University of Cambridge professor Stephen Hawking is clarifying his stance on black holes and the role played by them in the universe.
In a paper published earlier this week, the Cambridge professor gained worldwide attention by announcing a new theory that black holes may operate more like grey holes, and that event horizons may not necessary destroy all forms of matter.
Speaking to the website New Scientist, Hawking explained his new theory, saying the event horizon — the area once thought to separate the forces of a black hole from the rest of the universe — is not necessarily a defined zone. Hawking posits that quantum mechanics may create enough ripples in the field of space time to leave a less than defined boundary between the forces unleashed by a black hole and the relative safety of space.
Hawking noted the discovery could mean astronomers may one day be able to venture close to a black hole and measure the forces taking place. Put simply, an apparent horizon would only temporarily hold light and information, eventually releasing them back into space. Still, the energy unleashed by black holes would make any differences in how the event horizon is defined moot. Astronomers have long measured energy released by black holes in the form of X-rays, enough energy to leave any astronaut burnt to a crisp.
The paper, which has yet to be peer reviewed, could reflect the first step towards solving one of the biggest issues confronting physics today. At a California Institute of Technology (Caltech) lecture in April 2013, Hawking, working with a series of prominent physicists, had an opportunity to describe the problem at hand. The issue has long been referred to as the “firewall paradox.”
While the discovery seems fairly minor, Hawking himself says his initial notion of an event horizon remains one of his biggest regrets.
On his 70th birthday this month, Hawking told the website that he regards his idea that information was destroyed by black holes as his “biggest blunder.”