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Recently, I read in the journal Nature that Stephen Hawking wrote a paper claiming that black holes do not exist. How is this possible? Please explain it to me because I didn't understand what he said.

References:

  1. Article in Nature News: Stephen Hawking: 'There are no black holes' (Zeeya Merali, January 24, 2014).

  2. S. Hawking, Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes, arXiv:1401.5761.

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Sounds like black holes are more like cosmic information shreaders. –  dansalmo Jan 26 at 20:07
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Did you ever wonder how is that possible that black holes exist ?!? –  Asphir Dom Jan 26 at 22:30
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@AsphirDom: that depends on what you mean by black hole. You will hear all sorts of arguments, many from fringe elements of the community, that black holes don't exist. Most of us would take the pragmatic view that a system with a long lived apparent horizon is indistinguishable from a black hole. –  John Rennie Jan 27 at 7:40
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"Most physicists foolhardy enough to write a paper claiming that “there are no black holes”...would probably be dismissed as cranks". Unfortunately, most journalists writing such a sentence, and burying "at least not in the sense we usually imagine" as a parenthetical cop-out, would not be dismissed as cranks. If modern journalism had been around when it was discovered that planets weren't "wandering stars", it would have been reported as "top astronomer says planets don't exist". –  Jon Hanna Jan 27 at 12:12
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This question needs an answer that explains Prof. Hawking's paper in the context of the information paradox and firewall kerfuffle. Anyone? –  Art Brown Jan 27 at 18:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 97 down vote accepted

The paper by Dr. Stephen Hawking doesn't say that black holes don't exist. What he says is that black holes can exist without "event horizons". To understand what an event horizon is, we first have to understand what is meant by escape velocity. This last one is the speed you need to escape a body. Now, here is where the event horizon and the escape velocity comes in play: the event horizon is the boundary between where the speed needed to escape a black hole is less than that of light, and where the speed needed to escape a black hole is greater than the speed of light. enter image description here

So Hawking says that instead of event horizon, there may be "apparent horizons" that would hold light and information only temporarily before releasing them back into space in a "garbled form".

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Explaining your answer is better idea because I don't understand event horizons. –  Devesh Saini Jan 26 at 16:16
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"What he says is that black holes can exist without "event horizons"." Hmmm, the actual quote is "The absence of event horizons mean [sic] that there are no black holes - in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity." Did you mean "... black holes can't exist without "event horizons""? –  Art Brown Jan 27 at 3:54
    
@ArtBrown Yes, I meant by "Why black holes can't exist without event horizons?" –  Devesh Saini Jan 27 at 4:03
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I believe the term he used was "naked singularity". Singularity being used to describe the 'massive object' with size smaller than its Schwarzchild radius. Given that a black hole refers to something with an event horizon, a black hole with no event horizon doesn't make sense. –  Aron Jan 27 at 9:45
    
"the event horizon is the boundary between where the speed needed to escape a black hole is less than that of light, and where the speed needed to escape a black hole is greater than the speed of light." That's not actually true. Viewing the inside of the event horizon as a region where the escape velocity is greater than $c$, would mean that you could in fact escape it. All you'd need to do is uphold a constant positive acceleration, similar to how rockets leave Earth's atmosphere. A more correct description is that (future) lightcones inside the event horizon of a black hole remain inside. –  Wouter Jul 10 at 11:31

Craig Feinstein asked: Does Stephen Hawking believe that General Relativity is wrong?

Here is my answer (I will shift my answer there if some one reopen that question):

Stephen Hawking did NOT say that black holes do not exist. Hawking used to think balckholes are oblivious. Now he admits (like some other people do) balckholes have perfect memory , just like any other quantum systems. So what Hawking said is that balckholes are not forgetful.

In order for balckholes to have perfect memory (ie satisfies unitary quantum evolution), the classical GR must be wrong. The blackhole horizon in the classical GR must be modified. I believe that, in well defined quantum gravity (yet to be developed), the horizon carries degenerate states that give rise to blackhole entropy. There is no such thing as inside horizon. In other words, blackhole horizon behaves like a hard-wall (with nearly degenerate states). This picture contradicts with classical GR.

Hawking's picture for the horizon, I believe, is similar. This actually is a very old idea. See:

http://relativity.livingreviews.org/open?pubNo=lrr-2011-8&page=articlesu33.html

http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0303006

http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-6596/410/1/012137

So I believe that "Stephen Hawking believe that the classical General Relativity is wrong near the blackhole horizon". I think most people (not including me) believe that classical General Relativity is correct near the blackhole horizon.

I believe that the classical General Relativity is wrong, since I believe that a well defined quantum theory (including quantum gravity) has a finite UV cutoff. A finite UV cutoff is incompatible with General Relativity principle. A finite UV cutoff is even incompatible Lorentz symmetry. A finite UV cutoff may modify our picture about the blackhole horizon, but I do not know how.

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Is the word "correct" a typo in "I think most people (not including me) believe that classical General Relativity is correct near the blackhole horizon."? –  soliton Feb 10 at 15:50

This is really a footnote to Adobe's answer.

Light cannot escape from an event horizon. But how can you check that light can never escape? You can watch the surface for some time $T$, but all you have proved is that light can't escape in the time $T$. This is what we mean by an apparent horizon, i.e. it is a surface from which light can't escape within a time $T$.

To prove the surface really was an event horizon you would have to watch it for an infinite time. The problem is that Hawking radiation means that no event horizon can exist for an infinite time. The conclusion is that only apparent horizons can exist, though the time $T$ associated with them can be exceedingly long, e.g. many times longer than the current age of the universe.

A point worth mentioning because it's easy to overlook: when you start learning about black holes you'll start with a solution to Einstein's equations called the Schwarzschild metric, and this has a true horizon. However the Schwarzschild metric is time independent so it would only describe a real black hole if that black hole had existed for an infinite time and would continue to exist for an infinite time. Both of these are not possible in the real universe. So the Schwarzschild metric is only an approximate description of a real black hole, though we expect it to be a very good approximation. 

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<comments removed> Please hold all further discussion in Physics Chat. –  Manishearth Jan 28 at 22:22

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