Sci-fi or reality? Scientists may know how to pinpoint wormholes in space

Are we soon going to be traveling enormous distances via wormholes?
Chris Young
wormhole.jpg
Representation of a wormhole

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A team of scientists from the University of Sofia in Bulgaria believes they have discovered a new method for detecting wormholes — though they still only exist in theory.

Wormholes are theorized shortcuts through space and time. Sci-fi depictions traditionally show a spacecraft traveling through a wormhole, or creating one, to traverse immense distances to far-off regions of the universe in a short amount of time.

The issue is that black holes and wormholes look very similar, and we have barely developed the technology required to directly observe the former. Now, a team of scientists believes its mathematical model can help to tell the two apart, a report from New Scientist reveals.

Black holes versus wormholes

Black holes are cosmic giants that suck in all surrounding matter and light. For years, physicists have theorized that, in some cases, this matter may be siphoned to "white holes" in other parts of the universe, which spew the matter out in the form of particles and radiation.

Put together, a black hole linked to a white hole is known as a wormhole, or an Einstein-Rosen bridge. The theory posits that these objects could stretch endless amounts of spacetime, meaning they could link distant regions of the universe that would otherwise take eons to traverse via normal means.

Now, the researchers from the University of Sofia theorize that the "throat" of a wormhole could look very similar to previously discovered black holes, including Sagittarius A* at the center of our galaxy. Their new computer model, which is outlined in a new paper in the journal Physical Review D, showed that the radiation emanating from black holes might be almost impossible to differentiate from the radiation circling the outside of a wormhole.

According to their model, the difference in the amount of light polarization emitted by a black hole and a wormhole would be less than four percent.

"If you were nearby, you would find out too late"

While we don't currently have the technology to differentiate the two effectively, the University of Sofia scientists believe we could one day use an incredibly precise instrument to measure light spilling out of black holes to confirm that they are, in fact, wormholes emitting electromagnetic radiation from a distant region of space.

"Ten years ago, wormholes were completely in the area of science fiction," team lead Petya Nedkova at Sofia University told New Scientist. "Now, they are coming forward to the frontiers of science and people are actively searching."

Could we also travel to a black hole to find out for ourselves? Sadly, the closest known black hole to Earth, called Gaia BH1, is still located a staggering 1,600 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. Traveling the four light-years to our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, may not even be possible within our lifetimes.

Then there's the fact that, if astronauts were ever to travel to a black hole, there would also only be one true way of finding out whether it was a wormhole or not. "If you were nearby, you would find out too late," Nedkova told New Scientist. "You’ll get to know the difference when you either die or you pass through."

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