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Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw confront the black hole information paradox

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Particle physicists explain the latest ideas about what happens to things that fall into black holes – and what it reveals about the universe’s deepest structure

Physics


September 20 2022

A virtual image of a new world

Nabil Nezzar

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A black hole is a region of space so dense that nothing, not even light, can move fast enough to escape. At least that was the thinking until the 1970s, when Stephen Hawking calculated that black holes aren’t completely black at all. Instead, Hawking argued, they are slowly releasing radiation – now known as Hawking radiation – which eventually means the black hole will evaporate.

Hawking’s calculations created a problem. Quantum theory says that information can never disappear, so what happens to information that has fallen into a black hole? Where does he go? This is the black hole information paradox. It has baffled physicists for decades because it highlights the deep disconnect between general relativity, Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity from which black holes are called, and the laws of quantum theory that govern the subatomic world.

Now, we seem to be on the cusp of a resolution to this, with dire consequences for how we understand the universe at its core. All of which are the subject of an upcoming book called Black holes: the key to understanding the universe Written by Jeff Forshaw and Brian Cox, both particle physicists at the University of Manchester, UK.

new world I spoke to them about the latest insights into the black hole information paradox, what it reveals about the source of spacetime and why the deep structure of the universe looks surprisingly similar to a quantum computer.

Abigail Bell: When most people think of black holes, they probably think of big things in space like collapsing, massive stars…

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