That’s the conclusion reached by one researcher from the University of North Carolina: black holes can’t exist in our Universe — not mathematically, anyway.
“I’m still not over the shock,” said Laura Mersini-Houghton, associate physics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. “We’ve been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about.”
In a news article spotlighted by UNC the scenario suggested by Mersini-Houghton is briefly explained. Basically, when a massive star reaches the end of its life and collapses under its own gravity after blasting its outer layers into space — which is commonly thought to result in an ultra-dense point called a singularity surrounded by a light- and energy-trapping event horizon — it undergoes a period of intense outgoing radiation (the sort of which was famously deduced by Stephen Hawking.) This release of radiation is enough, Mersini-Houghton has calculated, to cause the collapsing star to lose too much mass to allow a singularity to form. No singularity means no event horizon… and no black hole.
At least, not by her numbers.
So what does happen to massive stars when they die? Rather than falling ever inwards to create an infinitely dense point hidden behind a space-time “firewall” — something that, while fascinating to ponder and a staple of science fiction, has admittedly been notoriously tricky for scientists to reconcile with known physics — Mersini-Houghton suggests that they just “probably blow up.” (Source)
According to the UNC article Mersini-Houghton’s research “not only forces scientists to reimagine the fabric of space-time, but also rethink the origins of the universe.”
Don’t believe it? I’m not surprised. I’m certainly no physicist but I do expect that there will be many scientists (and layfolk) who’ll have their own take on Mersini-Houghton’s findings (*ahem* Brian Koberlein*) especially considering 1. the popularity of black holes in astronomical culture, and 2. the many — scratch that; the countless — observations that have been made on quite black hole-ish objects found throughout the Universe.
So what do you think? Have black holes just been voted off the cosmic island? Or are the holes more likely in the research? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Want to hear more from Mersini-Houghton herself? Here’s a link to a video explaining her view of why event horizons and singularities might simply be a myth.
Of course this leads me to ask: if there really are “no black holes” then what’s causing the stars in the center of our galaxy to move like this?
*Added Sept. 25: I knew Brian wouldn’t disappoint! Read his post on why “Yes, Virginia, There Are Black Holes.”