Wormholes: The Ubers Of The Universe
It’s no secret that Albert Einstein was a pretty smart dude. His theory of general relativity flipped physics on its head and changed the way we think about the fundamental concepts of the universe. While he proposed a lot of solutions with this theory, he also left us with some pretty big questions and mysteries. One of those mysteries was wormholes. While they may be ‘theoretically possible’, do they actually exist? Just because something is theoretically possible, doesn’t mean that it actually has to happen, or ever will happen. After all, it’s theoretically possible for me to hit a hole-in-one every time I play golf, but do I? No. Have I ever? Also no.
Either way, let’s delve into what wormholes are, how they’re made, and where we might find them.
Einstein’s theory states that the universe is made up of an interwoven fabric of space and time together (called spacetime); you can’t have one without the other. If I wanted to meet my friends at a bar on Friday night, I would need to know where (the space aspect) and when to meet up (the time aspect), otherwise we’ll never meet and I’ll end up drinking alone.
Einstein also argued that anything with mass will warp or bend the spacetime around it. Let’s use a bowling ball as an example. Imagine putting a bowling ball on a waterbed. The ball would ‘sink’ into the bed, bending the fabric of the waterbed around it and anything in the vicinity would fall towards the bowling ball – this is how gravity works according to this theory, but check out this video if you’re more of a visual learner like myself. So that’s Einstein’s incredibly complex theory of general relativity explained in two paragraphs. However, there are some other possible outcomes to this theory that were completely mysterious and are still quite mysterious to this day. One of those answers is black holes (I promise this will all make sense soon).
They’re the most powerful and some of the most misunderstood things in the universe. Black holes are areas in space where there is so much mass concentrated in one area, that spacetime is warped so much that literally nothing can escape, not even light (hence why they appear black).
Black holes are formed after a star dies and has exploded its guts throughout the universe (called a supernova). Whatever’s left, is pulled so rapidly, and so violently towards the star’s core (at about 1/4 the speed of light), that, if the star is massive enough, a black hole will form. To help understand how dense black holes are, as an example, if a black hole were to form with the mass of the earth, it would be no wider than 2cm in diameter (gasp!). But black holes can, very scarily, be far, FAR bigger than this…
The tricky thing with studying black holes is that we can’t exactly peer inside of them very easily. After you cross a certain distance away from the core of the black hole, an area called the event horizon, there is no turning back. This makes finding out what’s past that point almost impossible. Again, I’ll point to the visual scicomm kings, kurzgesagt in a nutshell, for a video on the life and death of black holes.
So what’s this got to do with wormholes? Well, just as black holes are possible within the laws of general relativity, there are also theoretically white holes, too. Scientists can get so creative with names, can’t they? If a black hole is a point where spacetime is warped so much that nothing can escape, then a white hole is a point where nothing can enter – essentially an area where gravity is flipped and pushes things away, rather than sucks them in. And this is where we may have our potential source of a wormhole.
In the 1930s, Einstein teamed up with another physicist, Nathan Rosen, to expand on this theory of black and white holes and proposed the existence of bridges between the two from one point in the universe to another – which they called Einstein-Rosen Bridges. These bridges quickly became colloquially known as wormholes where one end sucks you in from point A, the other spits you out at point B.
So, if we jump inside of a black hole (which I couldn’t recommend less unless you would like to be ‘spaghettified’ – it’s a real word scientists use, trust me), and we reach the wormhole, what’s next? Can I just meander on through until the white hole pulls me through the other side to the bar where my friends are waiting for me? Well, probably not. General relativity also says that wormholes are incredibly unstable and would collapse very quickly compressing us completely out of existence. So, how could we keep them open?
Riding the worm
I just want to say physics is very hard and confusing, so if you’ve kept up with me so far, thank you for your persistence. But, I’m also sorry because I’m about to make it a bit more confusing by introducing something SUPER weird: Exotic matter. Unlike everything else in the universe, exotic matter (if it even exists) has negative mass and negative gravity. This means exotic matter is inherently repulsive and may be able to prevent gravity from closing the wormhole (or from people getting in my personal space, which I’m a fan of). So, we grab some exotic matter, strap it to the inside of a wormhole, and jump in. Then what? Well, that’s where the science sort of stops, and the science fiction begins (if it hasn’t already). If the wormhole can safely connect two points within our universe, then I guess I’m never taking an uber again. But if it opens a pathway between two universes (yup, there could be more than one), well then who knows what could be on the other side – spoiler alert, it’s probably death.
So, until we can find a real-life wormhole, they’ll exist only in theory and in the movies where Matthew McConaughey falls through blackholes ending up in interdimensional time libraries – Personally, I’d prefer the bar.