Interstellar Black Hole Interstellar Black Hole The black hole from 'Interstellar' was created using computers and mathematical input from Caltech physicist Kip Thorne. (Photo: Interstellar)

A new light shines on black holes

Long believed to be matter-destroying dead ends, black holes may actually offer a one-way ticket to other universes, Stephen Hawking says.

In recent years, Hollywood films like "Thor: The Dark World," "Star Trek" and "Interstellar" have all utilized black holes in space to travel to distant worlds. It's a convenient and cool plot device, but thanks to Einstein's theory of general relativity, not one that could actually happen. It's long been predicted that anything entering a black hole, including light, is pulled apart and destroyed. Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise would not survive to fight another day. Matthew McConaughey would not save Earth.

Not so fast, argues Stephen Hawking. The famed British physicist this week announced a new groundbreaking theory about black holes that paints them as less of a menacing force in space, and more of a potential doorway. In a lecture during a conference in Stockholm, Sweden, Hawking said that physical information caught in a black hole doesn't actually enter its interior, but instead resides at its boundary, the so-called event horizon. There, it either becomes a kind of "hologram" or is released into another universe.

"The hole would need to be large, and if it was rotating it might have a passage to another universe," Hawking said. "But you couldn’t come back to our universe. So although I’m keen on space flight, I’m not going to try that."

Steven Hawking in his wheelchairSteven Hawking says that while black holes may offer a doorway to another universe, it would be a one-way ticket. (Photo: Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images)

The reason why Hawking's new theory is even potentially possible is thanks in part to the late Israeli-American physicist Jacob Bekenstein and his contributions to the foundation of black hole thermodynamics. In the early 1970s, Bekenstein proposed that black holes have a well-defined entropy and radiate energy, a theory thought impossible until Stephen Hawking confirmed it a few years later. The so-called Bekenstein-Hawking radiation could in fact be physical information passing through from another universe.

“The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted," added Hawking. "They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly come out in another universe.”

While the details of how and why this is all possible are still to be worked out, we can at least rely upon Hollywood to give us a version of what skirting the edge of a black hole might look like. In the words of McConaughey, "Alright, alright, alright ..."

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