Stephen Hawking may have found the answer to the black hole information paradox, a problem that has plagued physicists for the past 40 years. Black holes are so massive that even light cannot escape their gravitational pull if it gets too close. Not only does this mean that black holes are invisible, but it also hints at the possibility of an irretrievable destruction of information and thus a violation of one of the central tenets of scientific theory.
Hawking’s latest paper, written with colleagues Malcolm Perry and Andrew Strominger, proposes a solution to this problem by suggesting that as particles fall into a black hole, photons (subatomic light packets)and gravitons (gravitational energy packets) strip the particles of information and store it on the boundary.
However, Professor Hawking explained that “the information about in-going particles is returned, but in a chaotic and useless form… For all practical purposes the information is lost.”
Nevertheless, this information is stored on the event horizon in ‘soft hairs’: individual light rays that are frozen as space-time deformities while moving away from the black hole in a phenomenon referred to as ‘super-translation’. According to this theory, every time a particle falls into a black hole, it adds a new soft hair to the black hole in the form of these almost zero-energy photons and gravitons.
Black holes are some of the greatest mysteries humankind have encountered and, as the authors of the paper admit, “a complete description of the holographic plate and resolution of the information paradox remains an open challenge”. Their mystery is matched only by their potential: if Hawking’s new theory is correct, then black holes may not be eternal prisons, but there still exists the possibility that they form , admittedly, one-way passages to other universes.
Photo: National Geographic