Sci-Fi Thursday: Wormholes

Ciao, amici! Today science fiction/science fact topic is wormholes. You may know them as Einstein-Rosen bridges. Marvel fans (or mythology fans) may know the term bifröst, or the rainbow bridge.

Wormholes form a tunnel, or shortcut, between two points with a vast distance between them. Picture space as a sheet of paper with two dots on it, one at the right margin and one at the left. Draw a line between them. They’re pretty far apart. Now, make a U-shape out of the paper so that the two dots are very close. If you follow the line along the U-shape of the paper, the distance hasn’t changed; it’s still far. But if you create a bridge across the gap (paper edge to paper edge) from one dot to the other, you’ve closed the distance considerably. A wormhole is that bridge across the gap.

When wormholes were first conceived in the 1930s, they were called white holes because they were regarded as the opposite of black holes. Black holes suck in matter and light, and once an object is in it, it can’t come out. White holes were the opposite—nothing could get in them, but they emitted energy.

That already raises a concern. Emitting energy is great; that’s how we’d leave the wormhole at our destination. But how can wormholes let people travel quickly across space if they don’t allow matter inside them to begin with?

Einstein’s theory of general relativity allows for the creation of wormholes, and no one has ever disproved their existence (or their ability to exist). But Stephen Hawking said we’d never be able to use them because of their instability. In their natural state, they don’t last long. And the instant matter is introduced, they collapse.

Now researchers think they’ve solved that problem. They posit the introduction of exotic matter will stabilize a wormhole.

Exotic matter has negative energy density and pressure, so it repels gravity rather than attracting it. It can be a balancing force allowing the wormhole to stay viable.

The good news is exotic particles definitely exist; they aren’t theoretical. The bad news is exotic particles are typically found in tiny increments in quantum experiments, and no one knows if enough exotic matter can be harnessed in one place to stabilize a wormhole.

I, for one, hope scientists figure it out. I get irritated when I have to drive more than twenty minutes. I’d never be able to handle a ten year-flight to Pluto. And no one could survive the centuries necessary to travel to other galaxies. If we want to explore, we need the bridge.

Many sci-fi movies and shows use wormholes to travel vast distances. Two of my favorites are Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. What are your favorites and why? Let’s talk about it.

40 thoughts on “Sci-Fi Thursday: Wormholes

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  1. The first think I thought of when I saw the post was about wormholes was SG-1. I read another similar explanation about wormholes, or saw it on NOVA or something. Mind-bending science, in my world. Still, it would sure beat trying to occupy one’s time for ten years on a trip to Pluto. I kinda like the transporter idea (Star Trek) myself.

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  2. Thanks for this post, Staci, the topic is most interesting. I had a vague idea how wormholes are supposed to work by making a wrinkle in space but this does help clarify it. I think they may have used this concept in the original Star Wars movies which I watched years ago. I don’t really watch movies at all.

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    1. I’m glad this clarified the concept for you.

      In Star Wars, they did all these crazy calculations before jumping into hyperspace. I assure you, you don’t want me doing that math. God only knows what would happen to us!

      You don’t watch movies? Wow. You and my son would get along well. He’s not a movie fan, either. I enjoy the medium, but I’m picky about what I watch. Some of what they make these days (a lot, maybe) is not my taste.

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    1. Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis are on El Rey Network, and I watch them often. I also bought a subscription to Stargate Command so I can watch the movie or any of the series anytime I want. I LOVE the show. Never saw Far Scape, but I think that’s the show Vala and Cam came from. I’d like to see it. Thanks, Teagan.

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  3. Thanks for this concise explanation, I always wondered what wormholes were (they sound… well, slimy, lol). I can see where they would be necessary for space travel, though with the way we’ve destroyed earth, I’m not so sure we’d be welcomed anywhere else!

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    1. I always think about that. The pictures we got from the first men in space made the planet look so beautiful. Now it’s surrounded by metal monsters. If aliens ever do show up by ship, they’re not going to be impressed with our circles of satellites. And that’s before they even reach the surface and see what we’ve been up to down here!

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  4. I love the possibilities of wormholes. The idea of a short cut to traveling is what I dream of and love to read about or watch. I like to believe it can be out reality. Great post Staci:)

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    1. I’m glad you think so! I’m sure any scientist would look at this and laugh at my artless simplicity, but I’m no scientist. And if we want to use these devices in our fiction, we have to have at least a broad understanding of them. I hope Einstein isn’t somewhere frustrated with me. 🤓

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  5. Very interesting, Staci. I actually had the Einstein-Rosen bridge in an early version of one of my thrillers but to connect points in time rather than space. I couldn’t quite simplify it enough for print so ditched it. You make me want to revisit.

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  6. This is one of the issues all Space Opera must address. Space is so vast readers need to know about wormholes, cryo sleep, time manipulation, or warp speed to wrap their minds around it. It may have been the old Buck Rogers series, but they had to fly out to these space stations that maintained large portals. Once they flew through, they were at the far side of the universe and the weekly adventure could begin. I love a good space opera, but I don’t think I write it particularly well. My SF is closer to home these days.

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    1. Oh, my gosh. I remember that series! And now that you mention it, I do think that’s how they got from point A to B. I also love a space opera, but it seems like a daunting task to undertake. And I’d much prefer not having to explain the science behind any of it!

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    1. You know, Charles, I don’t read a lot of sci-fi. I mostly watch it. And I’m usually more interested in what the characters are doing when they get where they’re going and not so much how they got there. But I feel like (in reality) scientists will solve the wormhole problem before the warp drive problem. I don’t see us making huge jumps in light-weight fuel cells any time soon. But what do I know? Science wasn’t my strength in school; writing was. Maybe I’ll just invent a new technology for my characters to travel through space. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Mae. I am a little Stargate-obsessed (as I’m sure you’ve noticed in other posts)—movie and series. I love Star Trek, too (both series you mentioned). I think wormholes present an interesting possibility to interstellar travel. Probably won’t see it in my lifetime, but it would be so cool if scientists solved it.

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    1. You know, I’ve never watched Babylon 5. I really should look into that. I’ve heard good things, but never saw a second of it. My latest sci-fi show is Krypton. Interesting take on an old story. No wormholes in that one, though.

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  7. Wormholes feature so often in the sci-fi I enjoy, but I think my favourite has to be the various wormholes they encounter in the comedy series Red Dwarf, because they inevitably lead to hilarity. Trust me to lower the tone of a serious post… 😉

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    1. You should answer Charles’s comment. He was asking about wormholes in fiction, and I didn’t really have an answer for him. I’ve never even heard of Red Dwarf. Now I’m going to have to look into that. (And never apologize for bringing humor on this site. We could all use a good laugh now and then.)

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