Black holes are among the most mysterious places in the universe; locations where the very fabric of space and time are warped so badly that not even light can escape from them. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, at their center lies a singularity, a place where the mass of many stars is crushed into a volume with exactly zero size. However, two recent physics papers, published on Dec.10 in the journals Physical Review Letters and Physical Review D, respectively, may make scientists reconsider what we think we know about black holes. Black holes might not last forever, and it’s possible that we’ve completely misunderstood their nature and what they look like at the center, according to the papers.
Astronomers and physicists have long held that the idea of a singularity simply must be wrong. If an object with mass has no size, then it has infinite density. And, as much as researchers throw around the word “infinity,” infinities of that kind don’t exist in nature. Instead, when you encounter an infinity in a real, physical, science situation, what it really means is that you’ve pushed your mathematics beyond the realm where they apply. You need new math.
It’s easy to give a familiar example of this. Newton’s law of gravity says that the strength of the gravitational attraction changes as one over the distance squared between two objects. So if you took a ball located far from Earth, it would experience a certain weight. Then, as you brought it closer to Earth, the weight would increase. Taking that equation to the extreme, as you brought the object near to the center of Earth, it would experience an infinite force. But it doesn’t.