New research into the nature of black holes proposes these regions of immense gravitational force are not as ruthless as some experts may suggest.
In fact, scientists at The Ohio State University say black holes are nothing more than giant harmless balls of cosmic strings that create imperfect copies of whatever falls into them.
This runs counter to an earlier argument advanced by other experts, who said that black holes are enveloped by a curtain of energy that lights up whatever crosses its edge.
Black Holes Are Massive Fuzzballs Of Energy
In a new paper published in the Journal of High Energy Physics, a team of physicists led by Samir Mathur of OSU says black holes are massive fuzzballs that gain more mass as they suck more objects in.
They say, as an object is drawn to the event horizon, the point at which there is no going back for anything that gets too close, the black hole's fuzzy surface rises up to meet the object before it can reach the part of hottest radiation.
Black holes are regions in space with extreme gravitational pull. Even light, once it falls in, fails to get out. They are formed from the death of supermassive stars that condense all that material into a small, super-dense core. Scientists believe that black holes compress any object they pull in into infinite density.
Hawking's Information Paradox
Mathur and his team believe their fuzzball theory provides the best explanation for Stephen Hawking's information paradox.
In the 1970s, Hawking said that any object that falls into a black hole could never escape. Unfortunately, this is in complete contradiction of a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics, which states that information can never be destroyed.
In 2003, Mathur advanced the idea that black holes have defined surfaces covered in fuzzy strings of energy. Objects that get drawn in by a black hole's strong gravitational pull do not actually fall into the object; they fall onto it.
Hawking later conceded that objects that fall into a black hole do not get destroyed. They simply become a part of the black hole, which means each black hole is a unique result of all the objects that fall into it.
Building on Mathur's earlier work, scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, arrived at a different conclusion. They proposed that, instead of a fuzzy curtain, black holes are surrounded by a firewall. Any object that travels too close gets burned to a crisp as it enters the ring of fire.
Here is how they came to that conclusion. Hawking and colleague Jacob Bekenstein observed that black holes emitted a soft glow of radiation. This was made of entangled pairs of particles near the event horizon.
For every particle that is emitted, it has a pair that gets sucked into the event horizon. Eventually, however, the continuous radiation will have the black hole shooting out all particles, which means that all the information was not destroyed after all.
The problem happens when quantum mechanics is taken into account. For every entangled particle that escapes as radiation, it requires an entangled pair to fall in. A particle can only be entangled with one other particle at a time. However, if information is not destroyed, the particle has to be entangled with more than one particle, which causes the information paradox.
The proponents of the firewall theory argue that the particles escaping the black hole are entangled with more than one particle. However, the entanglement breaks the second it forms. This, they say, generates massive amounts of energy that creates a deadly border that annihilates any object passing through.
Upending The Firewall Theory
"The firewall argument had seemed like a quick way to prove that something falling through the horizon burns up," says Mathur. "But we now see that there cannot be any such quick argument; what happens can only be decided by detailed calculations in string theory."
String theory attempts to marry Einstein's relativity theory and quantum mechanics to explain the way the universe works. It proposes the radical notion that the universe is made of vibrating strings of subatomic energy that is always changing shape.
According to Mathur, if a person is tangled up in strings, there is no way to decide how he will feel. In 2015, Mathur said the world could pass through a black hole, and no one would be any wiser about what was going on. The black hole would simply create an imperfect copy of the world, and both would continue to exist as before.
The debate over the fuzzball/firewall issue has enormous implications for the study of physics. If black holes are indeed fuzzballs creating copies of whatever touches their surface, the universe may actually be a hologram that sits on a surface in more dimensions than we know.
"If the surface of a black hole is a firewall, then the idea of the universe as a hologram has to be wrong," Mathur said.