Black holes don't exist, at least according to mathematical calculations done by a physics professor, Laura Mersini-Houghton, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Black holes have long been one of the greatest mysteries of the Universe, so, obviously, Mersini-Houghton's statement that they don't exist has caused much controversy. However, the concept of black holes is more complicated when looked at from a math and physics point of view.
Most of us think of black holes as stars that collapse in massive explosions, which causes them to become smaller and denser. Mersini-Houghton isn't questioning the existence of that. What she is questioning, however, are what properties black holes are attributed with, such as a singularity within the star's explosion that creates the event horizon. An event horizon is a point so strong that nothing can escape the pull of the black hole, once something goes into a black hole, it disappears.
The two leading theories about the Universe contradict this, though. Albert Einstein's theory of gravity predicts that black holes can form, but his law of quantum theory says that nothing from the Universe can ever disappear.
So how can both theories be correct? The only way to combine the two is by stating that some properties that we associate with black holes don't exist, meaning that black holes, as scientists know them, are impossible.
"I'm still not over the shock," says Mersini-Houghton. "We've been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about."
Stephen Hawking once used quantum mechanics for explaining how black holes throw off radiation when a star collapses. Since then, we've detected radiation across the Universe, using that for discovering black holes.
Mersini-Houghton believes that radiation is still emitted, but suggests that when a star explodes like that, it quickly loses too much mass to have the density to become a black hole, as we know it.
This means that there is no singularity creating an event horizon. So, according to Mersini-Houghton, if black holes exist, they're not really black holes in scientific terms.
However, if Mersini-Houghton is right, this changes what we know about the Big Bang that created the Universe, too, which scientists believe started with a singularity. If a singularity is impossible, many Big Bang theories could be debunked.
"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," says Mersini-Houghton. "And that's a big deal."
Mersini-Houghton's work has not yet been reviewed by her peers, so only time will tell if she's right.