EVE, as you know, is a game about space. Exploration is a big part of space, at least, in real life. And for a game about space, EVE didn't have a whole lot of exploration up until March 09. Sure, there was the thrill a new player got when discovering a new system with a cool nebula 'background' or the thrill a miner got when he found a new system filled with thick asteroids. But, in terms of actual Christoper Columbus-style 'real' exploration, there wasn't much. The game even featured “exploration frigates” and “exploration sites,” but these exploration sites were little more than missions that you got by probing them out instead of going to a mission agent.
However, EVE went a bit more Christoper Columbus in March 09 with the release of Apocrypha, the expansion that added wormhole exploration. Like the exploration sites previously featured in the game, you find wormholes by using scan probes. Unlike the sites, wormholes lead to completely uncharted systems that aren't colonized by NPC empires, or player alliances. Despite what you may have heard, there is a lot of fun to be had in wormholes and, because EVE is all about the internet spaceship bucks, believe it or not there’s money to be had as well. There are a lot of false ideas out on the internet about wormholes in EVE, and let's clear some of them up:
Full disclosure: My EVE character is in a wormhole exploration corporation which chartered a wormhole exploration alliance, so you could consider me and my friends unapologetic wormhole fanatics. However, we've been running wormhole sites since the day the Apocrypha expansion came out. We lost a lot of ships in the beginning, we almost left wormholes to do other stuff in the middle, and now we have wormhole exploration down to a science.
Myth #1: Finding wormholes is hard/impossible – False.
If you don't know what you're doing, sure, it's hard. If you don't know how to use scan probes, sure, it's hard. Once you know your way around the scanning screen and you have your head on straight, it's actually quite simple, and sort of fun. Probing is sort of an art, and the official EVE wiki has an excellent guide on how to do it. Just remember that not every known system (or kspace, as us in the wormhole biz call regular systems), will have a wormhole. However, when you do find your first wormhole, warp to it and see that big shining ball smiling at you, it is a thrilling experience.
Myth #2: The NPCs inside wormholes are so hard, I will die instantly – False.
Wormholes feature NPC bad guys that have a new class of AI called Sleepers. In the game's plot, these are drones left behind by some long-gone aliens to defend their systems. Believe me when I tell you, these baddies are unlike anything you've ever encountered. However, they're only at combat sites inside the wormhole, meaning you are free to safely roam around without fear of being alpha-struck to your pod. However, once you do go to a combat site, be warned.
Unlike regular AI, they won't just simply attack the first ship that warps in for the duration of the site (so you can't just have a 'tank draw aggro'). They will change whomever they are attacking fairly regularly, and seem to have a fondness for ECM and logistics ships. Secondly, they hit hard. The first strike from a wave of Sleeper ships is devastating, and can take out several improperly tanked frigates and cruisers. If you plan to take on Sleeper combat sites, plan to tank a lot of damage, but don't bring your cheapest ship. If you plan to fail, you will fail.
Myth #3: There is a lot of money to be made in wormholes – True.
If you know what you're doing, that is. First, let's talk about ratting the wormhole combat sites. Sleepers drop loot that is used in the production of the uber Tech 3 ships, which everybody wants and are very expensive. There are also mag and radar sites in wormholes that (if somebody you know can hack them) can exponentially expand your profit margins from your wormhole exploration.
Second, there's the mining. If you're into mining, the asteroid belts are like what you've dreamed about. Thick, full asteroid belts filled with high-end ores. The exact kind of stuff you can't find in high sec. Getting that ore out of the wormhole might be a shipping nightmare (see Myth #4), but if you can, there is big money to be made in mining. Third, there is a gas mining, which is found at wormhole Ladar sites and is similar to asteroid mining except that instead of shooting rocks, you're shooting (or 'vacuuming') clouds of gas. Of course, the thing to keep in mind is that the profits you can expect is tied into the class of wormhole you're in. A Class 1 wormhole will only keep a newbie and his Ibis happy, where as a Class 6 wormhole profits can give a 0.0 alliance's raiding party full pockets.
Myth #4: I will get stuck in a wormhole and have to pod myself – True.
Wormholes have a mass limit, meaning after a certain number of ships of a certain size have gone through it, it will close, and it doesn't care who's on the kspace side and who's on the wormspace side. For this reason, it's good to have a probe ship with you and your wormhole exploration fleets. Smaller corps may be pressed for manpower and the guy probing may have to hop into a combat ship, but you want that probing ship. At least have somebody in your fleet give up a gun to fit a probe launcher.
Now, in the months that my friends and I have been sticking our warp drives inside wormholes, we've gotten stuck a lot, and we're pretty careful about probing and things. The fact of the matter is that if you explore wormholes for any length of time, somebody in your fleet will get stranded on the wrong side of a collapsing wormhole.
True story: On one of our wormhole expeditions, a wormhole was close to collapse, and a salvage-destroyer (with the probe launcher) and a battleship were on the wrong side of it. The battleship would have definitely collapsed the wormhole, so our nice battleship pilot let the savager go first, since a destroyer has drastically less mass than a battleship. As it turned out, that destroyer was enough to collapse the wormhole, stranding our battleship pilot and his fully-fitted battleship on the wrong side of the wormhole, forcing him to self-destruct his ship. No matter how careful you are – somebody will get stuck on the wrong side. Hopefully, it’s not the ship carrying your loot.
These are just a few of the myths about wormholes cleared up, but I invite anybody who is curious about them to fit a probe launcher and a few battlecruisers and investigate them. It doesn't matter if you're a 200-man PVP corp, or if you are a solo miner, there are ways to make profit and have fun in wormholes. When life inside known space gets you down, try exploring the unknown on the other side of the shiny ball.
For more information, see the detailed wormhole guide on the EVE wiki.