Imagine travelling from one end of the universe to another in a blink of an eye. Sounds crazy — but the math checks out.
A wormhole, or Einstein Rosen Bridge, is a theoretical solution to Einstein’s theory of general relativity that connects two distant points (could theoretically be at an infinite distance apart) throughout space-time using a tunnel.
New findings from research conducted by Sofia University in Bulgaria claim that many of what physicists believe to be black holes could in fact be wormholes. And using a newly developed model, physicists may finally be able to differentiate between the two.
The model works by using linear polarisation and gravitational lensing to study the accretion discs (rotating clumps of matter) that surround black holes and other celestial bodies. The team identified specific signature properties of these disc formations, which should — in theory — allow them to distinguish between a standard black hole and a wormhole.
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Wormholes have an incredibly strong magnetic field. And researchers say this magnetic field acts as a polarisation filter for light being emitted from particles surrounding the wormhole — similar to how polarised sunglasses work.
Researchers studied the “linear polarization from the accretion disk around a class of static traversable wormholes. Applying the simplified model of a magnetized fluid ring orbiting in the equatorial plane, we search for characteristic signatures, which could distinguish wormholes from black hole spacetimes by their polarization properties.”
“Detecting radiation from the region across the wormhole throat leads to the formation of an additional structure of ring images with distinct polarization properties,” the paper states. Similar polarised light emissions have previously been detected by researchers. According to the study, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the elliptical galaxy Messier 89 (M87), 55 million light-years from Earth, could secretly be a wormhole.
“While it could be difficult to distinguish wormhole spacetimes by their direct polarized images, the strongly lensed images and the polarization of the radiation through the wormhole throat provide characteristic signatures which can serve as probes for horizonless objects.”
But how exactly do wormholes work?
How does a wormhole work?
In 1935, physicists Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen formulated a mathematical solution to general relativity, showing that wormholes are theoretically possible. But to understand exactly how a wormhole works, you need to understand the basics of black holes and white holes; yes, in general relativity, white holes are — theoretically — possible.
As the name suggests, white holes are the polar opposite of black holes. That is, instead of sucking matter in, they repel matter. And according to general relativity, nothing can pass the event horizon of a white hole.
Both Einstein’s and Rosen’s mathematics show that every black hole must be paired with a corresponding white hole. And because the two holes would exist in separate locations throughout space and time, a tunnel must connect the two celestial bodies.
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This is the basis for wormhole theory; matter goes into a black hole and gets repelled out of the other end via a white hole, where time runs backwards. And to add even more confusion to the matter, there are many different types of wormholes.
Unfortunately, Einstein Rosen Bridges cannot — technically — be crossed, as it requires an infinite amount of time to travel from one end to another and actually collapses in the middle. This is where traversable wormholes come into the mix.
According to a 2019 paper published by the University of California, wormholes can only become traversable (stable) using “exotic matter.” Or matter with negative mass, which defies the laws of physics as we currently understand them.
But string theory suggests there could be many traversable wormholes connecting many distant parts of our universe, making a form of exotic matter theoretically possible. So as you can see — paradoxes are running wild throughout the cosmos. All you really need to know is — wormholes work on paper.
Similar to all theoretical physics research, understanding the implications of findings like this typically requires a genius-level IQ. But the math behind it all is fascinating nonetheless.
The Bulgarian team now plans to look for further signals that could help better distinguish between black holes and wormholes without the precise observations needed for spotting the polarisation effects, APS reports.
“We will look for something that will tell us the difference more easily,” says study author Petya Nedkova. Many researchers and physicists across the globe are attempting to unlock the secrets of our universe. And wormholes represent the cutting edge of our current understanding of space and time.
So remember: if you happen to stumble across one, be sure to have some exotic matter handy, as the white at the end of the tunnel might not be so white.