Sunday, July 5, 2015

Black holes: science and imagination

File:BlackHole Lensing.gif
Simulated black hole (Wikipedia) 

Black holes are a favorite subject not only in science but also in the popular imagination. Their mysterious nature is twofold. First, black holes are ‘black,’ therefore invisible, second, their horizons form a singularity, beyond which even physics is unknowable. For this reason, black holes easily lend themselves to bizarre ideas. Black holes originated as a consequence of Einstein’s general relativity, although it was a mathematical conclusion reached by Karl Schwarzschild in 1916. For a long time not only the interpretation of Schwarzschild's solution was missing, but black hole detection was also a technical impossibility. Today black holes are the subjects of films, and scientific speculation, connected by supposed wormholes to distant worlds, entangled particles, lost information. 

Black holes form by the gravitational collapse of extremely dense matter. In the last stage of black hole formation, a horizon develops, which irreversibly separates it from the rest of the universe. However, these ideas have been called into question recently. Almheiri and colleagues (2012) examined black hole entanglement and found that black hole horizons function as firewalls, burning up any unwitting trespasser. This conclusion is supported by Landauer's principle, which states a thermodynamic connection between energy and information. Since black holes are information-saturated, they would be devoid of energy. This way, incoming particles would have to transform all energy into information.
As a consequence, black holes are the end of time, matter, and all existence. Nothing more than their information-saturated horizon, black holes cannot be approached. This way black holes can be likened to the fabric of a balloon, formulating the outer boundary of the universe.

This way, there is no possibility of wormholes in and around the black holes. Although the suggestion, that black holes are gateways to other universes is exciting, it is also without any scientific validity. Like the banks of a river that contain the body of water, black holes seem to merely enclose the universe. As the riverbed can inform about the past of a river, black hole horizons are information depositories, although inaccessible, about the history of the cosmos.

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