Interstellar may be attracting viewers to the movies at warp speed, but wormholes like the one featured in the new film are likely a reality, deep in space.
The movie Interstellar follows a group of astronauts who escape a dying Earth by racing to another galaxy, through a wormhole, or Einstein-Rosen bridge.
Albert Einstein and his assistant, Nathan Rosen, attempted to find a way to integrate all the forces of nature into a single coherent model. In order to accomplish this task, the pair described space as a pair of geometric sheets, connected to each other through bridges, which are seen as particles within our Universe. This conclusion, announced in a 1935 paper, was ultimately rejected as a "theory of everything" when particle behavior predicted by the model did not match observed behavior in the real world.
Black holes, collapsed remains of massive stars so dense that not even light can escape their surface, resemble the mouths of wormholes described by Einstein and Rosen. This led many researchers to postulate that the stellar remnants may be the gateways to the bridges, and potentially, other points in space-time.
Interstellar is being hailed by many scientists as one of the most accurate depictions of black holes and wormholes ever presented in film. Kip Thorne, the astrophysicist who worked with Carl Sagan on the wormhole scene of the novel and film Contact, also guided the makers of this film in designing a realistic trip through a wormhole.
"I have some experience with this, but I couldn't get much feedback because of the amount of secrecy surrounding the film. I had to rely on a very small number of people to read through it and give me feedback. I wasn't really able to run it past any of my physicist colleagues. On the other hand, I knew the subject inside out. I knew what I wanted to convey. I figured I could probably pull it off," Kip Thorne said.
Survivability while traveling through an Einstein-Rosen bridge could be far more of an issue for real-life space travelers than for the characters in the movie. Another problem is that they are likely exceedingly rare. Although general relativity allows for the creation of wormholes with a black hole at each mouth, these bridges do not form from the collapse of a single star. Any astronaut approaching a black hole would also be pulled apart by massive gravitational forces, in a process called "spaghettification."
Wormholes were given their popular name by John Wheeler, a physicist from Princeton University, during the 1960's. He noticed the similarity between the mathematical tunnels and holes bored by worms through apples. Using the bridges to travel from one point in space-time to another would be akin to a worm traveling through an apple, rather then crawling around the fruit, the physicist reasoned.