Black holes have been inspiration for science-fiction stories since before they had actually been given a name. In a recent turn of events, however, it is being reported that a scientist has now discovered that black holes in fact do not actually exist.
Before we go any further, what exactly are black holes? Black holes have been defined as astronomical bodies that are extremely dense and have such a great gravitational field that even light cannot escape from its grasp (although it is possible to see the light that is spiraling towards the black hole – this is known as the accretion disk). It has been believed that there is a supermassive black hole, named Sagittarius A, at the center of our galaxy.
Black holes have been great fodder for science-fiction stories for many years. In the “Star Trek: The Original Series” episode ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday,’ black holes were mentioned before they even knew what to call them. Aired in January of 1967, they were called Black Stars (the term ‘black hole’ not being coined until later that same year). An array of television shows since then have used black holes as a plot device, including “Stargate-SG1” and “Battlestar Galactica” (to name just a few).
So what exactly is the claim that is being made? Well, Laura Mersini-Houghton, a professor from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill claims that she has mathematically proven that it is impossible for a black hole to form in the first place. It has been believed that black holes are formed from the death of stars at least twenty times more massive than our sun. When the star dies it releases a type of radiation (Hawking radiation, named after physicist Stephen Hawking who provided a theoretical argument for its existence in 1974) and she claims that the mass lost in this process would not give the star sufficient density to become a black hole. If this is true, it would also send scientists back to the drawing board about the formation of our universe, as many physicists believe that the universe formed from a singularity that began expanding with the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago.
Despite Professor Mersini-Houghton’s claim, not everyone is on board with this new idea. In response to an email from IFLScience, theoretical physicist William Unruh, from the University of British Columbia, was quick to disagree. “The [paper] is nonsense,” he states. He goes on to explain that this is only the latest in a long history of attempts to discredit the formation of black holes. The research often doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Professor Mersini-Houghton’s paper has yet to peer-reviewed, it cannot yet be reported how it will hold up to the scrutiny of others in the scientific community.
If she is in fact correct and it turns out there are indeed no such things as a black holes, it does raise a couple questions. Firstly, what is at the center of our universe? Secondly, what will science-fiction writers use the next time they need something deadly to potentially rip our heroes asunder? Only time will tell!