How Do Wormholes Work?

Question posed by Amy.

Wormholes, popularised in science fiction from Deep Space Nine to Stargate, are theoretical creations in space that allow stuff - people and other things - to travel from one point in space to another without the tedious business of travelling through the space in between.

You can find out about whether they actually exist in this post, but...

How do they work?

The classic description of wormholes has you imagining a huge sheet of stretched-out rubber that stands in as a 2D model of space itself. Put a tennis ball on the sheet, and it makes a dent around it. Roll a marble near by, and it'll curve around the tennis ball, or even change course to hit it. Get rid of the tennis ball, and put a bowling ball in its place, and there'll be an even bigger dent, and that passing marble will be affected even more. This is a decent analogy for how gravity works.

Now imagine that there are two stretched sheets of rubber with their backs to each other. Now (and this is where it starts to get tricky) imagine that gravity pulls the balls on the outside of the sheets in towards the space between the sheets. In this way, put a bowling ball on each sheet, and the dents bend in towards each other. Find heavy enough bowling balls, and they'll bend the rubber sheets towards each other until they touch. If you could find some extraordinarily heavy bowling balls, the sheets would break, and you'd have a hole from the surface of one sheet to the surface of the other. This is a decent analogy for a wormhole.

If space is folded in the right way, it means that going through the hole takes you to the other place in space much faster than if you went the long way round.

Wormholes, theoretically, could transport you to another place in space - another solar system or galaxy - or to another universe entirely. If only we could find one...

They could also be used to travel through time... but that's another post.


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