This hypothetical spacecraft with a "negative energy" induction ring was inspired by recent theories describing how space could be warped with negative energy to produce hyperfast transport to reach distant star systems. In the 1990s, NASA Glenn lead the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project, NASA’s primary effort to produce near-term, credible, and measurable progress toward the technology breakthroughs needed to revolutionize space travel and enable interstellar voyages. Image courtesy of NASA.
Wormholes are theoretical passages through space-time that could create shortcuts across the universe.
They're also a staple sci-fi phenomenon and are predicted by the theory of General Relativity.
Let's take a step back and we need to understand a few other scientific terms. General Relativity predicts the existence of Black Holes - singularities in space that are infinitely small and infinitely dense with such a strong gravitational pull that nothing (not even light) can escape there pull once you get close enough to one (past a line known as the event horizon).
Then, in 1916, Austrian physicist Ludwig Flamm took the concept of black holes and noticed another solution was possible - a white hole. As the name suggests, this is the opposite of a black hole and ejects matter from its event horizon.
White holes have a lot of jolly interesting consequences. Some suggest the Big Bang might have been the result of a supermassive white hole.
But (and here's where we get to wormholes) Flamm also suggested that black holes and white holes may be connected by some sort of tunnel through space-time. This tunnel provides a shortcut between two areas of space-time.
Some 20 years later, American theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler coined the phrase "wormhole" to describe that tunnel connecting black and white holes.
Ironman stands at the top of a black hole, which is attached to a white hole via a wormhole. The paper represents the fabric of space-time, which is usually flat. As we can see, the wormhole gives Ironman a shortcut between the two points. If only the wormhole was big enough for him to fit through...
Could you travel through a wormhole?
Maybe... but there are several rather large (or small) issues to overcome. The first is to do with size: wormholes are predicted to exist on microscopic levels (a thousandth of a million, million, million, million, million centimetres). However, as the universe expands, then so could the size of a wormhole.
Second, wormholes aren't very stable and, therefore, don't last very long (unless they're filled with exotic material like negative matter).
But that's not deterred some scientists. A recent article by physicist Ethan Siegel detailed how humans could travel through a wormhole.
Wormholes are a hot topic in science and NASA even dedicated $1.2 million to its "Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project" between 1996 and 2002, which studied various proposals for revolutionary space travel theories that would require major breakthroughs in physics to be realised.
This is a more in-depth article about wormholes and this lecture from Stephen Hawking covers the possibilities of time travel using wormholes.
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