Stephen Hawking Says Black Holes Don’t Exist (Sort Of)

By Bill Andrews | January 29, 2014 1:53 pm

Stephen hawking 2008 nasa

If there’s one thing in physics that captures peoples’ imagination (besides time travel), it’s black holes. The regions of space-time so dense that nothing — not even a beam of light — can escape their gravitational pull seem to tug similarly on the human mind. But now, black hole pioneer Stephen Hawking has come out with a paper saying not just that we might have black holes all wrong — they might not even exist at all.

Black Hole Bio

“There are no black holes,” Hawking writes in a recent paper. He quickly qualifies that dramatic statement, however, by saying it’s only true “in the sense of regimes from which light can’t escape to infinity.” The objects themselves, already confirmed by astrophysicists, still exist, but just not the way we thought they did — if Hawking’s paper (based on a talk he gave last August) is right.

What’s going on is this: Classically, black holes have an event horizon surrounding them, which serves as the effective boundary of the black hole. Once you’ve gone past the event horizon, you can never get out again, no matter what, even if you’re a beam of light or a neutrino or something.

The problems come up when quantum physics, the crazy science of the very very small, enters the mix. A recent astrophysical paper suggested that when quantum physics is taken into account, the event horizon would actually be, as Hawking puts it, “surrounded by firewalls, bolts of outgoing radiation that would destroy any infalling observer.” This is at odds with the prevailing Einsteinian theory, as Nature elaborates:

Someone in free fall should perceive the laws of physics as being identical everywhere in the Universe — whether they are falling into a black hole or floating in empty intergalactic space. As far as Einstein is concerned, the event horizon should be an unremarkable place.

Hawking’s Headscratcher

To resolve the firewall issue, Hawking suggests that — surprise! — there is no event horizon. Instead there is an “apparent horizon,” which doesn’t hold stuff back to be trapped forever, so much as just delay and scramble it. That’s what he means by, “There are no black holes.” The classical idea of a black hole as an object that never lets things go might be flawed.

Hawking’s analysis was published on arXiv, a preprint server, and thus hasn’t been peer-reviewed. The Nature story quotes a bunch of other physicists saying the idea is plausible, but it’s still a good idea to be skeptical of all this. There might be another solution to the firewall paradox that leaves black holes intact — or, Hawking might be wrong, and the right solution is something even crazier.

It’s hard to say because Hawking left the actual nuts and bolts of the idea to other researchers. “The correct treatment remains a mystery,” as he told Nature. (His 3-page paper contains not a single equation — though, don’t worry, it’s still fairly incomprehensible if you’re not severely into this stuff.)

So once again, Hawking’s work could transform everything we know about black holes. Maybe the universe’s most greedy objects do eventually let go of their treasures, under certain conditions. Whatever the case, odds are they won’t loosen their grip on the public imagination.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: black holes
  • Adam Paul Mckay Carter

    Thinks that even though black holes are super dense, what goes in must come out. Such particles would themselves be so dense as to still be absorbing light and could explain dark matter

    • Andrei Rotariu

      yeh bro they come out in another place of time and space, another dimension… woooooooooooo

    • itsmyfirstday

      True that gravity attracts matter…but what would a faster than “speed of light” portal look like? It would be black, and as particles are attracted to it they would spiral inward until they disappeared (at the speed of light)…of course what would you see if something you were watching surpassed the speed of light?? I propose it couldn’t be seen…what do you say??

  • rasa

    Challenging idea…. but how it can be proved?

    Indeed, a part of my idea from 2 years ago was similar to Hawkins
    new idea and my argument was that the black holes are ways or holes toward absolute
    zero for collecting irregularity beginning from Big Bang (the matter, light,
    space, time etc.. are this irregularity)… when the matter world (or god of us)
    cannot escape from this enlarging vacuum it returns back. The end of world
    cannot be black holes, it can be similar to the before of the big bang ;)

    PhD student of Genetic

    • Archon Crypt

      Black hole is just like a tornado !!! At first gathering stuff that comes in its way and throwing them up someplace else that we aren’t even looking at right now. Black holes are no endless machines of space that could suck everything up. Its ridiculous !!! When the smallest of particles ( CHILD ) can reveal themselves and their mechanism , then it certainly applies to the ( PARENT ) too….

      • rasa

        It is based on my little information and imaginations that
        many amateurs have about space, quantum, etc… but there are many other questions… tornado direction is toward where? What
        is the mass (which is the main power of Black Holes)?… or Black Holes bends time
        and space toward where (where is the end point)? J

    • Emkay

      re-read your post slowly, one word at a time….edit for clarity..

  • Anthony Hall

    I think I have substantial evidence for black holes. My petrol tank seems to…

  • Ben Jones

    “when quantum physics, the crazy science of the very very small, enters the mix.”

    Could you not? Please?

  • Jonathan Sowder

    Hawking’s new theory is interesting. If the event horizon does not exist but is replaced by an “apparent horizon;” his theory then is based on firewalls/bolts of radiation(in this case) that scrambles and delays energy from entering into a non existing black hole. In theory his apparent horizon doesn’t destroy energy but delays/scrambles it for eternity from entering into a black hole that doesn’t exist. My thoughts on this theory is that the event horizon does exist but becomes infinitely smaller to the point one could argue, there is no end to a black hole. The energy/light never has a chance to escape because of the gravitational pull of a constantly decreasing in size, infinitely smaller event horizon into an existing black hole. Light is never destroyed but can never escape the event horizon nor enters into the black hole. Light/energy is then in limbo and becomes compressed to the point were light is no longer visible nor destroyed. Also for one to prove/evidence that a black hole does exists, one must have light/energy to see an event horizon. After a super nova happens the energy from the star lingers and dissipates with time from the gravitational pull of the newly formed black hole. Perhaps light is the reason why black holes do exist. The energy is never destroyed and keeps a black hole “open” continually. Light/energy then acts as a fuel or catalyst if you will, which enters into the event horizon keeping the black hole from “closing.” That’s my thoughts on this theory and how I imagine it.

    • itsme

      read paper again

  • http://www.sciencepantheism.com Andrew Planet

    Does that mean that a black hole is only a black hole relative to the observable part of the electromagnetic spectrum? There being such a thing as Hawking radiation, if there is, I mean?

  • Qasem Bagheri

    Does that mean that a black hole is only a black hole relative to the observable part of the electromagnetic spectrum? There being such a thing as Hawking radiation, if there is, I mean?

  • Mark Brundle

    Black holes ?? They are the plug holes in deep space where all the dead stuff goes.

  • John Panoussos

    My english are not perfect ,and i am no expert in the subject , but I will try to explain my thoughts it as clear as I can.Could it be possible that black holes are potitions in space with close to absolute 0 movement speed?

    Like a pilar in a river.It creates an effect like it is drawning everything in, but it actually tries to make everything touching it have the same speed .

    If we take Einstain’s theory , that the time is advansing diferently based on the speed of the object , that would make the black holes look to us , like they have stopped time entirely. That could also explain in a sence why close to no light is coming off from them. The time inside them could move so slow that the light stops moving when it comes in contact.
    The material expelled then should be pulverized planet , or other astral bodies, like when a boat crushes to the aforementioned pillar.
    As I mentioned I am no expect , but i would really like to have given you a nice idea for research.

    • DrNomad

      Black holes do indeed move.l through space. The super massive black hole in our galaxy is moving with our galaxy.

      • John Panoussos

        What if the universe is not linear , where a straight line could connect to points, but where a curved one instead?

        then
        if the angle of the line was increasing , the points would look to us ,
        that look it with a linear view , like moving away .
        But that would mean going against many astrophysicists and scientists so I don’t expect to be right.

        • Himankan

          If we take the bending of space into consideration, you may be right!

  • Jeff Barsky

    Poor Stephen, he wants so bad to make Black Holes everything to all people that he eliminated black holes.

  • Souvik Haldar

    Luv like a black hole

  • Mario Flores

    ES POCA Y CIENTIFICA PREDICION..LOS AGUJEROS NEGRO ..SON ESTABILIZADORES DEL ESPACIO TIEMPO…SON LOS REGULADORES DEL DESVORDE DE LOS SISTEMAS…QUE HACEN QUE LAS ESTRELLAS Y GALAXIA COLAPSEN

    • Emkay

      gee thanks…

  • ANOOP

    i am not agee with hawking sir ,black hole is already difined topic,it’s not athought b.h exist in my nature

  • Lale Nenadovic

    There are so many black holes with such strong gravitational pull, that you can end up financially broke before you know it !

    • Don’t Even Try It!

      I think I live in a black hole and I am certain I drive a black hole!

  • Kip Keino

    There are so many extremes at the surface of a black hole, like a neutron star on steroids. Phenomenally bright, dense, and hot.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Patricia Conly

    Thank you. I have wondered if there were some relation between black holes and the Big Bang(s).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Norman Holly

    how come Hawking is so brilliant and I am so stupid?

  • Dalton

    So I was out mountain biking with some friends today in the mountains on. Vancouver Island. We were leaning against some trees and questioned whether they were there 3 seconds ago and whether they are there 3 seconds from now. Blackholes and time and quantum mechanics produce interesting questions as to perceptions of belief systems and reality.

  • Jorge

    Sorry for my english, but I´ll try to be as clear as I can, I hope I can make my self clear: As I once heard from Michio Kaku, if there are black holes where everythig that goes in cannot come out there also has to be it´s counterpart, that is a white hole, where all that went into a black hole has to come out, I don´t thing that matter disappers just like that, It would go against a basic law of physics that matter doesn´t disappers, it trasforms from one state to another. And I also see black holes for the universe what hurriacanes are for mother earth, the help to keep the wheater in balance.

  • Anil Jagtap

    Wrote to Mr. Hawkings long back about my imagination about time. I am sure lot of people may have bombarding emails on him with sane/insane ideas. But still, I too did send a mail.

    My imagination is, this universe does exists in time and not otherwise.

  • Nandhu214

    If we think blackhole has immense gravity and if it pulls light towrds it then wouldn’t increase the speed of light.For example there are two people walking in a constant speed and one from the front pulls the person to his side then wouldn’t increase the speed of the person.Like that if light going towards a blackhole increases the speed of the light.But its said that speed of the light cannot increase.

    I don’t know much about physics and I hope nobody throw eggs at me :-)

  • itsme

    Talking about theoretical physics to the masses is like kicking a donkey when the donkey has a machine gun. Fun insure.

  • kendallpeak

    He just keeps finding new delusional facts to fit his latest theories.

  • Himankan

    Is it anything related to particle-antiparticle collision, I think it is.

  • Bill Lackland

    Oh yes they do. There’s one big one in the White House.

  • itsmyfirstday

    Why can’t black holes be a point in space where matter travels faster than the speed of light…instead of being caused by a massive gravity pull…a black hole would offer particles the speed of light PLUS…this would explain so much more…think about it….

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