Azara Blog: Wormhole Engineering 101

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Date published: 2005/05/24

The BBC says:

For budding time travellers, the future (or should that be the past?) is starting to look bleak.

Hypothetical tunnels called wormholes once looked like the best bet for constructing a real time machine.

These cosmic shortcuts, which link one point in the Universe to another, are favoured by science fiction writers as a means both of explaining time travel and of circumventing the limitations imposed by the speed of light.
...
But according to a new study by Stephen Hsu and Roman Buniy, of the University of Oregon, US, this method of building a traversable wormhole may be fatally flawed. In a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server, the authors looked at a kind of wormhole in which the space-time "tube" shows only weak deviations from the laws of classical physics.

These "semi-classical" wormholes are the most desirable type for time travel because they potentially allow travellers to predict where and when they would emerge.

Wormholes entirely governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, on the other hand, would likely transport their payloads to an undesired time and place.

Calculations by the Oregon researchers show a wormhole that combines exotic matter with semi-classical space-time would be fundamentally unstable.

This result relies in part on a previous paper in which Hsu and Buniy argued that systems which violate a physical principle known as the null energy condition become unstable.

"We aren't saying you can't build a wormhole. But the ones you would like to build - the predictable ones where you can say Mr Spock will land in New York at 2pm on this day - those look like they will fall apart," Dr Hsu said.

A separate study by Chris Fewster, of the University of York, UK, and Thomas Roman, of Central Connecticut State University, US, takes a different approach to tackling the question of wormholes.

Amongst other things, their analysis deals with the proposal that wormhole throats could be kept open using arbitrarily small amounts of exotic matter.

Fewster and Roman calculated that, even if it were possible to build such a wormhole, its throat would probably be too small for time travel.

It might - in theory - be possible to carefully fine-tune the geometry of the wormhole so that the wormhole throat became big enough for a person to fit through, says Fewster.

But building a wormhole with a throat radius big enough to just fit a proton would require fine-tuning to within one part in 10 to the power of 30. A human-sized wormhole would require fine-tuning to within one part in 10 to the power of 60.

"Frankly no engineer is going to be able to do that," said the York researcher.
...
However, there is still support for the idea of traversable wormholes in the scientific community. One physicist told BBC News there could be problems with Hsu's and Buniy's conclusions.

"Violations of the null energy condition are known to occur in a number of situations. And their argument would prohibit any violation of it," the scientist commented.

"If that's true, then don't worry about Hawking radiation from a black hole; the entire black hole vacuum becomes unstable."

The underlying physics of wormholes was not in doubt, the researcher argued. The real challenge was in explaining how to engineer wormholes big enough to be of practical use.

A bit of a joke this story. In fact, what is it doing in the "science" section of the BBC website, it ought to be under "entertainment". Theoretical physicists have been out in left field for decades now, and a good indication of that is all the quotes in the article about "engineering" wormholes. We can fairly safely predict that the following will happen long before the human race has to worry about the etiquette of wormhole traversal, listed in order of increasing difficulty:

The kind of theoretical physics being discussed is sterile (well, it's a religion, which is much the same thing). Put the money into something more useful. (For example, any of the problems listed above. Especially the Cubs.)

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