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Building a Wormhole Time Machine

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  • Building a Wormhole Time Machine

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 15 - Teleporters and Time Machines
    Building a Wormhole Time Machine
    One blueprint for building a time machine is now clear. Step 1: find or create a wormhole wide enough for you, or anything you want to send through time, to pass. Step 2: establish a time difference between the wormhole mouths — say, by moving one relative to the other. That's it. In principle.

    Figure 15.5 (a) A wormhole, created at some moment in time, connects one location in space with another. (b) If the wormhole mouths do not move relative to one another, they "pass" through time at the same rate, so the tunnel connects the two regions at the same time. (c) If one worm¬hole mouth is taken on a round-trip journey (not shown), less time will elapse for that mouth, and hence the tunnel will connect the two regions of space at different moments of time. The wormhole has become a time machine.

    How about in practice? Well, as I mentioned at the outset, no one knows whether wormholes even exist. Some physicists have suggested that tiny wormholes might be plentiful in the microscopic makeup of the spatial fabric, being continually produced by quantum fluctuations of the gravitational field. If so, the challenge would be to enlarge one to macroscopic size. Proposals have been made for how this might be done, but they're barely beyond theoretical flights of fancy. Other physicists have envisioned the creation of large wormholes as an engineering project in applied general relativity. We know that space responds to the distribution of matter and energy, so with sufficient control over matter and energy, we might cause a region of space to spawn a wormhole. This approach presents an additional complication, because just as we must tear open the side of a mountain to attach the mouth of a tunnel, we must tear open the fabric of space to attach the mouth of a wormhole. 12 No one knows whether such tears in space are allowed by the laws of physics.[/B] Work with which I've been involved in string theory (see page 386) has shown that certain kinds of spatial tears are possible, but so far we have no idea whether these rips might be relevant to the creation of wormholes. The bottom line is that intentional acquisition of a macroscopic wormhole is a fantasy that, at best, is a very long way from being realized.

    (sic.) Morever, even if we somehow managed to get our hands on a macroscopic wormhole, we wouldn't be done; we'd still face a couple of significant obstacles. First, in the 1960s, Wheeler and Robert Fuller showed, using the equations of general relativity, that wormholes are unstable. Their walls tend to collapse inward in a fraction of a second, which eliminates their utility for any kind of travel. More recently, though, physicists (including Thorne and Morris, and also Matt Visser) have found a potential way around the collapse-problem. If the wormhole is not empty, but instead contains material — so-called exotic matter — that can exert an outward push on its walls, then it might be possible to keep the wormhole open and stable. Although similar in its effect to a cosmological constant, exotic matter would generate outward-pushing repulsive gravity by virtue of having negative energy (not just the negative pressure characteristic of a cosmological constant 13). Under highly specialized conditions, quantum mechanics allows for negative energy, 14 but it would be a monumental challenge to generate enough exotic matter to hold a macroscopic wormhole open. (For example, Visser has calculated that the amount of negative energy needed to keep open a one-meter-wide wormhole is roughly equal in magnitude to the total energy produced by the sun over about 10 billion years. 15)

    Second, even if we somehow found or created a macroscopic wormhole, and even if we somehow found or created a macroscopic wormhole, and even if we somehow were able to buttress its walls against immediate collapse, and even if we were able to induce a time difference between the wormhole mouths (say, by flying one mouth around at high speed), there would remain another hurdle to acquiring a time machine. A number of physicists, including Stephen Hawking, have raised the possibility that vacuum fluctuations — the jitters arising from the quantum uncertainty experienced by all fields, even in empty space, discussed in Chapter 12 — might destroy a wormhole just as it was getting into position to be a time machine. The reason is that, just at the moment when time travel through the wormhole becomes possible, a devastating feedback mechanism, somewhat like the screeching noise generated when microphone and speaker levels in a sound system are not adjusted appropriately, may come into play. Vacuum fluctuations from the future can travel through the wormhole to the past, where they can then travel through ordinary space and time to the future, enter the wormhole, and travel back to the past again, creating an endless cycle through the wormhole and filling it with ever-increasing energy. Presumably, such an intense energy buildup would destroy the wormhole. Theoretical research suggests this as a real possibility, but the necessary calculations strain our current understanding of general relativity and quantum mechanics in curved spacetime, so there is no conclusive proof.

    The challenges to building a wormhole time machine are clearly immense. But the final word won't be given until our facility with quantum mechanics and gravity is refined further, perhaps through advances in superstring theory. Although at an intuitive level physicists generally agree that time travel to the past is impossible, as of today the question has yet to be fully closed.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-12-2012, 07:44 AM.