We have barely started taking the baby steps of space exploration – we made it to our nearest neighbour, the moon, only over half a century ago, and we have just sent out our first explorer beyond Pluto (which is still a planet. Fight me on this one). The interstellar space, the cosmos beyond our home, the solar system bound by the sun’s galaxy, seems like a dream so frustratingly far, despite all the advances we make everyday. But what if the Universe decides to throw us a bone?
There is a a big, complex and very scientific backdrop behind this one, but it will be sufficient for you to know that the theoretical prediction comes from very credible sources, including the very brilliant Albert Einstein.
As Douglas Adams once said, ‘Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.’ It is true. For us as a life form, the distance between celestial bodies is one of the most frustrating reasons as to why we haven’t been able to explore much of the universe. It involves too much time, effort, energy, etc. etc.
This is why the idea of wormholes is so captivating. As popularly imagined, wormholes are essentially ‘tunnels’ in space that connect distant points of space-time, so that you can travel from A to B via a tube in a lot less time with a lot less energy expended. The easiest way this is often explained is to draw two dots on a paper, and then fold them so that the dots overlap. What you have now created is a two-dimensional analogy of a wormhole. Or if you want a more illustrated idea, just watch the first Avengers movie. How did all those generic CGI aliens suddenly burst through the sky? Wormhole. Or you can also watch Interstellar, if you manage to understand it.
But like with many things about space, while we do have a lot of theories, any concrete evidence for wormholes is yet to be found. Some have suggested that black holes (supermassive concentration of gravity so strong that not even light, the fastest thing in space, can escape it) may actually be one end of the tunnel, with the matter and light being thrown out on the other end, naturally called a white hole.
But let us move away from the science for a while (never thought I’d say those words) and let our imagination run free. Imagine that the most ridiculously impossible thing happens – a nice little wormhole opens up, say, just beyond the moon and in front of Mars. Right there, easily accessible. Let us also imagine that the tests show that there is nothing abnormal with it – no ‘exotic matter’, no danger of collapsing, no radiation blasts that will kill the Earth.
We now have the If. But what then?
We will likely, after great excitement and discussion and doomsday hippie panic, take a more conservative approach. Remember, wormholes are two way streets. What if somebody else had already started a journey inside it, hoping to find what humanity has always sought as well? Maybe they even managed to construct the wormhole, and have set their sights on our planet for a specific reason. But I personally think we’ll get tired of waiting very soon. The desperation of humanity to know the cosmos, and all those millennia waiting for something extraordinary – those feelings would soon overwhelm the desire to sit still and wait.
So we will prepare to go in.
Though many people would think it nearly impossible, I believe that the nations of the world, despite all their misgivings and disputes, will come together to create a combined mission. That will be perhaps the first time in our long, long history, that everybody will see themselves as human. Despite our imaginative assurances that the wormhole is friendly and stable however, sending in humans would not be the first choice. We would send in exploratory crafts first, to discover the basics of what can be achieved. Would it be possible for the craft to communicate back to Earth, or perhaps physically come back itself? How long before it comes back? (Remember that space and time are bound together in the cosmos – if space has warped in such an extraordinary manner, time may also be wobbly) If it doesn’t come back or is not able to send back signals, what then? Is it even meaningful to send in manned missions inside the wormhole if they have no way of relating back the data to Earth, thus leaving us suspended in mystery forever? A set of smart scientists would also likely use such a satellite mission for a dual purpose by also sending in codes of information, imagery, and other things that could be interpreted by others in the tunnel or beyond the other side as signs of life.
Let us conclude with two possibilities.
The first one is a little bleaker. The wormhole has been around for a while, years even, and the crafts have not come back. Yet still, humanity finds this chance too tantalizing to pass by. A team of people would be selected, the best and the brightest the Earth has to offer, equipped with the highest standard of technology. They take off, aim their shot, and disappear into the wormhole. We are then left to hope that they survived the trip, that they get their bearing and manage to send back something, anything, any number of words or sentences that convey to us on Earth what it is like to be out there. We hope that these people, somehow, someway, find their way back home, enlightening humanity and changing us forever.
Or, say that our unmanned craft is ideally drifting past. Someone manning a high powered telescope, looking at this strange abnormality that has erupted around their hole, now finds something small and shiny floating past. Their space patrols find it, and they bring our craft in for examination. Exclamations of surprise follow. The craft itself is extraordinary, but then there are things with it, things definitely created by intelligent hands, a life form somewhere beyond, looking out just as they were.
They begin to prepare a mission.
Will their craft pass by that of our heroes who have left the planet?
That, like so much inside this, is up to you.
By Niharika Rawat