What?! No black holes? What do we do know?


Black Hole by MC

The problem with black holes is that they are black and they are holes. For an averagely intelligent human this can mean nothing more than, well, nothing; as in since it is black and it’s a hole it does not exist. So what’s the point of exulting over proving that something that is non-existent does not exist?

The average human mind, which constitutes a vast majority on this planet, cannot look at “nothing” and infer through celestial perturbations that there is indeed something.

Stephen Hawking, the superstar physicist who is among the creators of black-hole theory, now says there are no black holes. To which the average mind is unlikely to say, “What?! No black holes? What do we do know? Where do we banish our worst enemies?”

The key feature of the profound debate about black holes has centered around the idea of a sharply defined rim called event horizon which is supposed to be so unimaginably powerful that nothing, including light, can escape it. That has been the popular understanding of the idea of an event horizon so far.

One of the major challenges of a black hole’s rim has been the violation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity,according to which as pointed out by Zeeya Merali in Nature,  the event horizon is an unremarkable space. At the heart of the debate is what is called the black-hole firewall paradox. Einstein’s theory says that anyone passing through the event horizon may not feel much initially but eventually they would be stretched into shreds and finally be crushed. In short, not a very pleasant feeling.

However, a thought experiment done by theoretical physicist Joseph Polchinski of the Kavli Institute and his colleagues seems to produce a wholly disruptive result. They approached it from the standpoint of the laws of quantum mechanics which rule the world of subatomic particles and concluded that the event horizon is actually a region full of energy, sort a of a firewall. So unlike Einstein’s imaginary astronaut, who would get stretched into shreds, Polchinski’s imaginary astronaut would be burnt. For the averagely intelligent there is not much of a choice between being shredded and toasted but for physicists it changes everything.

This is what Merali quotes Hawking as saying::

“There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory,” Hawking told Nature. Quantum theory, however, “enables energy and information to escape from a black hole”. A full explanation of the process, the physicist admits, would require a theory that successfully merges gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature. But that is a goal that has eluded physicists for nearly a century. “The correct treatment,” Hawking says, “remains a mystery.” 

What Hawking is proposing now to ensure that neither the general theory of relativity nor quantum mechanics gets violated seems remarkably simple. He argues that the event horizon is not what we perceive it to be. “A different resolution of the paradox is proposed, namely that gravitational collapse produces apparent horizons but no event horizons behind which information is lost,” Hawking says in his paper on the arXiv preprint server. In other words, the information that we thought it is lost is not lost but merely regurgitated by the black hole. As it happens with things regurgitated, we would not able to tell what the original matter looked like before it was scrambled. In this scenario, the light once sucked in by the black hole does try to escape but is trapped at the apparent horizon before eventually being released in some unrecognizable form.

If none of this makes any sense to you, there is nothing I can do to help. Get in touch with Professor Hawking. I understand it enough to think that I understand it. Now crack that paradox if you can.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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