Wormholes arise as solutions to the equations of Einstein's general theory of relativity. In fact, they crop up so readily in this context that some theorists are encouraged to think that real counterparts may eventually be found or fabricated and, perhaps, used for high-speed space travel and/or time travel. However, a known property of wormholes is that they are highly unstable and would probably collapse instantly if even the tiniest amount of matter, such as a single photon, attempted to pass through them. A possible way around this problem is the use of exotic matter to prevent the wormhole from pinching off.
A brief history of wormholesThe theory of wormholes goes back to 1916, shortly after Einstein published his general theory, when Ludwig Flamm, an obscure Austrian physicist, looked at the simplest possible solution of Einstein's field equations, known as the Schwarzschild solution (or Schwarzschild metric). This describes the gravitational field around a spherically-symmetric non-rotating mass. If the mass is sufficiently compact, the solution describes a particular form of the phenomenon now called a black hole – the Schwarzschild black hole. Flamm realized that Einstein's equations allowed a second solution, now known as a white hole, and that the two solutions, describing two different regions of (flat) spacetime were connected (mathematically) by a spacetime conduit.1 Because the theory has nothing to say about where these regions of spacetime might be in the real world, the black hole "entrance" and white hole "exit" could be in different parts of the same universe or in entirely different universes.
In 1935, Einstein and Nathan Rosen further explored, it can be appreciated with hindsight, the theory of intra- or inter-universe connections in a paper2 whose actual purpose was to try to explain fundamental particles, such as electrons, in terms of spacetime tunnels threaded by electric lines of force. Their work gave rise to the formal name Einstein-Rosen bridge for what the physicist John Wheeler would later call a "wormhole." (Wheeler also coined the terms "black hole" and "quantum foam".) Wheeler's 1955 paper3 discusses wormholes in terms of topological entities called geons and, incidentally, provides the first (now familiar) diagram of a wormhole as a tunnel connecting two openings in different regions of spacetime.
Although the existence of exotic matter is speculative, a way is known of producing negative energy density: the Casimir effect. As a source for their wormhole, MTY turned to the quantum vacuum. "Empty space" at the smallest scale, it turns out, is not empty at all but seething with violent fluctuations in the very geometry of spacetime. At this level of nature, ultra-small wormholes are believed to continuously wink into and out of existence. MTY suggested that a sufficiently advanced civilization could expand one of these tiny wormholes to macroscopic size by adding energy. Then the wormhole could be stabilized using the Casimir effect by placing two charged superconducting spheres in the wormhole mouths. Finally, the mouths could be transported to widely-separated regions of space to provide a means of FTL communication and travel. For example, a mouth placed aboard a spaceship might be carried to some location many light-years away. Because this initial trip would be through normal spacetime, it would have to take place at sublight speeds. But during the trip and afterwards instantaneous communication and transport through the wormhole would be possible. The ship could even be supplied with fuel and provisions through the mouth it was carrying. Also, thanks to relativistic time-dilation, the journey need not take long, even as measured by Earth-based observers. For example, if a fast starship carrying a wormhole mouth were to travel to Vega, 25 light-years away, at 99.995% of the speed of light (giving a time-dilation factor of 100), shipboard clocks would measure the journey as taking just three months. But the wormhole stretching from the ship to Earth directly links the space and time between both mouths – the one on the ship and the one left behind on (or near) Earth. Therefore, as measured by Earthbound clocks too, the trip would have taken only three months – three months to establish a more-or-less instantaneous transport and communications link between here and Vega.
In 2011, Panagiota Kanti (University of Ioannina) and Burkhard Kleihaus (Universität Oldenburg) showed how it might be possible to construct traversable wormholes without using exotic matter by resorting to a form of string theory.10
Given that our technology is not yet up to the task of building a wormhole subway, the question arises of whether they might already exist. One possibility is that advanced races elsewhere in the Galaxy or beyond have already set up a network of wormholes that we could learn to use. Another is that wormholes might occur naturally. David Hochberg and Thomas Kephart of Vandebilt University have discovered that, in the earliest moments of the Universe, gravity itself may have given rise to regions of negative energy in which natural, self-stabilizing wormholes may have formed. Such wormholes, created in the Big Bang, might be around today, spanning small or vast distances in space.
Archived newsWormhole 'no use' for time travel (May 28, 2005)
Related categories BLACK HOLES
SPACE AND TIME
ADVANCED PROPULSION CONCEPTS
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