"It's obviously a wormhole due to these scientific recordings that show...xyz"
November 16, 2009 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Let's say you were an astrophysicist who saw a wormhole open up in the sky above you, and you had video of it, magnetometer readings, whatever else you'd need to record it. What kind of recorded "proof" might be used to identify it as a wormhole-- after the fact?

Asking for a friend, who is not an astrophysicist, but working on a sci-fi project.

Her character can have whatever scientific recording devices necessary at the scene of the wormhole, but what could the astrophysicist character later point to in terms of photographs, electromagnetic readings, etc that would identify (or strongly suggest) that the event that had happened in the sky above them was a wormhole?

Obviously this is theoretical, but what might scientifically distinguish a wormhole from just an electromagnetic storm, aurora borealis, etc? And what kind of devices specifically would be required to record such information? Keep in mind all recordings must be taken from the ground, not from, say, a satellite.

Thanks for any help on this.
posted by MattS to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think anyone really knows what a wormhole would actually look like. A wormhole is just a theoretical construct having to do with the curvature of space. I guess if there was one you would be able to 'see through it', and see stars on the other side, but you would need recognize the stars on the other side somehow.
posted by delmoi at 10:02 PM on November 16, 2009

Usually by "wormhole" people mean something akin to an Einstein-Rosen bridge. Wikipedia's wormhole article is actually currently somewhat reasonable about this (if you ignore the things that don't have cites).

Anything like a "wormhole" will have strong spacetime curvature; if it just appears there would have to be some type of gravity waves associated with its appearance (for landbased detectors of gravity waves, see LIGO; there's also a coming experiment called LISA that does the same thing in space).
Although realistically a strong gravitational weirdness suddenly appearing in the sky would cause some pretty serious disruption (by which I mean massive tragedy) here on earth; you probably want to consider something far away.

Another thing you could look for is signatures similar to a black hole; for these again Wikipedia is reasonable: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_hole#Observation. Particularly if this black hole indicates it is spinning faster than it should for its mass(here you're looking for "over rotating black hole"). I think most data here would have to be taken for a long time, and again it's based on an object far away.

One last comment: usually sci-fi authors are interested in wormholes either for time travel or faster-than-lightspeed travel. Personally I'm the kind of boring physicist who doesn't really believe in either of those, but your friend might want to clarify if she wants evidence of an object like a "wormhole" or if she wants evidence of time/superluminal travel.
posted by nat at 10:24 PM on November 16, 2009

I'd think that the lensing around a wormhole would be characteristic in some way, even if the wormhole throat is too small to see anything through. (In particular, a traversable wormhole will have to have some negative energy densities somewhere.) I have no idea what the characteristics might be, but for a story, perhaps a good enough video of the wormhole passing in front of fixed stars could provide evidence that it involves the proper sorts of spacetime curvature to be a wormhole.

Also AIUI, the scientifically-mostly-plausible sort of wormhole wouldn't just "open" somewhere. The endpoints would be created in the same place and then moved apart. But maybe a tiny wormhole endpoint could arrive and then be enlarged to macroscopic size? (Or maybe the universe is rife with Planck-scale wormholes already, and you just have to find one going where you want to go and enlarge it? This is all SFnal handwaving, here.)
posted by hattifattener at 10:47 PM on November 16, 2009

Well, if there's light coming out of it you can do a spectroscopic analysis to see what source might be generating the light. But drawing conclusions is another story.
posted by crapmatic at 2:32 AM on November 17, 2009

There isn't really any "proof" a scientist could offer if it could not be reproduced. Scientists could fake video or lie about instrument readings like anyone else, reproducibility is the test. Scientific results are generally taken on faith, but extraordinary claims would require extraordinary evidence.

My thoughts: Something about seeing the wormhole triggers an idea in the protagonist's head that explains the physics of wormholes. His new idea involves the prediction that when wormholes close up they leave behind magnetic monopoles that decay away at some rate. (This would be exciting). He goes back, detects the magnetic monopoles confirming his new theory. He publishes a scientific paper on his new theory of wormhole physics, next time a wormhole is observed by someone else, tests for the magnetic monopoles are done, confirming the protagonists theory, and by extension his story of having seen the wormhole.
posted by pseudonick at 3:27 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's also important to realize that a wormhole isn't going to look like a fancy whirlpool and wouldn't just be two-dimensional. It'd be spherical and you could walk all the way around it. This is an educated artist's rendition.

Pseudonick's idea is a good one. A wormhole could be documented by detecting some sort of strange particles (cosmic rays, tau particles, strangelets, etc.) that would be vaguely plausible.
posted by bshort at 4:27 AM on November 17, 2009

I know this is the "obvious" answer, but... if an object passed through it from one side to the other, and was observed doing so, that would be pretty solid evidence that it was a wormhole.
posted by Vorteks at 6:13 AM on November 17, 2009

Another idea for the fiction: It's likely that our imaginary scientist wouldn't be the only person to have seen this. Like a real scientist, he would turn to other scientists doing similar observations to see if anyone else collected the same data he did.

For example, the people running SETI have a well-established protocol to confirm a finding with other astronomers before anyone runs off and says they talked to E.T.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:55 AM on November 17, 2009

Not a scientist, but as a wormhole is supposed to "link through a shortcut" two locations otherwise distant, a simple camera could be enough: you take pictures of a galaxy thousands of light years away, and it will look like the galaxy is in your backyard.
posted by bru at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You would see stars in that spot which shouldn't be there, and wouldn't see stars that should. If there were a pulsar or other uniquely identifiable source of radiation visible through the wormhole, you could identify where the other mouth is located.

posted by General Tonic at 10:02 AM on November 17, 2009

IANAA(stronomer), but I would think that the speed of light would make it pretty much impossible to verify something through a wormhole. The wormhole would be much closer to the stars observed. It would take millions of years for their light to reach earth w/o the wormhole. Like when an astronomer notices a change in a star (supernova, etc.) from Earth, the actual event happened many millions of years in the past and the light is just now reaching Earth. Basically you would be looking into the future, astronomically speaking.

Or perhaps the difference would be negligible in astronomical terms. I guess it depends on how far away the wormhole opening is and what stars are being viewed.

Sorry about throwing a kink in your theory without contributing anything.
posted by AtomicBee at 11:52 AM on November 17, 2009

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