Wormholes: Fact and Fiction

Mehdi Ben Slama, the Astrophysicist of Burning Games

In this guest article we examine the nature of wormholes, both in actual science and in the world of FAITH. It is written by Mehdi Ben Slama, our go-to expert in the field of astrophysics. He is currently writing his PhD at the Imperial College, London, on the subject of Ganymede, the largest Moon of Jupiter.

 

In actual science:

Drawing of a Wormhole: how it works

Drawing by Veronika Hubeny

Wormhole is the name given to distortions in space/time that would allow an object to traverse from a point in space to another point in space. The duration of travel could be shorter (or longer!) than the time it would take to object to travel between the two points via standard methods and at full speed.

The theory of general relativity (Initially formulated by Einstein) states that nothing can exceed the speed of light. Wormholes would allow theoretical spaceships to circumvent this rule by forming a path between two locations that is shorter than the path outside of the wormhole.

These strange structures were hypothesized directly from Einstein’s equations, but have never been observed. Other strange objects were ‘found’ via these now-famous equations: black-holes (an object of seemingly infinity density – continually sucking up matter and energy without ever releasing it), white-holes (an object continually releasing energy/matter, possible linked to a distant blackhole). Of these, only the black-hole has been proven to exist – but it also shows that these weird solutions cannot be discarded as ‘unbelievable’.

A distinct characteristic of wormholes is that they only have lifetimes of a few millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a thousandth of a second (10-30 s). Making a stable wormhole that could allow the passage of energy/matter through it would requires to existence of ‘negative energy’, or ‘negative mass’. Consequently, a wormhole might have a weak ‘anti-gravitational’ field, pushing back matter rather than pulling it in.

Wormholes do not have to link just two locations: they can be complicated web-like structures with hundreds of ‘doors’, sometimes leading to closed loops, ‘bubble universes’ and other strange features. In order for any object to be able to pass through safely, they must have a large size. There is no bounds for the size of a wormhole: it can be as big as a sun, or a galaxy. In a similar manner, it can be small enough to be contained in a lab. While such wormholes remain largely in the realm of theory, it is thought that miniature wormholes in the unstable form pop in and out of existence in the domain of quantum physics.

Picture of the possible exits of a wormhole

Drawing by Mehdi Ben Slama

Laws of physics apply as normal inside the wormhole, they just have to bend to the curvature of space and time. Consequently, the propagation of electromagnetic waves (communication, light, lasers) must follow the curved space. As such, various effects may occur: an observer inside the wormhole may see duplicates of himself in the vicinity of the hole, and any communication signal would also be duplicated in a sort of ‘echo’ effects. Provided the wormholes is ‘nice’, communication between two sides of the wormhole can occur as normal.

While wormholes can in theory prove extremely useful for space-travel, they can be very dangerous environments. The twisted space-time and the ‘echo’ effect described above can cause an unexperienced observer to get lost, or end up in unexpected places.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly: a wormhole is not constant in time. Its size can expand and shrink, its length can vary, and the ‘mouths’ can move in space. A wormhole may close upon itself unexpectedly if not kept stable, crushing anything caught too close to it in the same way a black-hole would. In fact, an unstable wormhole can turn into a black-hole.

In the world of Faith:

In Faith, wormholes behave in a similar manner as in theory, with the exception that the existence of ‘negative matter’ is assumed. Hence, stable wormholes are a relatively common sight and allow for rapid colonization of the deep ends of space.

The first wormhole was opened in year 223 of the Space Age by the powerful Korian. Long extinct, they also discovered the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth is a gigantic web of interconnected wormholes, with more exits that can be counted, and very treacherous to navigate. Some of its tunnels are so thin that only a tiny robot can navigate them without colliding into itself, while others contain entire planets within.

Military considerations:

Conducting battles inside a wormhole is significantly more interesting that in classical ‘flat’ space. Curvature of space/time may be used to ones advantage to surprise enemies or organize an efficient retreat.

Picture of the Vision on a Wormhole

Drawing by Mehdi Ben Slama

A first concept to understand is a closed space loop: inside a wormhole, it is possible to move in a straight line and end up in the same spot. Essentially, aiming in the right direction and shooting a missile could lead to you shooting yourself.

This can be used against an enemy: for instance, say you are facing an enemy spaceship with shielding on the front, and you are both aligned on a closed space loop. The enemy in front of you is very close, and the obvious action to undertake is to shoot straight-on, hoping to cause damage to the front shields. However, an experienced captain could use the space loop to his benefit, shooting backwards and have the missiles go in a straight line, and still hit the enemy spaceship in front of him but in his rear.

Similar strategies can be used to attack an enemy by surprise, coming from an angle they did not expect.

Communications:

Communications and electromagnetic waves are affected in similar manner: an unexperienced pilot may find it difficult to navigate, with radio signals being distorted. As mentioned, an echo effect causes signals to be duplicated and sent back to the sender, greatly adding to the confusion of the spacecraft’s crew.

An experienced navigator however, can find the right angle to send a signal, bounce it off curves in space-time to make it reach otherwise unreachable spots. This same technique can be used to foil interception of messages and other forms of communication.

If the wormhole is man-made, a deliberate attack on the structures replenishing the negative matter required for stabilization can allow for a quick retreat. This can potentially trap the enemy on the other side, or even destroy part or all of the enemy fleet if it was already within the wormhole boundaries.