Stephen Hawking is considered one of the top physicists of our time for his contributions to the fields of general relativity and quantum gravity. He was once famously quoted as saying that his goal was to completely understand the universe, including why and how it came into existence.
While this goal seems unrealistic, we all share a similar curiosity about why and how the world (and the universe) exist. Almost every field (history, religion, etc.) has tried to answer this question in its own way. Hawking set out to find scientific answers to this question, based on what we already knew about gravity, thermodynamics, and the nature of space.
Even for a genius like Stephen Hawking, finding the answers to such questions can never be simple. Every discovery he made seemed to open the door to new challenges and new questions. Although Hawking has been diligent in his search for a theory that completely and adequately explains the universe, scientists are still not certain that he has found that comprehensive “theory of everything” which he has spent his life seeking.
Most of Hawking’s findings have centered around the nature of “black holes.” These are areas left behind by the collapse of a star, and they have such an intense gravitational pull that any object, including light, will be crushed beyond recognition once it passes the black hole’s boundary (known as an event horizon).
In 1974, Hawking discovered and proved that black holes actually create and emit small particles of radiation (known as “Hawking radiation.”) However, this discovery created a paradox. The release of these small particles takes energy away from the black hole, causing it to very gradually become smaller before completely evaporating. The disappearance of the black hole would cause everything that it swallowed to be lost forever, in direct contradiction to the laws of quantum mechanics.
In 2015, Hawking published a paper that proposed to solve the black hole paradox. This theory had its roots in an age-old debate as to whether or not black holes have “hair” (features which distinguish each black hole from another) on their event horizon. Hawking asserted that black holes did indeed have “hair” and that these “hairs” actually produce a two-dimensional hologram which holds the information that passes the event horizon in a scrambled, smashed-up form.
Although this theory appears to solve the black hole paradox, some questions remain unanswered. They have raised the question as to how much information can actually be stored in a “hair” on the boundary of a black hole. Others wonder what happens to the information stored on a black hole’s boundary when it evaporates. As an alternate theory, Hawking has proposed the possibility that any matter which enters a black hole emerges on the other side in another universe. The information would emerge in that other universe from a “white hole:” an area that sends out matter and energy, but which nothing can enter. However, white holes are not known to exist. There are also questions as to how a white hole would form.
Stephen Hawking’s many theories and discoveries have given us a new way to understand the universe. But it’s possible that even the top physicist in the world cannot completely explain all the paradoxes that exist.
- Mastin, Luke. “Stephen Hawking, 1942-.” Physics of the Universe, 2009, http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/scientists_hawking.html.
- Hruska, Joel. “Stephen Hawking may have finally solved the black hole ‘information’ problem.” ExtremeTech, 27 Aug. 2015, http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/212968-stephen-hawking-may-have-finally-solved-the-black-hole-information-problem.
- Crew, Bec. “Stephen Hawking just published a new solution to the black hole information paradox.” Science Alert, 11 Jan. 2016, http://www.sciencealert.com/stephen-hawking-just-published-new-solution-to-the-black-hole-information-paradox