Wormholes through space-time may actually exist, according to new research.
Once confined to the pages of science fiction, they are said to create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe.
Scientists have found they may magnify light by a factor of 100,000 – which is key to finding the strange tunnels.
Albert Einstein predicted their existence more than a century ago in his theory of general relativity. Now a Chinese team reckon we may be able to spot them – thanks to a phenomenon called ‘gravitational lensing’.
It happens when galaxies warp the fabric of space – creating a natural magnifying glass that greatly boosts light from distant background objects.
Under the right conditions one could theoretically use a wormhole to cut interstellar travel from millions of years – to hours or minutes.
Lead author Dr Mian Zhu, of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said: ‘We systematically investigate the microlensing effect of an electrically charged spherically symmetric wormhole.’
The light source is remote from the throat, which would flare out on either side of the ‘cosmic subway’.
Dr Zhu said: ‘The numerical result shows the range of total magnification is up to 100,000 depending on various metrics. Our investigation could shed new light on exploring the wormhole with the microlensing effect.’
Wormholes could even act like time machines. You might emerge from one end earlier than when you entered the other.
They have featured in a host of Hollywood blockbusters including Interstellar, Event Horizon, Contact and Stargate. They also come up in Star Trek.
Gravitational lensing is like observing galaxies under the microscope. Light is stretched due to the gravitational field of the cosmic object in front of it, explained Dr Zhu.
Wormholes may be some of the most powerful lenses around. Machines like the James Webb Space Telescope could be used to spot them.
The technique is already used to probe some of the biggest mysteries of the universe, such as dark matter and the finer points of general relativity.
Dr Zhu and colleagues calculated how a wormhole with an electric charge would magnify and warp the light of objects behind it – opening the door to proving their existence.
Distinguishing them would be possible by looking for small differences from black holes, said Dr Zhu.
Gravitational lensing splits and warps light in such a way it often produces multiple images of an object.
For black holes, the process can result in any number of copies, reports New Scientist.
But for charged wormholes, the researchers found there can only be either one image or three.
Dr Zhu said: ‘Remarkably, there will be at most three images. We study all the situations including three images, two images and one image, respectively.
‘If there are three, one should be extremely bright and the other two should be slightly dimmer.
‘In these images gravitational lensing can magnify an object by as much as 100,000 times.’
If a group each produced this pattern, that could help confirm they were wormholes rather than black holes.
The study is in the journal Physical Review D.