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That Black Hole Mystery – Hawking’s New Concept

By James Donahue

Famed Physicist Stephen Hawking has probably done more than any living person to stir public knowledge and interest in something scientists have dubbed “black holes” in deep space.

It now is commonly accepted among astronomers that black holes exist. Many of them are heavily involved in studying this unexplained phenomenon, locating where they are, and attempting to explain them.

For quick background, a black hole is exactly what the name implies . . . a vast black void in space in which nothing appears to exist. Yet astronomers, aided by powerful new tools like the various space telescopes that not only look deeper into the universe than man has ever accomplished in the past, but are capable of studying such things as X-ray and infrared wavelengths, have proven that something unseen but very powerful exists within those strange areas of blackness.

They are discovering that great amounts of energy are spewed from these areas. They also know that the movements of stars, solar systems and even galaxies appear to be influenced by whatever exists within these “black holes” of space.

Largely because of Hawking’s work, we have come to believe that black holes may be the remnants of massive stars that have burned out and where the force of gravity causes it to collapse in on itself. The great  weight of the star’s outer layers thus implodes its core. At this point the star goes invisible, reaching a point of such infinite density that nothing can escape its pull, even light.

This theory, which has evolved over the past 200 years, since British physicist John Michell suggested the existence of “dark stars” with gravity strong enough to trap light and prevent the stars around them to be seen from far away. American physicist John Wheeler is credited for coining the term “black holes.”

Recent discoveries have astounded physicists because they have identified black holes in space that are so massive they could almost encompass galaxies. They are usually all massive in size, and some scientists theorize that they are so powerful that they grow by swallowing up all of the stars, planets, moons and space junk that gets within their field of gravity. They have thus been described as cosmic vacuum cleaners, sucking up everything in their path.

If this is happening, the phenomenon is then defying Einstein’s theories of relativity that govern space and time. Hawking has devoted much of his life attempting to solve this problem.

Einstein’s theory suggests that space-time is like a large rubber mat that can be curved by the presence of matter. Hawking said collapsed stars can become so heavy that they create a bottomless hold in this mat that nearby particles also fall into. Once they enter the hole there is no longer space or time, and nothing within the hole ever escapes.

That was Hawking’s old theory. Last March, during an appearance before scientists at Bovard Auditorium, University of Southern California, Hawking said he has discovered that particles can slowly leak out of black holes and that these churning masses of black energy may not be the eternal prisons once thought.

Hawking agreed that the vacuum concept of black holes seems to conflict with a fundamental idea of science known as determinism. That is a way of saying that scientists can utilize knowledge about the current state of the universe to predict the future and reconstruct what happened in the past. That black holes absorb matter and then emit something different appears to defy determinism.

Hawking said he believes he has found a resolution to this conflict in the ideas of Richard Feynman, who says quantum theory involves considering all possible alternative histories. And this perspective, he says, supports the idea that if you fall into a black hole, you might just emerge in another universe.

This great thinker has spent a lifetime thinking about something that Gene Roddenberry dreamed up in his popular Star Trek television screen plays and movies. He called them worm holes.