Will Hawking finally receive a Nobel prize?
Stephen Hawking was the first to propose that not everything that comes in contact with a black hole succumbs to its immense gravity and inevitable nothingness. In fact, tiny particles of light, known as photons, are sometimes ejected back out of the black hole, robbing it of energy. This gradual loss of mass over time means that every black hole eventually evaporates out of existence.
The energy of these tiny particles that escape from black holes, known as Hawking radiation, has answered a lot of questions about how these mysterious phenomena actually work. However, because this radiation is so delicate, it is impossible to detect it from thousands of light-years away. So far, no one has actually been able to prove it exists.
Now, physicist Jeff Steinhauer from Technion University in Haifa, Israel, thinks he has come up with a solution — if we can’t detect Hawking radiation in actual black holes thousands of light-years away using our best instruments, why not bring the black holes to us?
Steinhauer created a lab-sized “black hole” made from sound by cooling helium to just above absolute zero, then churning it up so fast it formed a “barrier” through which sound should not be able to pass. However, he witnessed particles eject and steal some energy.
"Steinhauer said he had found signs that phonons, the very small packets of energy that make up sound waves, were leaking out of his sonic black hole just as Hawking’s equations predict they should," Oliver Moody reported for The Times.
The results of this experiment have not been peer-reviewed yet, but the paper is available for the public to see on the physics pre-press website arXiv.org.
On the other hand, a paper published recently in Physical Review Letters has described a new technique that allows physicists to follow a black hole’s life over time. According to Chris Adami and Kamil Bradler from the University of Ottawa, Canada, this means that information that passes over the event horizon doesn’t actually disappear. Instead, it slowly leaks back out during the later stages of the black hole’s evaporation.
"To perform this calculation, we had to guess how a black hole interacts with the Hawking radiation field that surrounds it," said Adami in a Michigan State University press release. "This is because there currently is no theory of quantum gravity that could suggest such an interaction. However, it appears we made a well-educated guess because our model is equivalent to Hawking’s theory in the limit of fixed, unchanging black holes."
Just like the previous study, the results need to be confirmed. However, they do suggest physicists are getting ever-so-close to either confirming or disproving the existence of Hawking radiation.
If confirmed, Stephen Hawking may finally receive a Nobel prize for his lifelong work on black holes.
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