Physics of Wormholes

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Science fiction will often have fantastic stories about humans traversing stars at great speeds, faster than light. Vast interstellar civilizations are maintained by fleets of starships that fly from world to world in a matter of days or weeks. The truth, sadly, is far less fantastic. The universal speed limit is the speed of light, or approximately 2.998x108 m/sec. Nothing can move faster than that constant. Even at that extreme speed, it would take approximately 4 years for any spaceship to reach the closest of other stars. To make matters even worse, the energy required to accelerate an object increases exponentially as it gets closer and closer to the speed of light to the point where we cannot input enough energy to make the object actually go the speed of light. So how can we have these great galaxy spanning civilizations and expand our frontiers beyond the boundaries of our solar system? One possible solution is wormholes. This web project will attempt to inform on some of the basic theories of wormholes and how they could be used to traverse great distances and possibly even time itself.


Einstein first proposed wormholes in 1935. He co-wrote a paper with Nathan Rosen in which they showed that general relativity allowed for what they called “bridges.” They theorized that there could be places where space/time is folded that allowed transfer of matter from one point to another in the universe.

After this initial burst of ideas in the thirties, wormhole theory was pretty much dropped by the world of physics in general. It wasn’t until the 1980’s when Carl Sagan wished to write his book Contact was wormhole theory revisited. Sagan wanted to have his protagonist leave Earth and arrive at a distant star system in a relatively short amount of time without being completely scientifically invalid. He turned to his fellow physicist Kip Thorne to develop an at least somewhat scientifically appropriate method of faster-than-light space travel. Thorne came up with much of the modern framework for wormhole theory that is in existence today for the book, which is now a major motion picture starring Jodi Foster.


A wormhole is a tunnel in space that matter can traverse through. It works in four dimensions with time being the fourth. It connects two points in the universe. A useful analogy for how a wormhole works is a two-dimensional piece of paper with a pair of dots on it.

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"Physics of Wormholes." 21 Sep 2017
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An ant wishes to go from one dot to another. It can walk from one point to another, but it would be significantly faster to fold the piece of paper and let the ant take a shortcut. A wormhole works on the same basic principle. As space is curved, the distance between the two points is significantly less when traversed by the wormhole instead of the direct route. One place where wormholes are theorized to exist naturally is in a black hole. To this day however, no wormhole has ever been proven to exist.


Many problems exist with the possible usage of wormholes to travel. For one thing, theoretical wormholes are only big enough to allow microscopic particles to pass through. Also, naturally occurring wormholes would exist for only a fraction of a second. Finally the wormhole would not be stable enough to let anything pass through it. If a particle attempted to pass through it, the waves of gravity caused by its passage will destroy the fragile wormhole. If all these problems exist, why are wormholes even considered as a possible means of transport? There are possible solutions to the problems associated with wormholes.


In order to cancel out the waves of gravity created by the passage of an object through the wormhole, a large quantity of anti-gravity must be created. The most likely way to create this amount of anti-gravity is what is called the Casimir effect. When two metal plates are placed extremely close together in a vacuum, the photons between the particles are restricted in the wavelengths that they can travel in. Because the photons outside the plates are not restricted in their wavelengths, more of them are bouncing off on the outside than between the plates. Therefore, a very small attractive force is exerted on the plates, and this is known as the Casimir effect. If this force could be harnessed and expanded, it could be used to increase the size of the wormhole as well as negating the gravity waves of the object going through it.

Time Travel

According to the theory of relativity, the closer you get to the speed of light, the slower time travels. What if one end of a wormhole is moving at the speed of light, and the other is moving much slower? Time would be affecting one end of the wormhole at a different rate than the other. In theory, you could exit the wormhole before you entered. This leads to interesting paradoxes. If you went back in time and killed your grandfather, how would you exist? Some scientists think that you couldn’t change history if you went back in time. Others believe that you would enter another quantum reality. But as this a highly theoretical field, nobody knows for certain.


Interstellar travel is still a long ways off. The vast distances and the serious problems with energy requirements make the dreams of many science fiction stories many years away. When and if we make it out of our solar system, it is quite possible we will be using wormholes to travel the stars.

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