Stephen Hawking's Last Paper Tried to Solve the 'Information Paradox' of Black Holes

Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - 1:22PM
Physics
Astrophysics
Black Holes
Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - 1:22PM
Stephen Hawking's Last Paper Tried to Solve the 'Information Paradox' of Black Holes
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Composite adapted from NASA images
Stephen Hawking apparently spent his last days sorting through some of the biggest, most mind-blowing problems in science, including multiverse theory and the potential for a race of genetically altered superhumans. His latest posthumous paper, however, may top all of that: titled "Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair," it provides a potential answer to the long-standing "information paradox" posed by black holes, which are generally thought to annihilate everything that falls into them...even information.

As explained in this excellent article on Phys.org, the black hole information paradox comes down to the idea that information (such as the mass, position, spin, and temperature of a particle) can't be destroyed, only transformed, sort of like mass and energy. Based on what we know of quantum physics, the theory is that the history of every single particle is recorded in some quantum form. When a particle falls into a black hole and becomes part of the singularity, the particle may have lost its individuality, but the record of its existence still exists, encoded on the surface of the black hole.

Then Hawking published a paper in 1974 that refuted all that. He claimed that black holes would eventually leak, deteriorate, and explode, and all the information encoded in them would be destroyed with them. Essentially, huge chunks of our universe's history may be forever lost, Hawking said, with no way to reconstruct them. To make all this even more upsetting, Hawking made a call-back to Einstein's famous quote that "God doesn't play dice": "God not only plays dice, but he often throws them where they can't be seen."

Years later, Hawking retracted his statements regarding the destruction of information and black holes, but the questions remained: how does a black hole take in information, and can it ever escape back out? This new paper claims that light may be the medium in which all particles histories are recorded on the surface of the black hole, and that this light may offer a way for all that information to be transmitted back into the universe when the black hole evaporates. This light is the titular "soft hair" of the paper, but to explain the terminology would take a few courses in advanced physics to understand.

Though the paper is not definitive, it at least gives us hope that nothing ever truly disappears from the universe, and nothing can really be forgotten .
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