Physicists have insisted for a long time that black holes are impenetrable ciphers. Whatever goes in is lost, impossible to study or meaningfully understand. Some small amount of matter and energy might escape a black hole in the form of “Hawking radiation,” but anything still inside the black hole is functionally disappeared from the physical universe.
The idea is a basic premise of modern physics: If something falls into a black hole, it can’t be contacted, it’s future can’t be predicted. No observer could possibly survive traveling into the dark space, not even long enough to glance around and notice a few things before being annihilated.
Now, a team of mathematicians and physicists scattered across Portugal, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States is trying to poke a hole in the hypothesis. It’s just a pinprick, but it’s already sparked a rush of interest and research from their colleagues.
In a paper published Jan. 17 in the journal Physical Review Letters, the team of researchers showed that in certain extreme situations, black holes could exist that would allow theoretical observers to pass through their outer borders without being instantly destroyed. Plow your shielded spaceship into the event horizon of one of these singularities (the infinitely tiny spots into which all black holes disappear all of their matter and energy), and you might live just long enough to see what’s going on inside. It’s a crack in the black hole cipher, albeit a tiny one.