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Real World Physics Problems Newsletter - Wormholes, Issue #36
October 28, 2016

Wormholes and Other Scary Stuff

wormhole diagram

Source: Wikimedia via Kes47

A wormhole is a theoretical shortcut between two separate locations in the universe. Although theoretically possible, physicists have not been able to determine the existence of them by way of a natural process. So if they exist, it's a good possibility that they were artificially made.

I personally find the idea of wormholes to be scary! The idea of being able to move across the universe, over distances of perhaps billions of light years using a cosmic shortcut, a frightening prospect! Just imagine that whatever malevolence exists in some extremely far away place in the universe can quickly arrive here through a wormhole. This scary notion once captured my imagination and compelled me to write a short story about it. It's about a janitor who works in a theoretical physics facility experimenting with wormholes. The scientists working there open a tiny wormhole creating a doorway to a very distant part of the universe. The wormhole is microscopic in size so nothing of significance can get through - or so they thought. It turned out that a malevolent alien being made up of pure energy was able to enter the wormhole (much the same way water can pass through even the tiniest of holes), and entered the laboratory where the scientists worked. This resulted in the whole facility becoming "infected" with this alien, who could take over normal matter and manipulate it at will. This caused the building to become alive, so to speak. The janitor discovers this during his night shift. And the story became rather grisly from then on, and let's just say it did not end well.

But fiction or not, there are genuinely scary things in the universe, which can be deadly in all sorts of weird ways. It's the things which aren't over quickly which are the most unsettling, like crossing the event horizon of a black hole where nothing can escape, or being trapped in a teleportation stream where your consciousness is in limbo and the passage of time from your perspective can slow to an extremely slow rate subjecting you to an agonizingly long time before you re-materialize on the other side of the teleportation stream. Imagine having to wait a billion years in limbo, while the rest of the world perceives the passage of only a few seconds. You would emerge from the teleportation chamber insane!

Another scary thought is the idea that Earth is being watched by aliens, and has been for a very long time. The universe is estimated to be 14 billion years old, which is plenty of time for other intelligent life to evolve to our level of technological development and well beyond. Given the huge time scales we're dealing with, one thing that you can be sure of is that any other life that is out there watching us is most likely very old (this brings to mind H.P. Lovecraft's "Old Ones" which is part of the Cthulhu Mythos). Anything out there watching us is most likely very old indeed, and also very patient, which means that it could also be waiting. Coldly waiting, and quite used to it too. What would something accustomed to waiting for untold periods of time, perhaps millions or billions of years, be like? Would it be very active or very still? Perhaps hibernation would work best, a state of semi-sleep until something alerts it to wake up. The telecommunication signals we've been sending out for the past hundred years or so could be one of the things that causes such a being to wake up, or at least enter a higher state of alertness. I suppose we won't find the answer to this any time soon. But we should take note of Stephen Hawking's warnings, that attracting the interest of alien life could end up being very bad for us. No one goes out of their way just to say "hi". If any alien comes along chances are they want something from us, whether we want to give it to them or not, and this becomes more likely the farther they had to travel to get here.

On that note, Happy Halloween!

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