Don’t Ever Travel Down A Wormhole. You’ll Die

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I know the wormholes are a staple of almost every science fiction show. And it’s no surprise: wormholes are shortcuts through space-time. When traveling to distant parts of the universe your choices are either to slug it out over the countless light-years, twiddling your thumbs waiting for something interesting to happen (and in an interstellar space being struck by a hydrogen atom counts as “something interesting”), or you can zip through the entrance of a wormhole and pop out at your destination without even breaking a sweat.

It’s no wonder that wormholes are frequently chosen. TV episodes can only last so long.

And it’s not like science fiction writers made up wormholes just for the sake of convenience. They do have a theoretical grounding in real physics. Wormholes are a natural prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, our understanding of gravity that links the contents of the universe to the bending and warping of space-time, and that bending and warping of space-time to the motion of the contents of the universe.

Wormholes have been a topic of interest among physicists for basically as long as there’s been a general theory of relativity – almost a hundred years.

Unfortunately, as far as we can tell, wormholes don’t exist in the real universe.

The biggest challenge facing wormholes is that they are catastrophically unstable. If you were to find a wormhole and send a single bit of light – a single photon – down the tunnel, the reaction of that photon’s energy to the space-time around it would be enough to completely destroy the wormhole faster than the speed of light. This means that as soon as you are able to construct a wormhole it collapses before you can even send us a signal down it.

In order to stabilize a wormhole, you have to counteract the effects of any positive energy or mass flowing down the tunnel (that means you ). And to counteract positive mass you need negative mass.

That’s right: negative mass. As far as we can tell negative mass is not a thing in our universe either. Imagine kicking a ball and sending it flying in the opposite direction. Or setting a negative mass particle next to a positive mass particle and watching them accelerate off to infinity, violating the conservation of momentum. It’s just such a nonsensical topic that most physicists don’t even touch it with a ten-foot positive-mass pole.

We do have a thing called negative energy, but it remains to be seen if we can turn negative energy into the required amounts to stabilize a wormhole. After decades of trying results do not look optimistic.

I can’t tell you what would happen if you were to try to travel down a wormhole. My best guess is that parts of you would end up distributed throughout the known universe, which means you technically achieved interstellar travel, but probably not in the way that you had hoped.

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