When a huge star many times the mass of the sun comes to the end of its life it collapses in on itself and forms a singularity – creating a black hole where gravity is so strong that not even light itself can escape.
At least, that’s what we thought.
A scientist has sensationally said that it is impossible for black holes to exist – and she even has mathematical proof to back up her claims.
If true, her research could force physicists to scrap their theories of how the universe began.
The research was conducted by Professor Laura Mersini-Houghton from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the College of Arts and Scientists.
She claims that as a star dies, it releases a type of radiation known as Hawking radiation – predicted by Professor Stephen Hawking.
THE BLACK HOLE INFORMATION PARADOX
One of the biggest unanswered questions about black holes is the so-called information paradox.
Under current theories for black holes it is thought that nothing can escape from the event horizon around a black hole – not even light itself.
Inside the black hole is thought to be a singularity where matter is crushed to an infinitesimally small point as predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity.
However, a fundamental law of quantum theory states that no information from the universe can ever disappear.
This creates a paradox; how can a black hole make matter and information 'disappear'?
Professor Mersini-Houghton's new theory manages to explain why this might be so – namely because black holes as we know them cannot exist. However in this process, Professor Mersini-Houghton believes the star also sheds mass, so much so that it no longer has the density to become a black hole.
Before the black hole can form, she said, the dying star swells and explodes.
The singularity as predicted never forms, and neither does the event horizon – the boundary of the black hole where not even light can escape.
‘I’m still not over the shock,’ said Professor Mersini-Houghton.
‘We’ve been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about.’
Experimental evidence may one day provide physical proof as to whether or not black holes exist in the universe.
But for now, Mersini-Houghton says the mathematics are conclusive.
What’s more, the research could apparently even call into question the veracity of the Big Bang theory.
Most physicists think the universe originated from a singularity that began expanding with the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago.
If it is impossible for singularities to exist, however, as partially predicted by Professor Mersini-Houghton, then that theory would also be brought into question.
One of the reasons black holes are so bizarre is that they pit two fundamental theories of the universe against each other.
Namely, Einstein’s theory of gravity predicts the formation of black holes. But a fundamental law of quantum theory states that no information from the universe can ever disappear.
Efforts to combine these two theories proved problematic, and has become known as the black hole information paradox – how can matter permanently disappear in a black hole as predicted?
Professor Mersini-Houghton’s new theory does manage to mathematically combine the two fundamental theories, but with unwanted effects for people expecting black holes to exist.
‘Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories – Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum mechanics – for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony,’ said Professor Mersini-Houghton.
‘And that’s a big deal.’
THERE ARE NO BLACK HOLES, ONLY GREY HOLES, CLAIMS HAWKING
Earlier this year Professor Stephen Hawking shocked physicists by saying 'there are no black holes'.
In a paper published online, Professor Hawking instead argues there are 'grey holes'
'The absence of event horizons means that there are no black holes – in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity,' he says in the paper, called Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting For Black Holes.
He says that the idea of an event horizon, from which light cannot escape, is flawed.
He suggests that instead light rays attempting to rush away from the black hole’s core will be held as though stuck on a treadmill and that they can slowly shrink by spewing out radiation.