Our universe is astonishingly colossal in scale, which can be a bummer if you are interested in traveling beyond our tiny corner of it. Wormholes, which are speculative bridges between distant locations in space, offer a potential cosmic shortcut to destinations that would be unreachable by other means.
Though wormholes are predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, their existence has yet to be empirically proven. Now, a team led by Mikhail Piotrovich, an astrophysicist at the Central Astronomical Observatory at Pulkovo in Saint Petersburg, Russia, has proposed a new way to search for the hypothetical tunnels: by investigating whether some supermassive black holes are actually entrances to wormholes.
Wormholes at the center of extremely bright galaxies might “radiate with a distinctive spectrum” that could be observationally detected, according to the team’s forthcoming study in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Capturing this signature would not only provide evidence for the existence of wormholes, it would open up an entirely new avenue of potential spaceflight—and even time travel.
“A very interesting and unusual consequence of the existence of wormholes of this type is the fact that such wormholes are natural time machines,” Piotrovich said in an email.
“The wormholes we are considering are traversable wormholes, so theoretically spacecraft can travel through them,” he added. “But of course, it should be understood that we know very little about the internal structure of wormholes and moreover, we do not even know for sure whether they exist at all.”
Some galaxies contain luminous cores called active galactic nuclei (AGN) that blast out massive twin jets, made of energized matter, that travel close to the speed of light. Scientists think AGN are fueled by tidal interactions between supermassive black holes and “accretion disks” that form from the gas, dust, and stars falling into them.
Piotrovich and his colleagues suggest that AGN are “wormhole mouths” rather than supermassive black holes. If this were true, it would mean that these galactic cores might be linked to each other across space and time, which could cause matter to fall in through both mouths of a linked AGN pair.
If two gulps of matter from either end of the mouths were to collide inside the wormhole “throat,” it would release a truly mind-boggling amount of energy and radiation. The wormhole would belch plasma out of both mouths that could reach temperatures of about 10 trillion°C. It would also emit high-energy gamma rays that could be distinguished from the light of the accretion disk.
“Accretion disks of AGN don’t emit gamma radiation, because their temperature is too low for that,” said Piotrovich. “Secondly, jets have a very specific radiation pattern, i.e. most of the gamma radiation is directed along the direction of the jet.”
The notion that AGN might be wormholes dates back to 2005, but the new study is the first to propose this novel way of possibly detecting the fabled tunnels. Observatories such as NASA’s Fermi gamma-ray space telescope might be able to pick up gamma rays from crashes inside wormholes, if they exist.
The nearest AGN are millions of light years from the Milky Way, so it’s not as if we could hop in a spaceship and visit one if we suspected it was a secret wormhole. Moreover, a wormhole that was initially put on the map due to violent plasma outbursts might not be a place any human would particularly want to enter, even in the most robust spaceship.
That said, finding evidence for wormholes—even from afar—would be an amazing breakthrough in our understanding of the universe, and would validate the futuristic dreams of science fiction enthusiasts around the world.