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Could wormholes be out there masquerading as black holes?

Contributed by
Sep 29, 2020, 3:57 PM EDT

Black holes are some of the most fascinating and terrifying objects in the universe, so everything else wishes it could put on that disguise and convince every particle of matter floating nearby that it will overstep the point of no return if it gets too close.

It does sound like the ultimate Halloween costume. For one of us, dressing up as one of the scariest things in the universe wouldn’t involve more than a huge black shirt and fabric paint (to point out the event horizon). However, some things in space may be disguising themselves as more menacing things. Wormholes — if they even exist — are supposed have the extreme density and gravitational pull of black holes. The difference is that matter could actually escape a hypothetical wormhole. Now a new study has found that strange gamma-ray flashes from what seem to be black holes might actually be giving them away as wormholes.

So how can anyone be so sure that what they’re looking at in telescope data is actually a black hole?

While there have been theories about black holes having another end, and even thoughts on how matter could pass through one and emerge from the opposite end unscathed, none have been proven. Wormholes haven’t even had their existence proven. The thing is that general relativity does allow for them, and it is believed that matter can traverse them and get out on the other side without being squashed beyond recognition by a black hole’s crushing gravity. Now here is where it gets almost sci-fi. There is nothing preventing a collision between matter going in one mouth of a wormhole and matter entering the other way. This would result in an extraordinary explosion of plasma.

“Wormholes may emit gamma radiation as a result of a collision of accreting flows inside the wormholes,” said astrophysicist Mikhail Piotrovich, who led a study recently published in High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena. “This radiation has a distinctive spectrum much different from those of jets or accretion disks of AGNs. An observation of such radiation would serve as evidence of the existence of wormholes.”

Active galactic nuclei (AGNs) like the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sag A*) at the center of our galaxy, have been thought by some to be mysterious see-through boson stars, and now they could even be wormholes. Piotrovich and his team have hypothesized that what we think are the mouths of gargantuan black holes, from which nothing will ever claw its way out of again, are actually the mouths of wormholes. The gravity of a wormhole is powerful — though nothing near the destructive force of a black hole. It could (hypothetically again) even power a spaceship through it under the right conditions.

If that hypothetical spaceship crashed into another hypothetical spaceship entering the other way, the scientists’ computer simulations found that spheres of plasma would blow up out of both mouths of the wormhole at close to the speed of light.

Comparing these results to actual outbursts from AGNs such as Sag A* and the supermassive black hole of the galaxy M87, or the one whose picture broke the internet, had surprising results. AGNs vomit an incredible amount of radiation as they shove surrounding matter into their mouths, and they can also belch out jets of radiation from both their poles. They are haloed by enormous accretion discs of plasma waiting to meet its doom. However imposing supermassive black hole are, though, their accretion discs are not hot enough to emit gamma rays, and any gamma radiation shooting out of their jets would travel in the same direction as everything else shooting out into space.

Meaning, if gamma rays are ever caught escaping in spherical form, like the aforementioned bubbles of plasma resulting from a collision of matter, that would mean what appears to be a black hole is actually a wormhole.

Something like that would instantly get the award for best Halloween costume ever.

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