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SYFY WIRE wormholes

If you flew your spaceship through a wormhole, could you make it out alive? Maybe...

By Elizabeth Rayne

Can you already hear Morgan Freeman’s sonorous voice as if this was another episode of Through the Wormhole?

Astrophysicists have figured out a way to traverse a (hypothetical) wormhole that defies the usual thinking that wormholes (if they exist) would either take longer to get through than the rest of space or be microscopic. These wormholes just have to warp the rules of physics — which is totally fine since they would exist in the realm of quantum physics. Freaky things could happen when you go quantum. If wormholes do exist, some of them might be large enough for a spacecraft to not only fit through, but get from this part of the universe to wherever else in the universe in one piece.

"Larger wormholes are possible with a special type of ”dark sector”, a type of matter that interacts only gravitationally with our own matter. The usual dark matter is an example. However, the one we assumed involves a dark sector that consists of an extradimensional geometry," Princeton astrophysicist Juan Maldacena and grad student Alexey Milekhin told SYFY WIRE. They recently performed a new study that reads like a scientific dissection of what exactly happened to John Crichton’s spaceship when it zoomed through a wormhole in Farscape.

"This type of larger wormhole is based on the realization that a five-dimensional spacetime could be describing physics at lower energies than the ones we usually explore, but that it would have escaped detection because it couples with our matter only through gravity," Maldacena and Milekhin said. "In fact, its physics is similar to adding many strongly interacting massless fields to the known physics, and for this reason it can give rise to the required negative energy."

While the existence of wormholes has never been proven, you could defend theories that they could exist deep in the quantum realm. The problem is, even if they do exist, they are thought to be infinitesimal. Hypothetical wormholes would also take so long to get across that you’d basically be a space fossil by the time you got to the other end. Maldacena and Milekhin have found a theoretical way for a wormhole that could get you across the universe in seconds and manage not to crush your spacecraft. At least it would seem like seconds to you. To everyone else on Earth, it could be ten thousand years. Scary thought.

"Usually when people discuss wormholes, they have in mind 'short' wormholes: the ones for which the travel time would be almost instantaneous even for a distant observer. We think that such wormholes are inconsistent with the basic principles of relativity," the scientists said. "The ones we considered are 'long': for a distant observed the path alongnormal space-time is shorter than through the wormhole. There is a time-dilation factor because the extreme gravity makes travel time very short for the traveller. For an outsider, the time it takes is much longer, so we have consistency with the principles of relativity, which forbid travel faster than the speed of light."

For traversable wormholes to exist, but the vacuum of space would have to be cold and flat to actually allow for what they theorize. Space is already cold. Just pretend that it’s flat for the sake of imagining Maldacena and Milekhin's brainchild of a wormhole.

"These wormholes are big, the gravitational forces will be rather small. So, if they were in empty flat space, they would not be hazardous. We chose their size to be big enough so that they would be safe from large gravitational forces," they said.


Negative energy would also have to exist in a traversable wormhole. Physics forbids such a thing from being a reality. In quantum physics, the concept of this exotic energy is explained by Stephen Hawking as the absence of energy from two pieces of matter being closer together as opposed to being far apart, because energy needs to be burned so they can be separated despite gravitational force struggling to pull them back together. Fermions, which include subatomic particles such as electrons, protons, and neutrons (with the exception that they would need to be massless), would enter one end and travel in circles. They would come out exactly where they went in, which suggests that the modification of energy in the vacuum can make it negative.

"Early theorized wormholes were not traversable; an observer going through a wormhole encounters a singularity before reaching the toher side, which is related ot the fact that positive energy tends to attract matter and light," the scientists said. "This is why spacetime shrinks at the singularity of a black hole. Negative energy prevents this. The main problem is that the particular type of negative energy that is needed is not possible in classical physics, and in quantum physics it is only possible in some limited amounts and for special circumstances.”

Say you make it to a gaping wormhole ready to take you...nobody knows where. What would it feel like to travel through it? Probably not unlike Space Mountain, if you ask Maldacena and Milekhin. In their study, they described these wormholes as "the ultimate roller coaster."

The only thing a spaceship pilot would need to do, unlike Farscape’s Crichton, who totally lost control, is get the ship in sync with the tidal forces of the wormhole so they could be in the right position to take off. These are the forces that will push and pull an object away from another object depending on the difference in the objects’ strength of gravity, and that gravity would power the spaceship through. This is why it would basically end up flying itself. But there are still obstacles.

"The problem is that every object which enters the wormhole will be accelerated
to very high energies," the scientists said. "It means that a wormhole must be kept extremely ”clean”to be safe for human travel. In particular, even the pervasive cosmic microwave radiation, which has very low energy, would be boosted to high energies and become dangerous for the wormhole traveler."

So maybe this will never happen. Wormholes may never actually be proven to exist. Even if they don’t, it's wild to think about the way quantum physics could even allow for a wormhole that you could coast right through.