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."
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:

Black hole team discovers path to razor-sharp black hole images
A team of researchers have published new calculations that predict a striking and intricate substructure within black hole images from extreme gravitational light bending.
Planets around a black hole?
Theoreticians in two different fields defied the common knowledge that planets orbit stars like the Sun.
Black hole mergers: Cooking with gas
Gravitational wave detectors are finding black hole mergers in the universe at the rate of one per week.
Going against the flow around a supermassive black hole
At the center of a galaxy called NGC 1068, a supermassive black hole hides within a thick doughnut-shaped cloud of dust and gas.
Eyeballing a black hole's mass
There are no scales for weighing black holes. Yet astrophysicists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology have devised a new way for indirectly measuring the mass of a black hole, while also confirming its existence.
First 'overtones' heard in the ringing of a black hole
By listening for specific tones in the gravitational waves of black hole mergers, researchers are putting Albert Einstein's theories to new tests.
Black hole holograms
Japanese researchers show how a holographic tabletop experiment can be used to simulate the physics of a black hole.
Where in the universe can you find a black hole nursery?
Gravitational wave researchers at the University of Birmingham have developed a new model that could help astronomers track down the origin of heavy black hole systems in the universe.
Astronomers capture first image of a black hole
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) -- a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration -- was designed to capture images of a black hole.
Hiding black hole found
Astronomers have detected a stealthy black hole from its effects on an interstellar gas cloud.
More Black Hole News and Black Hole Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Producer Tracie Hunte stumbled into a duet between Nina Simone and the sounds of protest outside her apartment. Then she discovered a performance by Nina on April 7, 1968 - three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tracie talks about what Nina's music, born during another time when our country was facing questions that seemed to have no answer, meant then and why it still resonates today.  Listen to Nina's brother, Samuel Waymon, talk about that April 7th concert here.