initially slow and builds speed as the process continues. Only black holes are said to emit this Hawking radiation.
Another difference is the lack of an event horizon in wormholes. The event horizon of a black hole is its boundary. To escape from within a black hole, one would have to travel faster than light, at speeds greater than the escape velocity of the black hole.
In black holes, there is no point of return. Once you enter a black hole, there is no escaping it. On the other hand, when you travel through a wormhole, if the wormhole is kept open for a sufficiently long enough time, you could potentially travel back to the same place through the same wormhole. There is a lot of controversy over this theory though since you would not end up going back to the same point in space-time that you initially started at.
Perhaps, the most distinguishing aspect is the fact that wormholes are purely theoretical, while black holes are proven to exist. A black hole is a massive dent in the fabric of space-time that seems to cause a puncture in it. Anything that enters this puncture is consumed and is present at a single point of singularity. A wormhole, on the other hand, can be considered as two punctures in space-time that are connected to one another. The two punctures could exist as any two points in space-time.
Problems with travel through wormholes
The problems with travel through wormholes arise due to their size and stability. Primordial wormholes are considered to be so small that they are microscopic in nature. To travel through microscopic wormholes would be highly improbable.
The other problem is the stability of wormholes. Wormholes, under the influence of gravitational forces, tend to collapse rather easily. In order to travel through these wormholes, wormholes should remain open. This requires the presence of exotic matter, which, I will cover in the next section. However, this exotic matter also only exists in theory. Keeping a wormhole open is a daunting challenge, indeed.
Keeping a wormhole open
In the case of wormholes that are existent through the explanations of the string theory, the wormholes are kept open by cosmic strings. In the case of man-made and other wormholes, they would have to be kept open by exotic matter. Exotic matter is a special kind of hypothesized matter. Exotic matter has negative mass. This means that it is repulsive in nature. Positive masses that exist in this universe tend to attract each other, while exotic matter tends to repel.
Due to the presence of gravity, it would not be easy for wormholes to remain open. This exotic matter can counter the gravity and allow wormholes to remain open. Exotic matter can be used to weave space and time and sustain wormholes. One candidate for the exotic matter is the vacuum of space.
To understand why the vacuum of empty space could be a potential candidate, you will first have to understand why empty space is not empty. Empty space consists of several virtual particles that are randomly generated. These particles cancel each other out, in pairs. Each pair is said to be a particle-antiparticle pair.
This property, where pairs of particles cancel each other out, can be manipulated to produce similar pairs of matter that cancel each other out. Exotic matter can thus be produced. Exotic matter would provide a great deal of help in the stabilization of wormholes by keeping them open.
Exotic matter, unlike regular matter, would accelerate in directions opposite to the applied force. Despite its peculiar properties and its deviation from the behavior of normal matter, it is not inconsistent mathematically. It also does not violate the principles of conservation of energy or momentum.
For exotic matter, the mass-energy equivalence would be represented as,
E represents energy, m represents mass and c^2 is the coefficient of proportionality.
The concept that interstellar travel is possible, is most certainly enthralling. The possibilities that can be unlocked through the travel in space-time are enormous and could change how we view the universe entirely. Through such travel, the vastness of the universe could be diminished. We could travel across galaxies and universes and unlock so many secrets of the universe. Although space-time travel has enormous potential, we are hindered by the fact that wormholes, at least for now, only exist in theory.
Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady of the United States once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. Maybe, one day we will uncover the secrets of the universe through space-time travel and view the universe in all its glory. Until then, we will have to settle for these dreams of what could be.