Stephen Hawking's prediction confirmed, thanks to lab-created black hole
Scientists in Israel combined gravity with quantum physics in groundbreaking experiment.
A year after the passing of Stephen Hawking, one of his career-defining theories has been confirmed. Known as Hawking Radiation, it was first conceptualized back in 1974, but has been hotly debated for decades. A team of scientists in Israel have just published a paper essentially proving its existence.
First some background ...
Albert Einstein first predicted the formation of black holes with his theory of general relativity. It's a region of space time that exhibits such strong gravitational effects that nothing – not even tiny particles – can escape from inside it. "A black hole is the ultimate prison; even light cannot escape from it," said Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard's Astronomy Department. Something else that couldn't escape it? Radiation. Well, at least that's what most physicists thought until Hawking hypothesized that a black hole could indeed emit radiation.
Black holes are notoriously mysterious and, because they are so far away, are inherently hard to study. So proving Hawking's theory has been difficult – until now. Researchers at Israel's Technion Institute, dubbed the MIT of the Mediterranean, created a black hole in a lab. It's not an actual black hole, but a black hole analogue using a quantum material known as a Bose-Einstein condensate. For research purposes, it shares many of the same qualities of a black hole in space.
Using this technique, the Technion researchers were able to create what's known as a sonic black hole – instead of trapping light, it traps sound. No sound should be able to escape the impenetrable lining of the black hole, but they discovered that when they put one sound wave in, another would drop out. This proved Hawking's theory that other materials – like radiation – can also seep out of a black hole.
"Combining gravity with quantum physics is one of the main goals of physics today," Jeff Steinhauer, the lead researcher, told Space.com. "Hawking made the first steps toward that. His calculations predicted there should be light from a black hole. It turns out his calculations were correct."
The new results confirm an initial finding from Steinhauer and his colleagues back in 2016, when CNN reported on the discovery:
Ulf Leonhardt of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel was not involved with the study, but is impressed with the findings. "It’s a very important milestone,” the physicist told ScienceNews.org. “It’s new in the entire field. Nobody has done such an experiment before.”
It's been a busy couple of months for black hole science. In April, an international team of scientists unveiled something no human had ever seen before: the first-ever image of a black hole. At the time, one of the scientists involved in that research declared: "This is the beginning. There’s an anticipation of all the amazing science we’ll be able to."
Added Steinhauer: "The laws of physics often have applications years down the road and no one knows today what they're going to be."
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