Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity revolutionised our understanding of fundamental physics concepts like space and time. But it also left us with a number of unanswered questions. One was black holes, which had only recently been unequivocally discovered. Another was “wormholes,” which were bridges connecting different points in spacetime and, in principle, giving space travellers with shortcuts.
Wormholes are still a thing of science fiction. However, other experts believe we will soon be able to locate them as well. Several recent studies published in the last several months have provided exciting paths forward.
When the structure of spacetime is substantially bent by gravity, black holes and wormholes emerge as special forms of solutions to Einstein’s equations. When matter is exceedingly dense, for example, the fabric of spacetime can become so curved that light cannot escape. This is a hole in the ground.
Because the theory allows the fabric of spacetime to be stretched and bent, a wide range of potential configurations can be imagined. In 1935, Einstein and scientist Nathan Rosen proposed a method for joining two sheets of spacetime to form a bridge between two universes. This is one type of wormhole — and many others have been envisioned since then.
Humans may be able to travel via some wormholes if they are “traversable.” However, they would have to be suitably huge and kept open against the force of gravity, which would want to close them. To push spacetime outward in this way, massive amounts of “negative energy” would be required.
It sounds like science fiction to me. Negative energy is known to exist; modest amounts have been created in the lab. We also know that negative energy is accelerating the expansion of the cosmos. As a result, nature may have discovered a mechanism to create wormholes.
Finding wormholes in the sky.
We’ll never be able to establish that wormholes exist. Russian astronomers think they may exist at the centre of some very bright galaxies in a recent publication published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Society, and propose some experiments to detect them. This is based on what would happen if matter falling into the wormhole interacted with matter coming out of the other side. According to the calculations, the collision would produce a stunning display of gamma rays, which we could try to see with telescopes.
This radiation may hold the secret to distinguishing a wormhole from a black hole, which were previously thought to be indistinguishable from the outside. Black holes, on the other hand, should produce less gamma rays and eject them in a jet, whereas wormhole radiation would be confined to a large sphere. Although the type of wormhole explored in this study can be traversed, it is not a pleasant journey. The extreme temperatures would burn everything to a crisp because it would be so close to the centre of an active galaxy. However, not all wormholes, such as those further from the galactic centre, would be affected.
The concept of galaxies with wormholes at their centres isn’t new. Consider the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. This was discovered by meticulously following the orbits of stars around the black hole, a huge accomplishment for which the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded in 2020. However, a recent article suggests that this gravitational force could be created by a wormhole.
A wormhole, unlike a black hole, may “leak” some gravity from the objects on the opposite side. The motions of stars near the galactic centre would be sped up by this strange gravitational force. According to this research, the specific effect should be detectable in observations in the near future, once our sensors’ sensitivity improves.
Another recent study, by coincidence, reported the discovery of some “strange radio circles” in the sky. These circles are unusual since they are vast and yet have no evident connection to anything. Because they defy conventional explanations for the time being, wormholes have been proposed as a possible cause.
A worm’s nest
Wormholes have a tremendous hold on our collective psyche. They are, in some ways, a pleasant type of escapism. Unlike black holes, which are terrifying because they confine everything that enters, wormholes may allow us to travel faster than the speed of light to distant locations. They could even be time machines, allowing people to travel backwards, as Stephen Hawking theorised in his final book.
Quantum physics, which governs the world of atoms and particles, also contains wormholes. Particles can emerge from empty space, only to vanish a second later, according to quantum mechanics. This has been demonstrated in numerous experiments. Why can’t wormholes be generated if particles can? Wormholes are thought to have evolved in the early universe from a foam of quantum particles popping in and out of existence, according to physicists. It’s possible that some of these “primordial wormholes” still exist today.
Recent investigations on “quantum teleportation,” or the “disembodied” transfer of quantum information from one point to another, have revealed that it works in eerily similar ways to two black holes linked by a wormhole. These findings appear to resolve the “quantum information conundrum,” which argues that physical information could be lost in a black hole indefinitely. However, they also indicate a profound link between the supposedly irreconcilable theories of quantum physics and gravity – with wormholes playing a role in both – that could be useful in the development of a “theory of everything.”
It’s unlikely that the involvement of wormholes in these exciting advances will go undetected. We may not have seen them, but they are undoubtedly present. They may even assist us in deciphering some of the most enigmatic cosmic questions, such as whether or not our universe is the only one.