Black holes are among the most controversial objects in the universe.
They’ve captured the public’s imagination for decades, thanks in part to the late Stephen Hawking, who transformed them from a hard-to-understand scientific theory into a source of mystical wonder.
They’ve also infiltrated popular culture through science fiction, Star Trek, and Hollywood magazines.
But what are the five most bizarre and captivating theories about black holes that are so incomprehensible that it boggles the mind?
Here MailOnline takes a look.
1. They are surrounded by a “ring of fire.”
In 2019, astronomers took the first image of a black hole located in a distant galaxy.
Described by scientists as a “monster,” it is three million times the size of Earth.
The image shows a very bright “ring of fire,” as the researchers describe it, surrounding a perfectly circular dark hole.
“It’s like looking into the gates of hell,” said Heino Falk of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
When black holes consume stray matter too close by, they compress it into a super-hot disk of glowing gas.
In the image of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the nearby galaxy Messier 87 (M87), the lower part of the ring appears bright because gases there are hurtling towards Earth.
The black hole also bends light around it, which is what creates the circular shadow.
2. They have “hair”
In 2015, the late physicist Professor Stephen Hawking suggested that black holes weren’t the “eternal prisons” that many thought they were, adding that it was possible that the data slipped off a cliff.
A year later, he expanded the theory by saying that the answer lay in the zero-energy particles, or “fine hairs,” found on the black hole’s horizon.
He proposes that the particles on the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole, would consist of photons and gravitons, which are subatomic packets of light and gravitational energy.
These very low, or even zero-energy, quantum particles deposited at the edge of the black hole can capture and store information that was stripped from the particles falling into the black hole.
This effectively means that while particles that fall into a black hole may disappear, their information still lingers on the brink of oblivion in this “fine hair” of quantum particles.
The theoretical physicist likened the return of information to a burning encyclopedia, where technically the information would not be lost, but would be extremely difficult to decipher.
The hypothesis has not been proven, but it could help solve a long-standing paradox about what happens to gas and dust that has fallen into a black hole.
3. It emits gas fountains
A black hole’s strong gravitational grip means that nothing can escape if it gets too close to the edge of the hole.
But many of these mysterious objects are actually surrounded by accumulations of gas and dust that surround black holes like water going down a drain.
According to a 2018 study, this accumulation of material is a three-step process.
First, the cold gas forms a disk near the plane of rotation, which heats up until the particles disintegrate.
Some of these particles are ejected above and below the disc, and then fall back to form a fountain-like structure.
Alternative observations also suggest that this motion produces arching rings surrounding the inner shafts of matter, which shoot straight into the air and look very much like fountains.
4. They are the source of dark energy
Just last month, scientists from Imperial College London made an exciting announcement about black holes.
They have dramatically revealed that the stuff may actually be the source of an unknown energy known as dark energy.
Basically, the Big Bang theory of our universe’s creation originally predicted that its expansion would slow — or even begin to contract — due to the pull of gravity.
But in 1998, astronomers were surprised to discover that not only was the universe expanding, but that expansion was also accelerating.
To explain this discovery, it has been suggested that “dark energy” is responsible for pushing things away with a force greater than gravity.
This was related to a concept proposed by Einstein but later discarded – a “cosmological constant” that opposes gravity and prevents the universe from collapsing.
Black holes, however, posed a problem – it’s hard to oppose their intense gravity, especially at their centers, where everything seems to collapse into a phenomenon called a “singularity”.
To delve deeper into the problem, A.J A team of 17 researchers from nine countries has studied the nine billion years of black hole evolution.
They observed ancient, dormant galaxies and found that black holes gain mass in a way consistent with them containing vacuum energy, or dark energy.
Indeed, the size of the universe at different points in time is closely proportional to the mass of the supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies.
In other words, the amount of dark energy in the universe can be calculated by the energy of the black hole vacuum – which means that black holes are the source of dark energy.
5. They may be “backdoors” to other parts of the universe
Deep within a black hole is a gravitational singularity, where space-time curves toward infinity, and any matter that passes through it can survive.
Or so he always thought.
However, researchers suggested in a recent study that there may actually be an exit through a wormhole at the center of the black hole, which acts as a “backdoor”.
According to this theory, anything that travels through a black hole will be “muddy,” or stretched to an extreme, but will return to its normal size when it appears in a different region of the universe.
While it is unlikely that a human would survive the process, researchers say that matter inside a black hole will not be lost forever as previously thought, and will instead be expelled to another region of the universe.
The researchers say no “alien” energy would be required to generate the wormhole, as Einstein’s theory of gravity suggests.
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