Black holes are possibly one of the most mysterious and unfathomable entities in the known universe. They are generally considered to be black, dense bodies of matter with a gravitational pull that is so strong that even light itself cannot escape their unrelenting grasp.
But, in the largely uncharted environment of deep space, our hypotheses regarding the nature and composition of its constituents must occasionally be found lacking as new evidence comes to light.
Recent evidence suggested that the Higgs Boson was too light to be the originator of mass and that the universe should not even exist at all, and now new calculations indicate that black holes are mathematically impossible, a fact which, if true, would plunge our most basic understanding of the universe into confusion.
"I’m still not over the shock," said Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in the College of Arts and Sciences. "We’ve been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about."
Mersini-Houghton, by merging two seemingly conflicting theories, appears to have proven, mathematically, that our concept of black holes is an impossible assumption.
Until now, it was thought that black holes formed when after the death of a massive star, it collapses under its own gravity into a comparatively tiny space known as a singularity. Scientists suggested that this singularity was enclosed by an invisible membrane called the event horizon, or the point of no return, as it was believed that anything that crossed the event horizon would not be able to escape the huge gravitational pull of the black hole.
Despite its apparent plausibility, this concept of black hole formation has continued to challenge astronomers and mathematicians as it effectively causes throws two fundamental theories of the universe into opposition. On one hand, Einstein’s theory of gravity supports the formation of black holes in this way; however, a fundamental law of quantum theory states that no universal information can ever truly disappear. This inconsistency has led to an mathematical grey area known as the information loss paradox.
Mersini-Houghton is now proposing an entirely new idea based around Stephen Hawking’s 1974 discovery, namely that black holes emitted radiation. This fact has allowed scientists to detect an increasing number of black holes in the universe, but the new study has indicated that in giving off the radiation, stars also shed mass. A loss of mass means that as the star shrinks it no longer has the density to become a black hole. The new theory states that a dying star must undergo a valedictory swelling before it finally explodes; in this scenario, neither a singularity nor an event horizon can form, and it reduces the old theory to fiction.
"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 Mersini-Houghton. "And that’s a big deal."