Scientists created a glowing black hole in the lab to test a Stephen Hawking theory

Their experiment could help to create a unified theory of quantum gravity.
Chris Young
Supermassive bright Black Hole.
Supermassive bright Black Hole.

Nzoka John/iStock 

A team of physicists from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands simulated the event horizon of a black hole in a lab and observed the equivalent of an elusive form of radiation first theorized by Stephen Hawking, a report from Science Alert explains.

The new discovery could help the scientific community develop a whole new theory that marries the general theory of relativity with the principles of quantum mechanics.

Hawking radiation

The researchers used a single-file chain of atoms to simulate the black hole event horizon under lab conditions. The resulting Hawking radiation — particles created by disturbances in the quantum fluctuations caused by the black hole's tearing of spacetime — manifested itself as a visible glow.

Some scientists believe Hawking radiation could help to bridge the gap between the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, which exhibit utterly different principles to what we see in the observable universe, but in the micro-scale.

One of Stephen Hawking's main ambitions in life was to work towards a unified theory of quantum gravity that could unify the two irreconcilable theories and could, therefore, be applied universally.

The event horizon of a black hole is the area in which no light or matter can escape. What happens beyond that point only exists in theory, with some theories suggesting some black holes may be wormholes that provide shortcuts to distant regions of the universe.

Simulating an event horizon

In 1974, Stephen Hawking proposed that interruptions to quantum fluctuations in the event horizon release a type of radiation very similar to thermal radiation. The trouble is that this radiation is likely far too faint to be detected from Earth.

That's where the simulated black hole comes in. The group of scientists specifically set out to analyze the properties of Hawking radiation by creating an analog for it in a lab.

This isn't the first time scientists have simulated a black hole in a lab, but the scientists from the Netherlands were able to see a glow in their simulated event horizon when certain conditions were met.

Their one-dimensional chain of atoms essentially allowed electrons to "hop" from one position to the next. They were able to alter the ease with which the hopping could occur, creating a type of event horizon that interfered with the wave-like nature of the electrons.

According to the scientists, this produced a rise in temperature that matches theoretical expectations, but only when part of the chain of atoms extended beyond the event horizon. They suggest that this could mean the entanglement of particles on the event horizon could be what's generating Hawking radiation.

The researchers' model allows for a way to study Hawking radiation like never before, bringing the scientific community closer to fulfilling Stephen Hawking's desire to marry the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics once and for all.

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