Gravitational wave astronomy has revolutionised how the Universe is understood. Observing the collisions of black holes and neutron stars recently confirmed the theoretical understanding of these extreme objects.But as gravitational wave astronomy matures, it allows scientists to probe the very nature of space and time itself.
Although this ambition remains a long way off, it has not prevented astronomers from dreaming-up new theories, including how it might look if a black hole and a wormhole interact.
Black holes occur when a large mass collapses under its own weight.
Stellar-mass black holes can form when a large star reaches the end of its life, but supermassive black holes can form in the centres of galaxies, such as the Milky Way.
It is this latter form that astronomers have most studied.
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Although black holes are now known to exist, they boast some bizarre properties.
Black holes’ masses are collapsed to a point so dense the laws of physics break down.
And they are surrounded by an event horizon trapping anything – even light – that dares venture too close to a black hole.
Wormholes, however, are entirely hypothetical. In theory, they are similar to black holes, but rather than a simple hole in space, wormholes would connect one region of space to another.
Some even suggest wormholes could potentially even connect different universes.
Wormholes have long been studied by theoretical physicists as a way to test the limits of general relativity.
For example, legendary theoretical physicist Albert Einstein showed while general relativity allows for the possibility of wormholes, they would collapse so quickly they could never be traversed.
American astronomer Kip Thorne has shown if wormholes could be made traversable, they could be used for everything from interstellar journeys to time travel.
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A new paper suggests how wormholes might be identified with gravitational waves.
In this work, the authors began with a theoretical wormhole between two Universes.
By itself, the wormhole would not emit any gravitational waves.
They then simulated a black hole travelling through the wormhole, spiralling in on one side, and spiralling out and away on the other.
They discovered when a black hole spirals into a wormhole, it creates gravitational waves resembling two black holes merging.
However, when the black hole exits on the other side, it creates a unique ‘anti-chirp’ signal distinct from a merger signal.
This means, if a black hole were to exit a wormhole into our Universe, it could easily be identified through the emitted gravitational waves.
However, this study does not prove the existence of wormholes, which remain purely hypothetical.
But studies like this show how gravitational wave astronomy can help us explore ideas once impossible to prove.
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