Black holes have long been the bread and butter of the physics world; They’re sexy, they’re mysterious, they’re enigmatic. Since their “discovery” by Einstein in around 1916, there has been much ado about black holes.
Their history is much more storied and complex than a famed astrophysicist merely stumbling upon them one day a hundred years ago. Without getting too complicated, what we refer to as black holes are also sometimes called “singularities.” Simply put, they are theorized to be the point (or sphere) in which gravity becomes so great that it collapses in on itself and “punctures” spacetime. The gravity is so great that space and even time become so warped that nothing, not even light itself, can escape the pull.
While Einstein tinkered with the idea of black holes, he stated that he wholeheartedly believed they were a mere mathematical anomaly. Theoretical creatures that most likely didn’t exist outside of an equation.
Fast forward a handful of decades, though, and modern science has come to the conclusion that black holes not only physically exist, but that they are common. Recent science has indicated that there might be a supermassive black hole in the center of most galaxies. The current understanding is that they come into being as a result of the “death” of a supermassive star, which ultimately collapses under its own weight. The collapse continues until a point of infinite density is reached. The very fabric of space itself can’t withstand these conditions, and a black hole is born.
While the scientific community has reached a general agreement that black holes do exist, their nature still baffles and has been hotly debated for decades. One of the most notable and respected voices on the topic of black holes is Professor Stephen Hawking. The renowned professor has had several theories regarding the fundamental truth of black holes over the expanse of his career, most of which have defined and redefined the field of astrophysics.
“Black holes ain’t as black as they are painted.”
The biggest conundrum surrounding black holes has had to do with the destruction of information. The math behind Einstein’s Theory of Relativity indicated that information that is sucked into black holes would be ultimately destroyed. However, equally valid and important theories state that information in the Universe can never be lost or destroyed. It can change form, be recycled, but never, ever destroyed.
Obviously, both theories can’t be true. Hence the “black hole paradox.”
According to CNN, Professor Hawking thinks he’s got black holes figured out once and for all. The famed scientist and professor announced his new theory last week.
“The hole would need to be large and if it was rotating it might have a passage to another universe. But you couldn’t come back to our universe. So, although I’m keen on space flight, I’m not going to try that.”
Yep, Hawking’s bold new theory suggests that black holes may really be something similar to the wormholes we’ve heard so much about in sci-fi shows like Star Trek. Of course, it doesn’t sound like they’re a very practical means of travel, being one-way tickets to some heretofore unknown universe.
Stephen Hawking’s new theory wasn’t the only time the enigmatic subject of black holes made news this week. Just yesterday, Popular Science published a story about a newly discovered binary black hole system. The double black holes have been found doing an intergalactic dance in the center of the closest quasar to Earth.
Quasars are the brightest objects in the known Universe. While this discovery is a landmark find, being the first of its kind, scientists now believe that binary black holes might be twirling in the center of many other, if not most, quasars.
Because black holes are so far away, most of humanity’s understanding of what they are, how they behave, and what happens to the information they gobble up must naturally remain theoretical. For now, at least. It’s almost certain that as our ability to traverse space improves, visiting one will be on civilization’s collective bucket list. Until then, black holes will remain science at its sexiest and most mysterious.
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