Black holes swallow up
everything, and nothing escapes. This property, the most iconic characteristic
of these mysterious space phenomena, had its first major challenge this week
when Techonion professor Jeff Steinhauer posted the results of an experiment.
He simulated a black hole in the lab.
The idea that perhaps black
holes do let some particles escape has been around for a long time now, since
1974 when Stephen Hawking's calculations using quantum methods showed that
black holes actually "radiate" particles back into outer space, and
eventually disappear entirely. Due to the difficulty of calculating this
delicate radiation through the depths of space, Hawking Radiation has remained
a theory in the 42 years since, but Steinhauer's new experiment may bring it
closer than ever to being proven.
In his experiment, the Israeli
physicist created a simulated "black hole" capable of sucking in
sound. To do this, Stenhauer shot a laser composed of rubidium atoms through an
environment cooled to almost absolute zero. The atoms were moving faster than
the speed of sound, making it difficult for sound to make its way through the
"It's like trying to swim
against the river," Steinhauer said. "If the river is going faster
than you can swim, you go backwards, even though you feel like you're going
forward." This means that part of the sound wave is pushed out of the
"black hole," defying the scientific consensus on what may happen in
real black holes.
The theory of Hawking Radiation
is based on "virtual particles," the analogues of particles like
photons described by quantum mechanics. Based on Steinhauer's experiment, it's
possible that in a black hole, a photon may be sucked in while its partner
virtual particle is radiated out into space. This is what Hawking's theory
proposes. "What I saw suggests that a real black hole might emit
something," Steinhauer said. If this is true, and Hawking Radiation is
proven to exist, Stephen Hawking may finally win his first Nobel Prize for his
work 40 years ago.
Steinhauer's paper is yet to be
published, and is up on the pre-publishing platform arXiv.org right now for
peer review. The initial reactions have been both positive and skeptical.
"The experiments are
beautiful," physicist Silke Weinfurtner from the University of Nottingham
told The Telegraph. "Jeff has done an amazing job, but some of the claims
he makes are open to debate. This is worth discussing."
This post was written by Usman Abrar. To contact the
writer write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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