The blockbuster (at least my personal favorite) TV science fiction series Stargate SG-1 is constructed around the premise that there are tunnels that burrow through space, called “wormholes” by theoretical physicists, that may offer space travelers a shortcut to far flung parts of the Universe. Wormholes take advantage of a tenant from Einstein’s general theory of relativity, that describes three dimensional space as being curved through a fourth physical dimension called “Hyperspace” It is in Hyperspace that wormholes dwell.
In the TV series Stargate, SG-1, our heroes travel back and forth through a circular, “dialable” wormhole portal made from a super-dense, super-conducting imaginary element called “Naquada”.
Is wormhole travel a possibility in reality?
In fact, it was black hole theory that led to wormhole theory.
In 1917, German astrophysicist Karl Schwarzschild used Einstein’s General theory to calculate that if a star of any given mass were compressed to a size smaller than a critical radius, now called the Schwarzschild radius in his honor, the density would become so high and the gravitational force so great that the star would become a black hole.
Shortly afterward, physicist Ludwig Flamm recognized that Schwarzschild`s solution represented a wormhole. A wormhole is a tunnel through Hyperspace to another region of space-time in our Universe or perhaps another.
What this means, Jack O’Neill fans, is that in order to open a wormhole, you first need a black hole. In order to make a black hole, the mass of about 200 of our suns must be compressed into the size of Mount Everest. Not a likely feat, now, or ever, and not something that NORAD could neatly fit underneath a mountain in North Dakota, and not to mention swallowing up NORAD, the mountain, North Dakota and the entire Solar System as an unfortunate side effect.
So, does the idea of wormhole travel die there?
One highly abstract theory involves physicists managing to open a wormhole, (in compliance with the matter-energy equivalence demonstrated by the equation E=MC2) , only one atom in thickness for a few billionths of a second. Of course, you cannot squeeze good ol’ T’ealc or a remote operated MALP through such a tiny tunnel in such a short period of time. One theory states that a way to keep the wormhole big enough and open long enough for our SG-1 team with their Zats and P-90’s to travel through is by using antimatter.
Antimatter is a form of matter in which the electrical charge of each constituent particle is the opposite of that in the usual matter of our universe. That is, an atom of antimatter has a nucleus of antiprotons and antineutrons surrounded by positrons. Regular matter has the tendency to draw other bodies of mass to it. For example, massive objects, like the sun, pull planets into its orbit. Antimatter has the opposite effect. It, unlike regular matter, pushes the space around it apart. Thus, antimatter could be used to hold open the “throat” of the wormhole long enough for our SG-1 team to travel through.
Still with me Jimmy?
What it means, at least in theory, is that through an enormous, unprecedented release of highly focused energy, a tiny wormhole MAY be possible to open, and anti-matter injected to widen and stabilize it.
Hmmmm…I wonder if Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson can convince the Asgard to lend us a hand. After all, Good ol’ Thor owes us one for saving his little gray butt…
Another consequence of wormhole travel is a temporal “shearing” effect that would make returning to the same relative time frame on a return trip (assuming you could return) through a wormhole impossible, presuming one wouldn’t be stretched into a million mile long strand of molecular spaghetti on the first attempt.
So, things don’t look good for real wormhole travel, at least for now, but perhaps sometime in the far, far distant future, mankind may solve the seemingly impassible difficulties involved.
But does this fact make Stargate the series any less entertaining?
Not for me. It raises many questions about how we, as the human race, will interact with alien races if an encounter ever actually does occur. Will we be the benign, soft spoken, wisdom-rich dignitaries portrayed in science fiction themes from James T. Kirk to Janeway? Or will panic, distrust and greed provoke a knee-jerk military response that may turn our first encounter of the Third kind into a first and final encounter as well?
Furthermore, aren’t “alien” cultures, like those we encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan, sufficiently different from us Americans, that an SG-1 or Star Trek philosophical type approach may be of actual benefit in structuring international diplomacy in the real world?
In the meanwhile, signs point to the long anticipated romance between Samantha and Jack heating up, and I just bought me a SG-1 hat and official signed cast poster. Rumor has it the Replicators are coming back, and BOY are they pissed!