Has Stephen Hawking solved the mystery of black holes?

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Has Stephen Hawking solved the mystery of black holes? By Don Lincoln Updated 1347 GMT (2047 HKT) September 3, 2015 24 photos: Wonders of the universe An artist's illustration shows a binary black hole found in the quasar at the center of the Markarian 231 galaxy. Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope discovered the galaxy being powered by two black holes "furiously whirling about each other," the space agency said in a news release. Hide Caption 1 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe An artist's impression of what a black hole might look like. In February, researchers in China said they had spotted a super-massive black hole 12 billion times the size of the sun. Hide Caption 2 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Are there are oceans on any of Jupiter's moons? The Juice probe shown in this artist's impression aims to find out. Picture courtesy of ESA/AOES Hide Caption 3 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Astronomers have discovered powerful auroras on a brown dwarf that is 20 light-years away. This is an artist's concept of the phenomenon. Hide Caption 4 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Venus, bottom, and Jupiter shine brightly above Matthews, North Carolina, on Monday, June 29. The apparent close encounter, called a conjunction, has been giving a dazzling display in the summer sky. Although the two planets appear to be close together, in reality they are millions of miles apart. Hide Caption 5 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Jupiter's icy moon Europa may be the best place in the solar system to look for extraterrestrial life, according to NASA. The moon is about the size of Earth's moon, and there is evidence it has an ocean beneath its frozen crust that may hold twice as much water as Earth. NASA's 2016 budget includes a request for $30 million to plan a mission to investigate Europa. The image above was taken by the Galileo spacecraft on November 25, 1999. It's a 12-frame mosaic and is considered the the best image yet of the side of Europa that faces Jupiter. Hide Caption 6 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe This nebula, or cloud of gas and dust, is called RCW 34 or Gum 19. The brightest areas you can see are where the gas is being heated by young stars. Eventually the gas burst outward like champagne after a bottle is uncorked. Scientists call this champagne flow. This new image of the nebula was captured by the European Space Organization's Very Large Telescope in Chile. RCW 34 is in the constellation Vela in the southern sky. The name means "sails of a ship" in Latin. Hide Caption 7 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe The Hubble Space Telescope captured images of Jupiter's three great moons -- Io, Callisto, and Europa -- passing by at once. Hide Caption 8 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe A massive galaxy cluster known as SDSS J1038+4849 looks like a smiley face in an image captured by the Hubble Telescope. The two glowing eyes are actually two distant galaxies. And what of the smile and the round face? That's a result of what astronomers call "strong gravitational lensing." That happens because the gravitational pull between the two galaxy clusters is so strong it distorts time and space around them. Hide Caption 9 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Using powerful optics, astronomers have found a planet-like body, J1407b, with rings 200 times the size of Saturn's. This is an artist's depiction of the rings of planet J1407b, which are eclipsing a star. Hide Caption 10 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe A patch of stars appears to be missing in this image from the La Silla Observatory in Chile. But the stars are actually still there behind a cloud of gas and dust called Lynds Dark Nebula 483. The cloud is about 700 light years from Earth in the constellation Serpens (The Serpent). Hide Caption 11 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe This is the largest Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled. It's a portion of the galaxy next door, Andromeda (M31). Hide Caption 12 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe NASA has captured a stunning new image of the so-called "Pillars of Creation," one of the space agency's most iconic discoveries. The giant columns of cold gas, in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, were popularized by a similar image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. Hide Caption 13 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Astronomers using the Hubble Space pieced together this picture that shows a small section of space in the southern-hemisphere constellation Fornax. Within this deep-space image are 10,000 galaxies, going back in time as far as a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Hide Caption 14 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Planetary nebula Abell 33 appears ring-like in this image, taken using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. The blue bubble was created when an aging star shed its outer layers and a star in the foreground happened to align with it to create a "diamond engagement ring" effect. Hide Caption 15 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe This long-exposure image from the Hubble Telescope is the deepest-ever picture taken of a cluster of galaxies. The cluster, called Abell 2744, contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago; the more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. Hide Caption 16 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe NASA's NuSTAR telescope array generated the first map of radioactivity in the remnants of an exploding star, or supernova. Blue in this image of Cassiopeia A represents radioactive material. Hide Caption 17 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe A supernova was spotted on January 21 in Messier 82, one of the nearest big galaxies. This wide view image was taken on January 22. Hide Caption 18 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe The M82 supernova, seen here, has been designated SN2014J because it is the 10th supernova detected in 2014. At 11.4 million light years from Earth, it is the closest Type Ia supernova recorded since systematic studies with telescopes began in the 1930s. Hide Caption 19 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Is that a giant hand waving at us? Actually, it's what's left of a star that died and exploded a long time ago. Astronomers nicknamed it the "Hand of God." NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR , took this image in high-energy X-rays, shown in blue. The image was combined with images from another space telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Hide Caption 20 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, one of the largest and closest galaxies of its kind. The center of the galaxy is mysterious , researchers say, because it has a double nucleus -- a supermassive black hole that may be ringed by a lopsided disc of stars, giving it the appearance of a dual core. Hide Caption 21 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Hubble scientists say this is the best-ever view of the Tarantula Nebula, which is located in one of our closest galactic neighbors, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Hide Caption 22 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe Those spots on our sun appear small, but even a moderate-sized spot is about as big as Earth . They occur when strong magnetic fields poke through the sun's surface and let the area cool in comparison to the surrounding area. Hide Caption 23 of 24 24 photos: Wonders of the universe This Hubble image looks a floating marble or a maybe a giant, disembodied eye. But it's actually a nebula with a giant star at its center. Scientists think the star used to be 20 times more massive than our sun, but it's dying and is destined to go supernova. Hide Caption 24 of 24 Story highlights Stephen Hawking posits that information never actually falls into the black hole, so it's not lost forever Don Lincoln: This is an intriguing thought and is analogous to how holograms are made Dr. Don Lincoln is a senior physicist at Fermilab who does research using the Large Hadron Collider. He has written numerous books and produces a series of science education videos . He is the author of, most recently, " The Large Hadron Collider: The Extraordinary Story of the Higgs Boson and Other Things that Will Blow Your Mind ." Follow him on Facebook . The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. (CNN) Black holes have a way of capturing our imagination. That's why when Stephen Hawking recently talked about them the media went wild. But what was he really saying? Was it a breakthrough moment? At the Hawking Radiation Conference organized by Laura Mersini-Houghton, a professor of physics at the University of North Carolina, 32 eminent physicists gathered to discuss outstanding issues involved with apparent contradictions in our current understanding of the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. The convergence of the two take us to the inner workings of black holes. Black holes are ravenous monsters of the cosmos, constantly reaching out and gobbling nearby mass as they grow larger and larger. The poster child of Einstein's theory of relativity, black holes exert such a strong gravitational force that not even light can escape, and they are able to distort the very fabric of space and slow the passage of time. These are very real objects. Don Lincoln And yet they embody a very significant mystery. Black holes are said to absorb matter and never let it go. The matter simply disappears inside the black hole. But matter is more than, well, matter. It is information. For instance, if I have a single atom of hydrogen, I have a proton and neutron. That's matter. But there is also information in how they are connected. Are they near one another, or far apart? The information component is even more important in, say, a piece of fruit. While I might tell you just how many protons, neutrons and electrons exist in an apple, without the information that tells you how they arranged, it wouldn't have the apple's tart taste. In fact, it wouldn't be an apple at all. Ultimately, it is information that is at the heart of the mystery . According to the rules of quantum mechanics, information should never be lost, not even if it gets sucked inside the black hole. This is because of two premises: causality and reversibility. Taken together, it means that effects have causes, and those causes can be undone. For example, you can break a glass and then find all the pieces and glue it back together. Yet, these two premises don't hold for a classical black hole, in which the information is permanently and irreversibly lost as it enters the black hole. Note that information being lost isn't the same as matter being lost. In the 1970s, Hawking postulated what is now called Hawking radiation, which in principle, cause black holes eventually to evaporate as the radiation carries away energy. However, Hawking radiation should be completely independent of the matter absorbed by a black hole. So, information really does appear to be lost, in complete contradiction of quantum theory. This is where Hawking's announcement comes in. He is saying that he can solve the conundrum. He is countering the claim that the black hole gobbles and destroys the information by positing that the information never actually falls into the black hole. Instead, the information is held on the black hole's surface -- the event horizon. This is an intriguing thought and is analogous to how holograms are made . Holograms are two-dimensional sheets of, for example, plastic that can make three-dimensional images. All of the information of three dimensions is encoded in the two dimensional plastic. (By the way, there are some who hypothesize that our entire universe is a hologram!) It is difficult to properly evaluate Hawking's announcement. The claim as it has been described is not very precise. There is no paper published on the idea, nor has the idea passed peer review. In fact, scientists who attended the conference are still trying to absorb the idea and to cast it in a mathematical language so that the implication can be assessed. Hawking developed this concept in collaboration with Malcolm Perry of Cambridge University and Andrew Stromberg of Harvard University. They plan to submit a paper in a month or so. That's when the real evaluation of the proposal can begin. While everyone would much prefer to hear about a definitive advancement in science, the actual process of developing scientific ideas can be both intellectually stimulating and thoroughly messy. Stephen Hawking's new ideas are certainly interesting and may point us in the right direction. But we will have to wait a bit longer to solve the enigma of what happens when information confronts a black hole. Sit tight, we're on a very long journey.