A special case of black holes has scientists questioning everything they know about the universe.
These older black holes both release existing "information" inside them and reject new "information."
The new research isn't quite conclusive enough to totally put these questions to rest.
Scientists say they’re close to proving a mindboggling problem related to black holes—one that dates back to Stephen Hawking’s theories from 50 years ago.
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The key mechanism is something that sounds like the most metaphorical science fiction. It turns out stuff we throw into certain black holes, improbably, seems to come back out. But to understand how and why has come down to a group of extraordinary experts trading complex mathematical arguments.
We have to start with one of the fundamental questions of the universe: Is our reality the most basic level that exists? To suss that out, we can make analogies to a variety of other things. When you use a computer, you don’t believe what you see on the screen is the fundamental and bottom-most mechanism at play. You know there’s code—several layers in fact, of increasing abstraction—and the code ultimately boils down to electrical pulses.
Some experts use a similar kind of reasoning to plumb the idea that we’re not the bottom of our own reality's stack. Black holes are an exemplar of this thinking, because they don’t act like anything else we’ve ever discovered. And how things fall into black holes has implications for many other questions about the nature of reality.
“In some way or other, space-time itself seems to fall apart at a black hole, implying that space-time is not the root level of reality, but an emergent structure from something deeper,” George Musser explains at Quanta. “Although Einstein conceived of gravity as the geometry of space-time, his theory also entails the dissolution of space-time, which is ultimately why information can escape its gravitational prison.”
Now, scientists have found a special case of black hole that casts the rest into question. These black holes are “extremely old,” and whatever mechanism has previously confined mass inside them has not just stopped working but even reversed. “The hole transforms from a hermit kingdom to a vigorously open system,” Musser explains, in a sentence that no one can ever match.
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This all suggests that black holes are kind of like the mailbox on your local corner, where mail only goes in until, at some point, the box is so full that its mouth no longer just works one way. In theoretical physics, though, scientists believe black holes approaching the end of their “empty space” can make a kind of quantum pocket dimension where they effectively nullify anything that’s trying to knock them off course. This remains a huge mystery, and the new research hasn’t spoken to it enough for scientists to reason a surefire next step.
If very old black holes end up slackening in a way, that tells scientists something about the way they work in the first place. But so far, the research has not conclusively identified anything. The findings are so straightforward and simple that they don’t have the tendrils toward a deeper, more microscopic understanding that the researchers hoped for. And because of that, the debate over what it all means rages on, with this incredible finding as just one more data point.
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