Has Stephen Hawking Just Solved a Huge Black-Hole Mystery?

Stephen Hawking may have just solved one of the most vexing mysteries in physics — the 'information paradox.'

Stephen Hawking may have just solved one of the most vexing mysteries in physics - the "information paradox."

Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that the physical information about material gobbled up by a black hole is destroyed, but the laws of quantum mechanics stipulate that information is eternal. Therein lies the paradox.

Hawking - working with Malcolm Perry, of the University of Cambridge in England, and Harvard University's Andrew Stromberg - has come up with a possible solution: The quantum-mechanical information about infalling particles doesn't actually make it inside the black hole.

Hawking: 'God Particle' Could Wipe Out the Universe

"I propose that the information is stored not in the interior of the black hole, as one might expect, but on its boundary, the event horizon," Stephen Hawking said during a talk Tuesday at the Hawking Radiation conference, which is being held at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

The information is stored at the boundary as two-dimensional holograms known as "super translations," he explained. But you wouldn't want super translations, which were first introduced as a concept in 1962, to back up your hard drive.

"The information about ingoing particles is returned, but in a chaotic and useless form," Hawking said. "For all practical purposes, the information is lost."

Hawking also discussed black holes - whose gravitational pull is so intense that nothing, not even light, can escape once it passes the event horizon - during a lecture Monday night in Stockholm.

It's possible that black holes could actually be portals to other universes, he said.

"The hole would need to be large, and if it was rotating, it might have a passage to another universe. But you couldn't come back to our universe," Hawking said at the lecture, according to a KTH Royal Institute of Technology statement. "So, although I'm keen on spaceflight, I'm not going to try that."

Originally published on Space.com.

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Stephen Hawking arrives at the stage in Beckman Auditorium, Caltech.

Artist's impression of a spinning supermassive black hole with a surrounding accretion disk and relativistic jets.

How to measure the spin of a black hole: This chart illustrates the basic model for determining the spin rates of black holes. The three artist's concepts represent the different types of spin: retrograde rotation, where the disk of matter falling onto the hole, called an accretion disk, moves in the opposite direction of the black hole; no spin; and prograde rotation, where the disk spins in the same direction as the black hole.

Two models of black hole spin: Scientists measure the spin rates of supermassive black holes by spreading the X-ray light into different colors. The light comes from accretion disks that swirl around black holes, as shown in both of the artist's concepts. They use X-ray space telescopes to study these colors, and, in particular, look for a "fingerprint" of iron -- the peak shown in both graphs, or spectra -- to see how sharp it is. Prior to observations with NASA's Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, and the European Space Agency's XMM- Newton telescope, there were two competing models to explain why this peak might not appear to be sharp. The "rotation" model shown at top held that the iron feature was being spread out by distorting effects caused by the immense gravity of the black hole. If this model were correct, then the amount of distortion seen in the iron feature should reveal the spin rate of the black hole. The alternate model held that obscuring clouds lying near the black hole were making the iron line appear artificially distorted. If this model were correct, the data could not be used to measure black hole spin.

This chart depicts the electromagnetic spectrum, highlighting the X-ray portion. NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton telescope complement each other by seeing different colors of X-ray light. XMM-Newton sees X-rays with energies between 0.1 and 10 kiloelectron volts (keV), the "red" part of the spectrum, while NuSTAR sees the highest-energy, or "bluest," X- ray light, with energies between 3 and 70 keV.

This image taken by the ultraviolet-light monitoring camera on the European Space Agency's (ESA's) XMM-Newton telescope shows the beautiful spiral arms of the galaxy NGC1365. Copious high-energy X-ray emission is emitted by the host galaxy, and by many background sources. The large regions observed by previous satellites contain so much of this background emission that the radiation from the central black hole is mixed and diluted into it. NuSTAR, NASA's newest X-ray observatory, is able to isolate the emission from the black hole, allowing a far more precise analysis of its properties.

What XMM-Newton saw: The solid lines show two theoretical models that explain the low-energy X-ray emission seen from the galaxy NGC 1365 by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. The red line explains the emission using a model where clouds of dust and gas partially block the X-ray light, and the green line represents a model in which the emission is reflected off the inner edge of the accretion disk, very close to the black hole. The blue circles show the measurements from XMM-Newton, which are explained equally well by both models.

Two X-ray observatories are better than one: NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has helped to show, for the first time, that the spin rates of black holes can be measured conclusively. It did this, together with the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, by ruling out the possibility that obscuring clouds were partially blocking X-ray right coming from black holes. The solid lines show two theoretical models that explain low-energy X-ray emission seen previously from the spiral galaxy NGC 1365 by XMM-Newton. The red line explains the emission using a model where clouds of dust and gas partially block the X-ray light, and the green line represents a model in which the emission is reflected off the inner edge of the accretion disk, very close to the black hole. The blue circles show the latest measurements from XMM-Newton, and the yellow circles show the data from NuSTAR. While both models fit the XMM-Newton data equally well, only the disk reflection model fits the NuSTAR data.