Science Writing

Tunneling Through Space

Could the out of this world premise of Stargate SG-1 one day become reality?

In the fantastic (but dated) TV show, Stargate SG-1, groups of four travel to distant planets through a device, the eponymous stargate.

The show uses this as a way to get its main characters into interesting and unique situations. Battling aliens, making allies, addressing some societal concerns through the medium of science fiction (though, this could have been done far better sometimes; see the ham-fisted episode four that tries to deal with the issue of sexism whilst leaning into racist stereotypes).

The show, debuting in 1997, is a mixed bag when it comes to quality and themes, but I’ll happily admit that it is one of my favourite shows of all time.

Not in the least part due to the way it leverages science to tell stories.

The way Stargate SG-1 explains the science behind the wormhole is still fairly accurate.

Put your hands out in front of you and imagine them as two different points in space separated by thousands upon thousands of light years. To get there travelling in a conventional sense, from point to point, would take lifetimes or some form of cryogenic freezing.

Instead, a wormhole doesn’t go from point to point like a road between cities, it bores a tunnel between the two places, folding space together, reducing the distance and therefore allowing for travel between two places far quicker than the speed of light limit would allow.

In the show, the stargate is a device created by an ancient race (that eventually evolves to the point where they don’t need physical bodies and they live as pure energy – I know, but it makes sense in the show. Kind of.) and it allows for the user to enter coordinates using images of the constellations to travel to different planets, which house their own stargate.

It’s an elegant way for a show to explain away the intricacies and difficulties of the science and get to the story telling.

But is it possible to create a wormhole in reality?

Yes…theoretically, but you might not be able to fit into it.

Wormholes have been a part of theoretical physics since the early 1900s when Einstein and Rosen predicted their existence and it has long been thought the stuff of fiction.

That may have changed.

In 2017 a study put forth by Gao, Jafferis, and Wall postulated the idea that wormholes could be stabilised and held open by using the properties of quantum engtanglement. The original probelm with wormholes is that they were missing some for of ‘exotic’ matter to keep them stable. General relativity had no place for this ‘exotic’ material; enter Quantum Physics.

Quantum entanglement is the state in which two or more particles can no longer be distinguished from one another. Even positioned light years apart, these two particles have the same quantum state, they are in balance and this theoretically can be used to stabilise wormholes between two points in space.

Unfortunately for anything bigger than…well most things, this can only stabilise and hold open microscopic wormholes, which isn’t exceptionally useful for us travelling to different planets.

Of course, this hasn’t been proven experimentally but it is the best theory that we have at the moment and it means that it is possible, however unlikely, that at some point humans may step through their very own version of a stargate.

But hopefully with considerably less world-ending alien threats.

Further Reading/References:

Towards traversable wormholes from force-free plasmas

Traversable wormholes via a double trace deformation

What is quantum entanglement? | Live Science

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