NOT (Black Holes Do Not Exist)
A physicist has made the extraordinary claim that she’s proven mathematically that black holes cannot exist. If true (don’t get your hopes up) this could have implications for not only spacetime and the big bang itself but more importantly, all future sci-fi movies.
Yes, you heard me right; mathematical proof that black holes cannot exist. My first inclination upon reading this was “total bullshit”. Now that I’ve calmed down and read as much as I can on this I’m now actually thinking, “total and utter bullshit”.
Black holes have become one of those rare scientific topics that has captured our imaginations and become part of our culture to such a degree that most everyone you know is familiar with it at least on some level.
The general idea is that certain stars with enough mass at the end of their lives explodes its outer layers while at the same time having its massive-enough core collapse in such a way that nothing known to physics can stop it. The forces that stop the collapse and produce a neutron star or pulsar (degeneracy pressure) cannot hold back a collapse when the mass is above a certain point (the TOV Limit). The result is a black hole as tiny and as unfathomable as its gravitational pull is mighty. Essentially a black hole is considered a gravitational singularity which is described by various models as being rife with infinities…infinite curvature, infinite density, infinite temperature etc. Swaddling this singularity is what’s called an event horizon which is the roughly spherical region of space requiring a speed greater than light to escape from it. Hence, once that invisible envelope is entered, there is no way out. Even light cannot exit since, by definition, it cannot travel faster than itself.
There are many models of black holes: rotating, non-rotating, static black holes, even naked black holes. They also go by many names like Ker black holes and Schwarzschild black holes (but none named Bob yet). All of these various theorized black holes though agree at their most fundamental level that a star explodes and collapses into something crazy-dense. Well physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in the College of Arts and Sciences says that even that is incorrect and she has the maths to prove it.
Her claim relies critically on a discovery by none other Stephen Hawking who shocked the physics world in 1974 with his theory of Hawking Radiation. It was long thought that black holes were black, really black. So black that nothing ever could come out which made sense since the event horizon was supposed to be the ultimate one-way door. But, by using quantum physics, he was able to convincingly show that black holes actually emitted radiation. One way to envision his idea was that gravitational energy from the singularity creates pairs of oppositely-charged virtual particles near the event horizon. Instead of mutually annihilating, as these virtual particles are wont to do, one particle gets sucked in and one would escape outwards to infinity (becoming a real particle in the process). For technical reasons, this process ultimately results in the ever increasing reduction of the mass of the black hole. Over an unimaginably long time (possibly a googol years) this will cause the slow evaporation of all singularities, eventually making them go out in a blaze of gamma rays disappearing forever.
Mersini-Houghton’s theory is essentially this: the collapse of black-hole-worthy stars produces a TREMENDOUS amount of Hawking radiation. So much that the star actually loses a significant amount of it mass as it collapses. The creation of the singularity and event horizon then is short-circuited because there is not enough mass left to make it happen. Hence Black Holes do not exist.So what does happen? She claims that the remaining matter simply rebounds outward in an ordinary boring titanic explosion.
If that weren’t enough, she makes, in my eyes, an even more bold claim. One that few are even talking about, focusing instead on this black hole hub-bub. Apparently she has achieved one of the holy grails of physics, the unification of the two most successful and interesting theories, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. She says:
“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,…And that’s a big deal.”
She is certainly correct that it would be a big deal. I’ve been waiting quite a long time for this. I’m not hopeful however that she has succeeded if the first thing this newly merged theory predicts is the non-existence of black holes.
Stayed tuned for my next post to see why I and many others think she is completely wrong about this and why the evidence is overwhelming that black holes, or something very much like black holes, most likely really really exists.
Paper (not peer reviewed)
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech