Stephen Hawking’s theory that black holes don’t destroy everything they come in contact with, but rather evaporate and shrink while slowly emitting radiation was revolutionary. But due to the impractical nature of studying such a subject, his theory has been impossible to prove up to this point. The only way to truly discover the truth behind it would be to go inside a black hole or… create one in a lab?
Well that is what researchers at the Technion University in Haifa have done, and it’s allowed them to discover the evidence necessary to back up Hawking’s claims. If they do indeed prove his theory, it could potentially help Hawking win a Nobel Prize. While he is one of the world’s greatest scientists, Hawking surprisingly has yet to win one.
Let’s break it down nice and simple. Before the ‘Hawking Radiation’ theory, black holes were believed to suck up everything near them, not let anything escape, never get smaller and live forever. In fact, Hawking himself believed this and actually argued against it with fellow scientist Jacob Bekenstein at one point. This argument lead Hawking to recalculate the problem using quantum theory. What he discovered is that black holes actually emit lots of radiation (photons), and with each particle lost the black hole loses energy which eventually will lead to it’s evaporation/disappearance into the universe.
The problem is that observing and studying this emission of very small amounts of radiation from thousands of light years away is impossible. Our current instruments cannot detect and measure anything from such a distance, thus we can’t actually prove Hawking’s theory. Even though his theory makes sense and helps answer many questions about black holes, it’s still just a hypothesis.
That’s where Jeff Steinhauer comes in. He successfully recreated the conditions of a black hole in his lab by using sound and helium. By cooling the helium to just above absolute zero and then super heating it, he formed a barrier similar to that of the event horizon of a black hole. This barrier should be impenetrable to sound, but that’s not what he observed. Steinhauer saw the particles that make up sound waves actually leaking through the helium barrier, just as Hawking predicted.
Jeff has posted his report online for everyone in the world to view here: arXiv.org. While his findings have not been reviewed/confirmed yet, theoretical physicists from around the world are reviewing and debating the report.
To be clear, the results of this experiment have not yet been peer-reviewed – that’s the point of putting everything up for the public to see on arXiv.org. They’re now being mulled over by physicists around the world, and they’re already proving controversial, but worthy of further investigation. – Science Alert
Even further than these findings and more recently, Chris Adami, professor at Michigan State University and his colleague Kamil Bradler from the University of Ottawa, developed a new theory that allows them to follow a black hole’s life cycle over a long period of time.
By combining the ‘Hawking Radiation’ theory with mathematical tools and high-performance computers, Adami and Bradler were able to create a simulation that shows precisely when particles enter and leave a black hole.
What they’ve discovered is that not everything that passes a black holes event horizon gets obliterated. Instead it slowly leaks out, eventually leading to the black hole’s evaporation. This is the same thing that Steinhauer discovered and what Hawking predicted some 42 years ago.
“To perform this calculation, we had to guess how a black hole interacts with the Hawking radiation field that surrounds it. This is because there currently is no theory of quantum gravity that could suggest such an interaction. However, it appears we made a well-educated guess because our model is equivalent to Hawking’s theory in the limit of fixed, unchanging black holes.”In this way, the black hole would gradually lose mass.” – Chirs Adami
With both of these findings coming out, there’s a lot of talk that Hawking might be on his way to a Nobel Prize. Again though, neither of these have been peer-reviewed and confirmed yet, but that will happen in due time. Even more important than the awards that might get handed out, if these two new findings do in fact prove ‘Hawking Radiation’ it will be instrumental in our understanding of black holes and their place in the universe.
Being the most powerful things we know if, it’s important we understand them as they could be some of the most vital things to the entire existence of the universe. You never know, maybe it’ll be like ‘Interstellar‘ where the black holes are megastructures of time that are essential an evolution of us.