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Wormholes: Types & Creation

Instructor: Lori Jones

Lori has a degree from Stanford, was Principal of a K-12 private school that she started, has a Master's degree, and taught at the high school level.

Using wormholes to travel to distant galaxies may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but scientists are coming closer to understanding how they might occur. In this lesson, we will take a look at what wormholes are, their various types, and how they are created.

Wormholes: Science Fiction or Fact?

In the movie Contact (1997), Jodie Foster travelled to another planet by way of a wormhole.

In Thor (2011), a wormhole is used to travel between Earth and Asgard.

And in the movie Interstellar (2014), Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway used a wormhole to travel to the farthest regions of the universe in search of a habitable planet.

Hollywood's depictions of wormholes and interstellar travel continue to fascinate scientists and space enthusiasts alike. But what exactly are wormholes, and how do they work?

Illustration of the inside of a wormhole
Illustration of a wormhole

What are Wormholes?

In 1935, Einstein and his colleague, Nathan Rosen, discovered that the theory of relativity allowed for the existence of bridges that connect two points in space-time. If space and time are warped, or folded together, two points that are a great distance from each other can be connected.

These Einstein-Rosen bridges, which were later called wormholes, are essentially shortcuts that allow one to travel from one location in the universe to another in a shorter amount of time. 

When they hear the term ''wormhole,'' some people might imagine an earthworm burrowing through something. But, in fact, that analogy is how the term wormhole came to be. Imagine a worm on the surface of an apple. This worm can take a shortcut from one side of an apple to another by burrowing through the center of the apple to the other side. Likewise, a traveler can take a shortcut from one point in the universe to another by traveling through a wormhole.

Types of Wormholes

There are about as many types and names of wormholes as there are scientists who theorize about them. As new theories about wormholes are published and recognized, additional names for them are created. Scientists with names such as Schwartzchild, Lorentz, Morris, Thorne, Ellis, and Visser have all had wormholes named after their ideas. 

Although multiple ideas about the different types and functions of wormholes abound, there are six primary types of wormholes that scientists agree exist.

1.) Traversable - These are the wormholes that we are most familiar with in science fiction. Traversable wormholes are the ones that we can pass through from one point in the universe to another.

2.) Non-Traversable - These are wormholes that nothing can pass through, either because the wormhole collapses; it only has an entry point, but no exit; or the person or particle entering it would be destroyed before reaching the other side.

3.) One-way wormholes are one-way-trip wormholes, meaning you can only travel once through them, and you would need a separate wormhole for the return trip.

  • Black Holes - Yes, black holes are actually types of one-way wormholes. Anything can enter a black hole, but due to its intense gravitational pull nothing can escape.
  • White Holes - Most of us have never heard of white holes, which are the opposite of black holes. Nothing can enter a white hole.

4.) Two-Way wormholes are round-trip wormholes that allow you a return voyage through the same wormhole.

5.) Intra-Universe wormholes are located in our own universe and are for traveling from one point to another within our universe.

6.) Inter-Universe wormholes connect from our universe to another parallel universe.

Illustration of a spacecraft traveling through a traversable wormhole
Spacecraft through a wormhole

These six types of wormholes, however, are rarely classified by themselves. For example, a one-way wormhole can be traversable or non-traversable. An inter-universe wormhole can be one-way or two-way.

The ideal type of wormhole for travel, and the one we see most often in science fiction, is an Intra-Universe Two-Way Traversable Wormhole. This wormhole would allow a traveler to make the journey (traversable), stay within our universe (intra-universe), and use the same wormhole for the return trip (two-way).

Creation of Wormholes

There are two questions in the minds of many when thinking about wormholes:

  • How possible is it for us to travel through a wormhole?
  • Can we actually create one?

Naturally Occurring 

Despite the fact that we have yet to observe or measure a traversable wormhole, many scientists believe that wormholes occur naturally but only at the particle level. These microscopic wormholes are called primordial wormholes and can transmit tiny particles from one place to another.

While they're not practical for transmitting anything larger (including people), as the universe has expanded, these primordial wormholes may have grown in size. It's also theoretically possible for us to enlarge or create them ourselves out of quantum foam.

Man-Made

Some scientists believe that traversable wormholes can be constructed out of quantum foam, a sub-atomic structure that may exist throughout the universe and is a billion-trillion times smaller than the nucleus of an atom. Currently, however, we do not have the technology to manipulate or detect quantum foam.

A portion of our universe which could contain quantum foam
Universe

Despite our current limitations, there is a type of man-made wormhole that scientists have been able to create. And they accomplished this not too long ago.

In 2015, a group of Spanish scientists created a magnetic wormhole that can transfer a magnetic field from one point to another. This magnetic field disappeared as it was traveling through the wormhole and reappeared on the other side. The invisibility of the magnetic field while it was traveling led the scientists to conclude that it was traveling through another dimension outside of the normal three dimensions, thereby making it a type of wormhole.

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