Though luminary physicist and professor Stephen Hawking has left this mortal coil, his legacy will remain undying—and so will the cosmological questions that nobody else dared to ask.
Black holes are one phenomenon Hawking was obsessed with. The black hole information paradox that arose out of his theorizing argues that black holes aren’t hopeless pits of doom nothing in the universe could possibly escape, but actually lose infinitesimal amounts of mass as they “radiate” it over their billions of years of existence. That radiation is also supposed to give them a faint glow that disproves the idea of no light being able to survive a black hole. Motherboard believes that just like many of Hawking’s other theories, Hawking radiation could possibly redefine quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity if it is proven to exist.
Quantum mechanics insists that no physical information in the universe can be permanently annihilated, so even if something changes form, the properties of its particle arrangement will never disappear. This goes directly against Hawking’s concept of a black hole losing all information contained within (from every atom that ever succumbed to its gravitational pull) as it slowly erodes into nothingness. Enter the information paradox. The questions raised about where that information goes opened up several theoretical solutions to this paradox.
Maybe information is forever deleted from the universe as the black hole dissolves. It can also be hidden somewhere, lurking in either what remains of the black hole after it has evaporated or a piece of the black hole that breaks apart into its own, inaccessible micro-universe.
The final possibility is that information manages to stay intact in a highly unusual way. It is thought by some that the surface area of a black hole expands with each new piece of information it devours. Hawking radiation emitted from a black hole would then have a chance to encode that information and can carry it into the vast unknown.
It gets even weirder. Hawking managed to do the impossible by linking the clashing concepts of quantum mechanics, which examines the atoms and particles that make up the universe, and general relativity, which looks at how the largest objects in the universe bend space and time. He theorized what could be happening around something as massive as a black hole on a mind-bendingly small scale.
“It is important to note that Hawking radiation from black holes has not been experimentally detected yet,” physicists Sreenath Kizhakkumpurath and Andrew N. Jordan told Motherboard, “but a similar mathematical approach to what Prof. Stephen Hawking took in his seminal paper can be applied to a variety of physical systems such as accelerating mirrors, and these analogies give us evidence that the kind of particle production does indeed occur the way Prof. Hawking has predicted.”
The fact that no human can get close enough to a black hole to observe Hawking radiation without being shredded is also the worst reason ever to deny Hawking a Nobel prize. He would have been eligible if he had been somehow able to survive an event horizon spacewalk and provide proof that Hawking radiation exists.