Five theories about black holes that will blow your mind
Black holes are among the most fascinating and debated objects in the universe.
They have captured the public imagination for decades, thanks in part to the late Stephen Hawking, who transformed them from a hard-to-understand scientific theory into a source of mysterious wonder.
They have also spread popular culture through science fiction magazines, Star Trek and Hollywood blockbusters.
But what are the five weirdest and most fascinating theories about black holes that are so incomprehensible it boggles the mind?
Here MailOnline takes a look.
Mysterious: Black holes are among the most fascinating and debated objects in the universe (stock image) Scientists discover two supermassive black holes dining side by side with only 750 light years between them – READ MORE Astronomers have discovered two supermassive black holes zeza’ dining” side by side 1. They are surrounded by a “ring of fire”
In 2019, astronomers obtained the first ever image of a black hole located in a distant galaxy.
Described by scientists as “a monster”, it is three million times the size of Earth.
The image shows an intensely bright “ring of fire,” as the researchers describe it, surrounding a perfectly circular dark hole.
“It feels like looking at the gates of hell,” said Heino Falcke of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
As black holes consume matter that is too close, they squeeze it into a superheated disk of glowing gas.
In the image of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the nearby galaxy Messier 87 (M87), the end of the ring appears bright because the gases there are being whipped toward Earth.
The black hole also bends the light around it, which is what creates the circular shadow.
In a historic first, scientists have captured an incredible image of a supermassive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way 2. They have ‘hair’
In 2015, the late physicist Professor Stephen Hawking suggested that black holes were not the ‘eternal prisons’ many think they are, adding that it was possible for data to escape the abyss.
A year later he expanded the theory by stating that the answer lies in the zero-energy particles, or ‘soft hairs’, that lie on the black hole’s horizon.
In 2015, Professor Stephen Hawking suggested that black holes were not the ‘eternal prisons’ many think they are, adding that it was possible for data to escape the abyss. A year later he expanded the theory by stating that the answer lies in zero-energy particles, or ‘soft hairs’, that lie on the black hole’s horizon (stock image)
It suggests that particles located at the event horizon, the edge of the black hole, will consist of photons and gravitons, which are subatomic packets of light and gravitational energy.
These very low, or even zero, energy quantum particles deposited at the edge of the black hole can capture and store the information removed by the particles falling into the black hole.
This effectively means that while the particles falling into the black hole may be gone, their information continues to linger on the edge of oblivion in this ‘soft hair’ of quantum particles.
The theoretical physicist compared the return of information to a burning encyclopedia, where the information would not technically be lost, but would be incredibly difficult to decipher.
The hypothesis has not been proven, but it could help resolve a long-standing paradox about what happens to gas and dust that has fallen into a black hole.
3. They release gas springs
The strong gravitational grip of a black hole means that nothing can escape if it gets extremely close to the edge of the hole.
But many of these mysterious objects are actually surrounded by an accumulation of gas and dust that surrounds black holes a bit like water going down a drain.
According to a 2018 study, this accumulation of material is a three-step process.
The strong gravitational grip of a black hole means that nothing can escape if it gets extremely close to the edge of the hole. But many of these mysterious objects are actually surrounded by a mass of gas and dust, which shoots straight up into the air and looks a lot like fountains.
First, the cold gas forms a disk near the plane of rotation, heating until the molecules break apart.
Some of these molecules are ejected above and below the disc, which then fall back down to create a fountain-like structure.
Alternative observations also suggest that this motion produces arcing rings surrounding the inner columns of matter, which shoot straight up into the air and look a lot like fountains.
4. They are the source of Dark Energy
Just last month, scientists from Imperial College London made an exciting announcement about black holes.
They excitingly discovered that the objects may actually be the source of the unknown energy known as Dark Energy.
Basically, the Big Bang theory of the creation of our universe originally predicted that its expansion would slow down – or even begin to contract – due to the pull of gravity.
Breakthrough: Scientists have found the first evidence that black holes are the source of dark energy. They studied galaxies and the supermassive black holes at their heart. Pictured is NGC 1316, a lenticular galaxy about 60 million light-years away in the constellation Fornax
But in 1998, astronomers were surprised to discover that not only was the universe still expanding, but that expansion was accelerating.
To explain this discovery, it was proposed that a ‘Dark Energy’ was responsible for pulling things apart more strongly than gravity.
This related to a concept that Einstein had proposed but later rejected – a ‘cosmological constant’ that opposed gravity and kept the universe from collapsing.
However, black holes posed a problem – their extremely strong gravity is hard to counter, especially at their centers, where everything seems to collapse into a phenomenon called a ‘singularity’.
To dig deeper into the problem, a team of 17 researchers from nine countries studied nine billion years of black hole evolution.
They observed ancient, dormant galaxies and found that black holes gain mass in a way that is consistent with them containing vacuum energy, or Dark Energy.
In fact, the size of the universe at various points in time closely matched the mass of the supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies.
In other words, the amount of Dark Energy in the universe can be calculated from the vacuum energy of the black hole – meaning that black holes are the source of dark energy.
5. They may be ‘back doors’ to other parts of the universe
Deep inside a black hole is the gravitational singularity, where space-time bends toward infinity, and any matter that passes through it can survive.
Or so it has always been thought.
However, in a recent study, researchers suggested that there may be a way out through a wormhole at the center of the black hole, which acts as a “back door”.
Deep inside a black hole is the gravitational singularity, where space-time bends toward infinity, and no matter what passes through it can survive (stock image)
According to this theory, anything traveling through the black hole would be ‘spaghettified’, or stretched to the extreme, but would return to its normal size when it emerged in another region of the universe.
While it is unlikely that a human would survive this process, researchers say that the matter inside the black hole will not be lost forever as previously thought, and will instead be expelled to another area of the universe.
And, the researchers say, it would not need ‘exotic’ energy to generate the wormhole, as Einstein’s theory of gravity suggests.
BLACK HOLES HAVE A GRAVITATIONAL PULL SO STRONG EVEN LIGHT CAN’T WRITE
Black holes are so dense and their gravitational pull is so strong that no form of radiation can escape them – not even light.
They act as intense sources of gravity that gather dust and gas around them. Their intense gravitational pull is thought to be what orbits stars in galaxies.
How they are formed is still poorly understood. Astronomers believe they can form when a huge cloud of gas up to 100,000 times the size of the sun collapses into a black hole.
Many of these black hole seeds then coalesce to form much larger supermassive black holes, which are found at the center of every known massive galaxy.
Alternatively, a supermassive black hole seed could come from a giant star, about 100 times the mass of the sun, that eventually forms into a black hole after it runs out of fuel and collapses.
When these giant stars die, they also go ‘supernova’, a huge explosion that ejects matter from the star’s outer layers into deep space.