This is the astrophysical phenomenon that might help explain why space is so dark.

Do you know what a “wormhole” is? The name sounds familiar to black hole, but it isn’t exactly the same thing. Wormholes are more like the twin of black holes, but as you know, twins are even different. Before you doubt their existence, they’re objects predicted by real scientific theories that real scientists are searching for. But before you go looking for something, you need to know what it looks like. According to a recent paper, in order to find a wormhole, you need to find it’s shadow. Huh?

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The Shadow Of Space

The concept of a wormhole was proposed by the two legendary theoretical physicists, Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen. The theory of general relativity states that its possible to compress matter into a point so small that density and gravity reach infinity — that point is known as the singularity. This was a problem for Einstein to accept, since what looks good on paper doesn’t match up with reality.

In a 1935 paper published by Einstein and Rosen, the two argued that you could avoid the singularity by extending it to a different location in space (and in time). This would in turn create a tube-shaped path between the two points — as if you’re pinching together the sides of a balloon. This phenomenon was dubbed the “Einstein-Rosen bridge” (nonetheless), and its what’s known today as (you guessed it) a wormhole.

Image: Scientific American / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Aforementioned, wormholes are different from black holes, but closely related. In some concepts of wormholes, a black hole is required at the other end. However, both black holes and wormholes are gravitational beasts that warp the fabric of spacetime, and distorts the path at which light travels around them. Some light particles just can’t escape, creating what scientists call a shadow.

Why Is Space So Dark?

Thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope, we now have photographic evidence of what a black hole looks like; but that of wormholes is pretty much like unicorns. But if they do exist, we don’t know how to keep one from totally collapsing, obviously. To solve this cosmic mystery, scientists have hypothetically created a theoretical material with negative pressure known as “exotic matter” that could keep the tunnel between the points open.

Of course, we have no idea as to what to look out for. But just because you haven’t seen something before, say unicorns, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to identify a unicorn in your dreams if you’re having a nightmare. Enter Rajibul Shaikh, a theoretical physicist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, who has an idea of what to look out for.

Shaikh announced in a 2018 paper published in the preprint Journal arXiv that a particular kind of object known as a Teo-class rotating wormhole would likely cast a much bigger, more distorted shadow than that of a black hole. The typical wormhole is depicted as static and round, whereas a Teo-class wormhole is rotating and asymmetrical. This would keep the exotic matter from moving around.

A Shadow In The Dark

Image: NASA / ESA | Hubble Space Telescope

Surprisingly, scientists have already calculated a rotating wormhole’s shadow, but Shaikh says they forgot to take the “throat” (the tunnel) into consideration. From this new paper, scientists now have a decent chance of spotting a wormhole if they ever see one — but only if it’s an asymmetrical rotating wormhole. Of course, what looks good on paper doesn’t match up with reality.

According to physicist John Friedman, its highly unlikely to spot a microscopic wormhole, and if they do, the unknown nature of the matter makes it impossible to predict the shadow. What this means is, to determine the shape of the shadow, you need to know the geometry of the wormhole, and to determine the geometry of the wormhole, you need to know the nature of the exotic matter. You know where this is going, right?

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Sep 26, 2019.


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