This article was originally published on The conversation. (opens in a new tab) The publication contributed the article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Editorials and Perspectives.
Dejan Stojkovic (opens in a new tab)professor of physics, University at Buffalo
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What are wormholes and do they exist? — Chinglembi D., 12, Silchar, Assam, India
Imagine two cities on opposite sides of a mountain. People in these towns would probably have to drive all the way around the mountain to visit each other. But if they wanted to get there faster, they could tunnel through the mountain to create a shortcut. This is the idea behind a wormhole.
A wormhole is like a tunnel between two distant points (opens in a new tab) in our universe which reduces travel time from one point to another. Instead of traveling for millions of years from galaxy to galaxy, under the right conditions, one could theoretically use a wormhole to reduce travel time (opens in a new tab) up to hours or minutes.
Because wormholes represent shortcuts through spacetime (opens in a new tab), they could even act as time machines. You might exit one end of a wormhole earlier than when you entered its other end.
Although scientists have no proof that wormholes actually exist in our world, they are good tools to help astrophysicists like me (opens in a new tab) think about space and time. They can also answer age-old questions about what the universe looks like.
Fact or fiction?
Because of these interesting characteristics, many science fiction writers use wormholes in novels and movies. However, scientists have been just as enthralled by the idea of wormholes as writers.
While researchers have never found a wormhole in our universe, scientists often see wormholes described in the solutions of important physical equations. More importantly, the solutions to the equations behind Einstein’s theory of spacetime and general relativity include wormholes. This theory describes the shape of the universe and how stars, planets and other objects move through it. Because Einstein’s theory has been tested many times and proven correct every time (opens in a new tab)some scientists expect wormholes to exist somewhere in the universe.
But, other scientists believe that wormholes cannot exist because they would be too unstable.
The constant pull of gravity affects all objects in the universe, including the Earth. So gravity would also have an effect on wormholes. Scientists who are skeptical of wormholes believe that after a short time the middle of the wormhole would collapse under its own gravity. (opens in a new tab), unless there is a force pushing outward from inside the wormhole to counter that force. The most likely way to do this is through what are called “negative energies”, which would oppose gravity (opens in a new tab) and stabilize the wormhole.
But as far as scientists know, negative energies can only be created in far too small amounts. (opens in a new tab) to counteract a wormhole’s own gravity. It is possible that the Big Bang created tiny wormholes with small amounts of negative energies at the beginning of the universe, and over time these wormholes expanded. (opens in a new tab) that the universe has expanded.
Like black holes?
Although wormholes are interesting objects to consider, they are still not accepted in mainstream science. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real – black holes, which we astrophysicists know abound in our universe, weren’t accepted when scientists first suggested their existence. in the 1910s.
Einstein first formulated his famous field equations in 1915, and German scientist Karl Schwarzschild found a way to mathematically describe black holes after just one year. (opens in a new tab). However, this description was so peculiar that leading scientists of that time refused to believe that black holes could actually exist in nature. It took 50 years for people to start taking black holes seriously – the term “black hole” wasn’t even coined until 1967 (opens in a new tab).
The same could happen with wormholes. It may take some time for scientists to come to a consensus on whether or not they exist. But if they find strong evidence pointing to the existence of wormholes – which they may be able to do by examining strange movements in the orbits of stars (opens in a new tab) – the discovery will shape the way scientists view and understand the universe.
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