Categories: Astronomy

Astronomy Jargon 101: Wormholes

In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! Take a strange trip through today’s topic: wormholes!

Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen were the first to realize that wormholes might exist. First you take a normal black hole – you know, a singularity surrounded by an event horizon where nothing can escape. Then you take its mirror image, a white hole, which is a singularity surrounded by an event horizon where nothing can ever enter. When you combine the two together, you get a wormhole, a connected tunnel between two points in space.

Ah, there is one catch to this simple type of wormhole. Once you enter it you can’t actually leave, and you will be crushed into the singularity at the center. That’s because the entrance to this kind of wormhole (known as an “Einstein-Rosen bridge”) is behind the black hole event horizon. And the very definition of an event horizon is that you can’t escape once you cross it.

So that’s not very useful.

To build a stable wormhole, also called a traversable wormhole, you need something really exotic. As in, literally exotic matter: matter that has negative mass. That’s the only way to place the wormhole entrance outside the event horizon, and keep it stable as things travel down the tunnel.

Right, negative mass doesn’t exist. But what about negative energy? Negative energy is found in all sorts of interesting quantum setups, and physicists openly wonder if that kind of negative energy can be somehow adapted to construct a wormhole.

Wormholes are purely hypothetical at this point. We’re not sure if the negative energy we observe in some experiments is the “right” kind of negative energy to build a real wormhole. The math here gets really tricky and hard to follow, and we don’t have a solid grounding on the physics to guide us.

So for now, wormholes will remain a staple of science fiction, and not science fact.

Paul M. Sutter

Astrophysicist, Author, Host |

Recent Posts

LISA has Passed a key Review Phase, it’s Time to Actually Design the Final Mission

Any project manager will tell you that a phased review project system is the way…

2 hours ago

InSight is Losing Power, it Probably Will be Shut Down in a Few Months

The InSight Mars lander will cease science operations sometime in the next few months due…

16 hours ago

Maybe We Don’t Hear From Aliens Because They Choose To Go Silent

How will humanity meet its end? That's only a depressing question if you think that…

16 hours ago

Ceres Probably Formed Farther out in the Solar System and Migrated Inward

When Sicilian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi spotted Ceres in 1801, he thought it was a planet.…

17 hours ago

China has a new Human Lunar Space Program, With Plans for Landers, Orbiters, Rovers, and a Lunar Base

In a recent interview, an engineer associated with the Chinese space agency confirmed that China…

20 hours ago

No, This Isn’t a Doorway on Mars

A Mastcam image from the Mars Curiosity rover captures what looks like a doorway into…

1 day ago