A model based on the principles of black hole construction may have just proved what famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking predicted four decades ago when he noted that all matter that entered beyond the event horizon of a black hole was not always trapped there and that some of the matter escaped. Those emissions became known as “Hawking radiation.” That radiation has now been detected — albeit using sound particles as opposed to light particles. And if confirmed, it could very well lead to a Nobel Prize for Hawking.
The Christian Science Monitor reported August 15 that Jeff Steinhauer, an experimental physicist from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, has been working on models of black holes for years. But whereas a black hole would use light particles (or “photons”), he has developed a construct, which the Monitor referred to as a “tabletop model of the cosmic abyss,” using sound particles (or “phonons”) to illustrate how matter would be radiated away from a black hole.
Although there are those that remain skeptical about Steinhauer’s findings, he is certain he’s made a breakthrough. He told the Christian Science Monitor as much.
“My work confirms the existence of Hawking radiation.”
Steinhauer has been working toward this goal for quite some time. As Gizmodo pointed out, physicists determined that an analogous substitute for the black hole might be Bose-Einstein condensates, which are described as “exotic forms of ultra-cold quantum states matter where a bunch of atoms behave like a single atom.” In 2009, Steinhauer used condensates to produce a supersonic flow for about eight milliseconds in a sea of 100,000 chilled rubidium atoms.
That experiment proved it was possible to create a black hole analog. For Steinhauer, it set him up to be able to potentially prove that Hawking radiation existed, along with entangled photons.
In 2014, Steinhauer got even closer to proving Stephen Hawking correct when he reported the detection of the Hawking radiation phenomenon in one of his acoustic black hole experiments. He was able to reach that point by creating the sonic equivalent of a laser’s beam-generating cavity so as to boost the signal.
And that led to making improvements on his experimental setup, so much so that Steinhauer says the model has observed entangled phonons being emitted by an acoustic black hole. He noted that the radiation came about as a result of the condensates and wasn’t triggered.
“The idea,” he explained, “is that at the horizon, which is the boundary between the supersonic flow and the subsonic flow, that pairs of sound waves should be created spontaneously.” The phonons would be paired, just the same as if they were photons in an actual black hole. They (the phonons) inside the artificial black hole would be fighting against the supersonic flow, while those outside would escape from the subsonic flow.
“Physicists are interested in black holes because it’s a testing ground for new laws of physics that physicists are trying to develop,” Steinhauer told The Monitor. Lending credence to his statement was the announcement last week, as was reported by the Inquisitr, that it was possible that matter entering black holes may not be stuck for eternity being crushed into ever smaller particles. Instead, the study suggested, there may actually be “back doors” to the black holes, perhaps allowing the exit of matter — possibly through theoretical “wormholes” — to some other point in space.
His testing, if his work is confirmed, could be monumental for theoretical physics. It could be an important step in creating the unified theory and bridges the gap between general relativity and quantum mechanics. It could, once confirmed, also net Stephen Hawking a Nobel Prize, Gizmodo has pointed out, for his 1974 prediction of the black hole radiation.
Theodore Jacobson, a theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland, is reserving his final opinion for a later date, following more tests. He told the Christian Science Monitor that the detections of the Hawking radiation were very “delicate” and, although it is “plausible” that Steinhauer had actually detected the radiation, he wanted to see “more detailed measurements of the system.”
He added that most theoreticians have no problem believed that Hawking radiation exists, but a laboratory analog of a black hole, although a suitable substitute, could never produce the certainty of actually observing and detecting the radiation near a real black hole.
[Image via Shutterstock]