What Does a Wormhole Look Like?

In science fiction movies, games and television, I’ve seen lots of attempts to depict spatial wormholes and “portals to other universes.” In nearly every case they get the geometry wrong. It doesn’t look like this nor does it look like this. Even a recent image from Scientific American got it wrong. The ex-mathematics and physics major in me finds this frustrating. I’d find it easier to suspend disbelief for your story if you try to get the physics and math right.

Maybe I’m a weird person but to me it was always easy to imagine what a real wormhole would look like. I just think about gravitational curvature of a two dimensional space into three dimensions and think about how the optics would work in such situation. If you think about Einstein-Rosen bridges in two dimensional space and think about the how the optics work, it’s pretty easy to imagine what a wormhole would look to a two dimensional creature–just project the light rays along the geodesics. Once you’ve got a good mental purchase on that, you can then project this context into three and four dimensional space.

I guess if I had the patience, I could draw a lot of diagrams and write down a lot of description to make this clear to you. It’s sort of like writing down a description of how to tie your shoes or how to blow bubbles with chewing gum. It’s easier to show than to describe.

Anyway, I set myself a project a couple of years ago after I started using GIMP. I would figure out a way to use the image manipulation tools of GIMP to make an image of realistic wormhole. This sat on my mental back burner for many months simply because I thought it was harder than it really was. I thought I’d have to write some ray tracing scripts in Python or something.

It turned out to be very simple and, now that I know how to do it, here is my first image of what a wormhole would really look like:

Thumbnail image of an artistic depiction of wormhole in extragalactic space

I’ve decided to title this image “The results of Experiment 24: Successful bridge projection one or two megaparsecs outside the Black-eye Galaxy.”

Since making this image, I then discovered to my horror and joy that there are actually several other sites out there that have images of wormholes that actually get it pretty much right.

  • Orion’s Arm gets it right.
  • NASA, no surprises here, get it right.
  • Rudy Rucker, showed me how to get it right way back in Eighties. Thanks for expanding my mind with math Rudy!
  • HC Berg (A sculptor and artist no less!) gets it right.
  • MC Escher–yeah what a shock, right?–got it right.
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