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Blueprint for a Wormhole Time Machine

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  • Blueprint for 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
    Blueprint for a Wormhole Time Machine
    I'll first lay out the basic strategy for constructing Thorne's wormhole time machine, and in the next section I'll discuss the challenges faced by any contractor Thorne might hire to execute the plans.

    A wormhole is a hypothetical tunnel through space. A more familiar kind of tunnel, such as one that's been bored through the side of a mountain, provides a shortcut from one location to another. Wormholes serve a similar function, but they differ from conventional tunnels in one important respect. Whereas conventional tunnels provide a new route through existing space — the mountain and the space it occupies exist before a tunnel is constructed — a wormhole provides a tunnel from one point in space to another along a new, previously nonexistent tube of space. Were you to remove the tunnel through the mountain, the space it occupied would still exist. Were you to remove a wormhole, the space it occupied would vanish.

    Figure 15.2 (a) A wormhole extending from the Kwik-E-Mart to the nuclear power plant. (b) The view through the wormhole, looking from the mouth at the Kwik-E-Mart and into the mouth in the power plant.

    Figure 15.2a illustrates a wormhole connecting the Kwik-E-Mart and the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, but the drawing is misleading because the wormhole appears to stretch across Springfield airspace. More accurately, the wormhole should be thought of as a new region of space that interfaces with ordinary, familiar space only at its ends — its mouths. If while walking along the streets of Springfield, you scoured the skyline in search of the wormhole, you'd see nothing. The only way to see it would be to hop on over to the Kwik-E-Mart, where you would find an opening in ordinary space — one wormhole mouth. Looking through the opening, you'd see the inside of the power plant, the location of the second mouth, as in Figure 15.2b. Another misleading feature of Figure 15.2a is that the wormhole doesn't appear to be a shortcut. We can fix this by modifying the illustration as in Figure 15.3. As you can see, the usual route from the power plant to the Kwik-E-Mart is indeed longer than the wormhole's new spatial passage. The contortions in Figure 15. reflect the difficulties in drawing general relativistic geometry on a page, but the figure does give an intuitive sense of the new connection a wormhole would provide.

    Figure 15.3 Geometry which more clearly shows that the wormhole is a shortcut. (Wormhole mouths are really inside Kwik-E-Mart and the nuclear power plant, although that is difficult to show in this representation.)

    No one knows whether wormholes exist, but many decades ago physicists established that they are allowed by the mathematics of general relativity and so are fair game for theoretical study. In the 1950s, John Wheeler and his coworkers were among the earliest researchers to investigate wormholes, and they discovered many of their fundamental mathematical properties. More recently, though, Thorne and his collaborators revealed the full richness of wormholes by realizing that not only can they provide shortcuts through space, they can also provide shortcuts through time.

    Figure 15.4 A wormhole connecting the Kwik-E-Mart and the nuclear power plant. (b) The lower wormhole opening transported (from the nuclear power plant) to outer space (on spaceship, not shown). The wormhole length remains fixed. (c) The wormhole opening arrives at the Andromeda galaxy; the other opening is still at the Kwik-E-Mart. The length of the wormhole is unchanged throughout the entire voyage.

    Here's the idea. Imagine that Bart and Lisa are standing at opposite ends of Springfield's wormhole — Bart at the power plant, Lisa at the Kwik-E-Mart — idly chatting with each other about what to get Homer for his birthday, when Bart decides to take a short transgalactic jaunt (to get Homer some of his favorite Andromedean fish fingers). Lisa doesn't feel up for the ride but, as she's always wanted to see Andromeda, she persuades Bart to load his wormhole mouth on his ship and take it along, so she can have a look. You might expect this to mean that Bart will have to keep stretching the wormhole longer as his journey progresses, but that assumes the wormhole connects the Kwik-E-Mart and Bart's ship through ordinary space. It doesn't. And, as illustrated in Figure 15.4, through the wonders of general relativistic geometry, the wormhole's length can remain fixed throughout the entire voyage. This is a key point. Even though Bart rockets off to Andromeda, his distance to Lisa through the wormhole does not change. This makes manifest the wormhole's role as a shortcut through space.

    For definiteness, let's say that Bait heads off at 99.999999999999999999 percent of light speed and travels four hours outbound to Andromeda, all the while continuing to chat with Lisa through the wormhole, just as they'd been doing before the flight. When the ship reaches Andromeda, Lisa tells Bart to pipe down so she can take in the view without disturbance. She's exasperated by his insistence on quickly grabbing the takeout at the Fish Finger Flythrough and heading back to Springfield, but agrees to keep on chatting until he returns. Four hours and a few dozen rounds of tic-tac-toe later, Bart safely sets his ship down on the lawn of Springfield High.

    When he looks out the ship window, though, Bart gets a bit of a shock. The buildings look completely different, and the scoreboard floating high above the rollerball stadium gives a date some 6 million years after his departure. "Dude!?!" he says to himself, but a moment later it all becomes clear. Special relativity, he remembers from a heart-to-heart he'd recently had with Sideshow Bob, ensures that the faster you travel the slower your clock ticks. If you travel out into space at high speed and then return, only a few hours might have elapsed aboard your ship while thousands or millions of years, if not more, will have elapsed according to someone stationary. With a quick calculation, Bart confirms that at the speed he was traveling, eight hours elapsed on the ship would mean 6 million years elapsed on earth. The date on the scoreboard is right; Bart realizes he has traveled far into earth's future.

    ". . . Bart! Hello, Bart!" Lisa yells through the wormhole. "Have you been listening to me? Step on it. I want to get home in time for dinner." Bart looks into his wormhole mouth and tells Lisa he's already landed on the lawn of Springfield High. Looking more closely through the worm¬hole, Lisa sees that Bart is telling the truth, but looking out of the Kwik-E¬Mart toward Springfield High, she doesn't see his ship on the lawn. "I don't get it," she says.

    "Actually, it makes perfect sense," Bart proudly answers. "I've landed at Springfield High, but 6 million years into the future. You can't see me by looking out the Kwik-E-Mart window, because you're looking at the right place, but you're not looking at the right time. You're looking 6 million years too early."

    "Oh, right, that time-dilation thing of special relativity," Lisa agrees. "Cool. Anyway, I want to get home in time for dinner, so climb through the wormhole, because we've got to hurry." "Okay," Bart says, crawling through the wormhole. He buys a Butterfinger from Apu, and he and Lisa head home.

    Notice that although Bart's passage through the wormhole took him but a moment, it transported him 6 million years back in time. He and his ship and the wormhole mouth had landed far into earth's future. Had he gotten out, spoken with people, and checked the newspaper, everything would have confirmed this. Yet, when he passed through the wormhole and rejoined Lisa, he found himself back in the present. The same holds true for anyone else who might follow Bart through the wormhole mouth: he would also travel 6 million years back in time. Similarly, anyone who climbs into the wormhole mouth at the Kwik-E-Mart, and out of the mouth Bart left in his ship, would travel 6 million years into the future. The important point is that Bart did not just take one of the wormhole mouths on a journey through space. His journey also transported the wormhole mouth through time. Bart's voyage took him and the worm¬hole's mouth into earth's future. In short, Bart transformed a tunnel through space into a tunnel through time; he turned a wormhole into a time machine.

    A rough way to visualize what's going on is depicted in Figure 15.5. In Figure 15.5a we see a wormhole connecting one spatial location with another, with the wormhole configuration drawn so as to emphasize that it lies outside of ordinary space. In Figure 15.5b, we show the time evolution of this wormhole, assuming both its mouths are kept stationary. (The time slices are those of a stationary observer.) In Figure 15.5c, we show what happens when one wormhole mouth is loaded onto a spaceship and taken on a round-trip journey. Time for the moving mouth, just like time on a moving clock, slows down, so that the moving mouth is transported to the future. (If an hour elapses on a moving clock but a thousand years elapse on stationary clocks, the moving clock will have jumped into the stationary clocks' future.) Thus, instead of the stationary wormhole mouth's connecting, via the wormhole tunnel, to a mouth on the same time slice, it connects to a mouth on a future time slice, as in Figure 15.5c. Unless the wormhole mouths are moved further, the time difference between them will remain locked in. At any moment, should you enter one mouth and exit the other, you will have become a time traveler.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-11-2012, 04:48 PM.