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    Wormhole: The Cosmic Highway Of The Universe

    Some scientists suggest that our Universe should be full of tiny wormholes that span across the cosmos. / Getty Images
    During the early stages of the Big Bang tiny wormholes may have been created. Since then the universe has expanded, pushing the ends of these wormholes far apart, making a web of them, scattered across the cosmos. Could we use this as an intergalactic highway? Before we look at this potentially revolutionary transport network, what is a wormhole? And how could the Big Bang have made them?

    A wormhole is a shortcut in spacetime. If you had one in front of you and the other end was on the surface of Mars, then you could, in theory, step through it and emerge on the other side just like a portal. To make a wormhole, you have to connect two bits of spacetime together. 
    Our Universe should be full of tiny wormholes that span across the cosmos' fabric, that we could use them as an intergalactic short-cut highway to another dimensions of existence within the Universe.
    Spacetime is the fabric of the universe, but it’s challenging to picture the 3D spacetime we inhabit, so instead let’s imagine a 2D universe - this way we can visualise the physics that is going on here. So, to make a wormhole in the 2D universe, you need to bring two parts together and link them with a tube-like structure. Such a tube is in the picture below:

    Wormhole-Spacetime /Alamy
    Here you can see that the green arrow can take a huge shortcut compared to the red arrow. This is what makes wormholes so amazing, because if they have been made, then we could travel across the universe in almost an instant! At least in theory. The issue with wormholes is that they are rather like black holes. They want to collapse and things tend to get destroyed going through them. 

    The shape of wormholes in spacetime means that, like black holes, they have gravity. This means they could have an event horizon, which would mean that anything going in will just get caught in the middle and never come out the other side. Even without an event horizon, the gravity of the wormhole could be enough to crush anything that goes through. So, we need to find a way to make them less blackhole-like in order to survive going through them. More on that later. But, how could the Big Bang have made wormholes? It is all to do with quantum fluctuations and strings.


    In the very early Big Bang, quantum fluctuations would have pinched together spacetime. These fluctuations would be so minute that these pinches would be smaller than the fundamental particles. But these tiny fluctuations would have made the surface of spacetime look like a foam, loads of lumps and bumps with bits touching each other.

    When two bits of spacetime get pinched together like this they make a tiny wormhole. It’s just this wormhole doesn’t go anywhere as both ends are next to each other. But some of these wormholes would have had Strings going through them. Strings are the theoretical building blocks of the universe, at least according to String Theory. They are used to make all particles and forces and are comprised of a single dimension, an infinitesimally narrow String, which only has length.

    These Strings would thread through some of these wormholes and get trapped in them. Then as the universe expanded out in the enormous cosmic stretch that was the Big Bang and Inflation, the ends of these wormholes (and the Strings inside them) also became stretched. These Strings stop these ancient wormholes from collapsing, so if we fast-forward to today, these wormholes would still be minute in diameter, but the ends could be millions of light-years apart.

    It is hard to predict how many of these wormholes there are. Models of the Big Bang, which use our current versions of String Theory, suggest that there could be anything from one in our universe all the way up to trillions. Our theories aren’t quite accurate enough to predict this.
    We could try and find these wormholes out in space

    Sadly, they wouldn’t look like the title image, and we wouldn’t ‘see’ them in the conventional sense. We can either search for gravitational microlensing, where the gravity of the wormhole bends light from behind it. You can see what this lensing effect would look like in the simulated image below.


    Image for post
    Simulated wormhole showing microlensing effects — Corvin Zahn Wiki CC

    Alternatively, we could look for changes in the orbits of stars around supermassive black holes that suggest a wormhole is also present. Neptune was predicted to exist using the same method back in the 1840s. Scientists used orbital data of other planets to identify its theoretical location. However, wormholes would look very similar to a small black hole; you’d need very accurate data to determine the difference between the two.

    The technology to measure stars around black holes accurately enough is quite new, so who knows, once we can consistently make these measurements we may find one of these wormholes!
    But, even if we find them, these wormholes are still smaller than a particle. The String that runs through each of them aren’t nearly enough to widen them. You couldn’t even pass a message through them, let alone travel through them!

    We need something special to turn these primordial wormholes into our traversable galactic highway. We need exotic matter. Exotic matter isn’t material from a different country, all it is is matter with negative gravity. So, rather than attracting other matter, it repels it. Sadly, we don’t have an actual material like this to use, but we can manipulate quantum effects to act like exotic matter.

    We can use exotic matter to widen the wormhole so that it is big enough for us to fit through, but we also need to put some permanent matter in there too, otherwise the repulsion from the exotic matter would stop us from entering. There is, in theory, a perfect balance that will give us a stable wormhole that is large enough for us to travel through and not tear us apart.

    So, if we can make enough exotic matter and manipulate it correctly, we can enhance these tiny wormholes. Great! But would these wormholes even be useful? Annoyingly we can’t control where the ends of these wormholes are, and we won’t know where they come out until we open them up. So the end could come out in intergalactic space, your kitchen, right next to a supermassive black hole or near a habitable planet in another galaxy! It’s just a lottery.

    To make these wormholes useful to us, we would need to move their ends. In theory we could do this, but it would be one hell of a task, taking silly amounts of energy and time. But who knows, the first one we open might just lead us exactly where we need to go. So don’t think of these ancient wormholes as our ticket to galactic colonisation. Instead, they are more like a cosmic Alice In Wonderland ‘rabbit hole’. For now, let’s stick to massive rockets for our space travel.

    Epilogue:

    String Theory, wormholes and quantum fluctuations at the Big Bang are all on the edge of what we currently understand. The idea that we could find wormholes leftover from the Big Bang and use them to create intergalactic travel has been talked about in hushed voices among physicists. But it is more of a thought experiment to see what would happen if we took these theories and pushed them to the max; this isn’t a realistic representation of those theories.

    So, the idea that the universe is full of traversable wormholes will likely remain in the realm of Si-Fi, for now.

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