A Harvard physicist has likely ruined the dreams of many a science fiction fan by claiming a real wormhole would be useless for deep space travel.
Films such as Stargate and Interstellar have used the concept of a wormhole – tunnels in curved spacetime that connect two places – as a core tenet of travel to distant worlds. However, new research has come to spoil the party for science fiction fans by claiming that while wormholes exist and travel would be possible through them, they would be a waste of time.
Presenting these findings at the 2019 American Physical Society April meeting, Harvard physicist Daniel Jafferis – along with fellow Harvard researcher Ping Gao and Stanford University’s Aron Wall – said that rather than being a portal for fast travel, wormholes would be incredibly slow.
“It takes longer to get through these wormholes than to go directly, so they are not very useful for space travel,” Jafferis said.
However, rather than this research being for nothing, he believes that finding a way to construct a wormhole through which light could travel could help physicists in their efforts to create a theory of quantum gravity.
“The real import of this work is in its relation to the black hole information problem and the connections between gravity and quantum mechanics,” he added.
Inspiration for the research came about after Jafferis began thinking about the concept of two black holes entangled on a quantum level, as proposed by the ER=EPR conjecture, which suggests both would be connected by a wormhole. Although this means the direct connection between the black holes is shorter than the wormhole connection – and therefore the wormhole travel is not a shortcut – the theory gives new insights into quantum mechanics.
Rubbish for travel, great for science
“From the outside perspective, travel through the wormhole is equivalent to quantum teleportation using entangled black holes,” Jafferis said.
The latest theory is based on a set-up first devised by Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen in 1935 that would later be known as a wormhole. Because the wormhole is traversable, Jafferis determined it may be possible to extract information from a black hole.
“It gives a causal probe of regions that would otherwise have been behind a horizon, a window to the experience of an observer inside a spacetime that is accessible from the outside,” he said.
Previously, it was thought that traversable wormholes would need negative energy, contradicting quantum gravity.
“I think [this discovery] will teach us deep things about the gauge/gravity correspondence, quantum gravity and even perhaps a new way to formulate quantum mechanics,” Jafferis said.