We’ve seen them in our most beloved sci-fi movies (Contact anyone?) and series (Star Trek, Dr. Who), we’ve heard physicists, astrophysicists and astronomers speak of it with great enthusiasm and interest. But what exactly are these cosmic phenomena?

Wormholes are solutions to the Einstein field equations for gravity that act as “tunnels,” connecting points in space-time in such a way that the trip between the points through the wormhole could take much less time than the trip through normal space.

The first wormhole-like solutions were found by studying the mathematical solution for black holes. There it was found that the solution lent itself to an extension whose geometric interpretation was that of two copies of the black hole geometry connected by a “throat” (known as an Einstein-Rosen bridge). The throat is a dynamical object attached to the two holes that pinches off extremely quickly into a narrow link between them.

Theorists have since found other wormhole solutions; these solutions connect various types of geometry on either mouth of the wormhole. One amazing aspect of wormholes is that because they can behave as “shortcuts” in space-time, they must allow for backwards time travel! This property goes back to the usual statement that if one could travel faster than light, that would imply that we could communicate with the past.

Wormhole geometries are inherently unstable. The only material that can be used to stabilize them against pinching off is material having negative energy density, at least in some reference frame. No classical matter can do this, but it is possible that quantum fluctuations in various fields might be able to.

via ScientificAmerican