Nav: Home

Beyond the black hole singularity

December 20, 2018

Our first glimpses into the physics that exist near the center of a black hole are being made possible using "loop quantum gravity"--a theory that uses quantum mechanics to extend gravitational physics beyond Einstein's theory of general relativity. Loop quantum gravity, originated at Penn State and subsequently developed by a large number of scientists worldwide, is opening up a new paradigm in modern physics. The theory has emerged as a leading candidate to analyze extreme cosmological and astrophysical phenomena in parts of the universe, like black holes, where the equations of general relativity cease to be useful.

Previous work in loop quantum gravity that was highly influential in the field analyzed the quantum nature of the Big Bang, and now two new papers by Abhay Ashtekar and Javier Olmedo at Penn State and Parampreet Singh at Louisiana State University extend those results to black hole interiors. The papers appear as "Editors' suggestions" in the journals Physical Review Letters and Physical Review on December 10, 2018 and were also highlighted in a Viewpoint article in the journal Physics.

"The best theory of gravity that we have today is general relativity, but it has limitations," said Ashtekar, Evan Pugh Professor of Physics, holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Physics, and director of the Penn State Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. "For example, general relativity predicts that there are places in the universe where gravity becomes infinite and space-time simply ends. We refer to these places as 'singularities.' But even Einstein agreed that this limitation of general relativity results from the fact that it ignores quantum mechanics."

At the center of a black hole the gravity is so strong that, according to general relativity, space-time becomes so extremely curved that ultimately the curvature becomes infinite. This results in space-time having a jagged edge, beyond which physics no longer exists--the singularity. Another example of a singularity is the Big Bang. Asking what happened before the Big Bang is a meaningless question in general relativity, because space-time ends, and there is no before. But modifications to Einstein's equations that incorporated quantum mechanics through loop quantum gravity allowed researchers to extend physics beyond the Big Bang and make new predictions. The two recent papers have accomplished the same thing for the black hole singularity.

"The basis of loop quantum gravity is Einstein's discovery that the geometry of space-time is not just a stage on which cosmological events are acted out, but it is itself a physical entity that can be bent," said Ashtekar. "As a physical entity the geometry of space-time is made up of some fundamental units, just as matter is made up of atoms. These units of geometry--called 'quantum excitations'--are orders of magnitude smaller than we can detect with today's technology, but we have precise quantum equations that predict their behavior, and one of the best places to look for their effects is at the center of a black hole." According to general relativity, at the center of a black hole gravity becomes infinite so everything that goes in, including the information needed for physical calculations, is lost. This leads to the celebrated 'information paradox' that theoretical physicists have been grappling with for over 40 years. However, the quantum corrections of loop quantum gravity allow for a repulsive force that can overwhelm even the strongest pull of classical gravity and therefore physics can continue to exist. This opens an avenue to show in detail that there is no loss of information at the center of a blackhole, which the researchers are now pursuing.

Interestingly, even though loop quantum gravity continues to work where general relativity breaks down--black hole singularities, the Big Bang--its predictions match those of general relativity quite precisely under less extreme circumstances away from the singularity. "It is highly non-trivial to achieve both," said Singh, associate professor of physics at Louisiana State. "Indeed, a number of investigators have explored the quantum nature of the black hole singularity over the past decade, but either the singularity prevailed or the mechanisms that resolved it unleashed unnatural effects. Our new work is free of all such limitations."
-end-
The research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Urania Stott Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Penn State Eberly College of Science, and the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO), Spain.

Penn State

Related Black Hole Articles:

Scientists make waves with black hole research
Scientists at the University of Nottingham have made a significant leap forward in understanding the workings of one of the mysteries of the universe.
Collapsing star gives birth to a black hole
Astronomers have watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole.
When helium behaves like a black hole
A team of scientists has discovered that a law controlling the bizarre behavior of black holes out in space -- is also true for cold helium atoms that can be studied in laboratories.
Star in closest orbit ever seen around black hole
Astronomers have found evidence of a star that whips around a likely black hole twice an hour.
Tail of stray black hole hiding in the Milky Way
By analyzing the gas motion of an extraordinarily fast-moving cosmic cloud in a corner of the Milky Way, Astronomers found hints of a wandering black hole hidden in the cloud.
Hubble gazes into a black hole of puzzling lightness
The beautiful spiral galaxy visible in the center of the image is known as RX J1140.1+0307, a galaxy in the Virgo constellation imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and it presents an interesting puzzle.
Clandestine black hole may represent new population
Astronomers have combined data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the National Science Foundation's Karl G.
When will a neutron star collapse to a black hole?
Astrophysicists from Goethe-University Frankfurt have found a simple formula for the maximum mass of a rotating neutron star and hence answered a question that had been open for decades.
Behemoth black hole found in an unlikely place
Astronomers have uncovered a near-record breaking supermassive black hole, weighing 17 billion suns, in an unlikely place: in the center of a galaxy in a sparsely populated area of the universe.
Behemoth black hole found in an unlikely place
Astronomers have uncovered one of the biggest supermassive black holes, with the mass of 17 billion Suns, in an unlikely place: the centre of a galaxy that lies in a quiet backwater of the Universe.

Related Black Hole Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".