Black Holes, fact or fiction?

Discussion in 'Astronomy, Exobiology, & Cosmology' started by thed, Jan 17, 2002.

  1. thed IT Gopher Registered Senior Member

    New Scientist

    Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London
    Tel: +44(0)20 7331 2751, email:


    Black holes: fact or fiction?

    Has the reign of black holescome to an end? Hazel Muir introduces a new
    dark lord of the heavens

    NOBODY has ever seen a black hole. Yet, despite this lack of direct
    evidence, most scientists believe that a massive star at the end of its
    life can implode to form an object so dense that nothing -- not even
    light -- can escape.

    They may be about to change their minds, however. Two researchers in
    the US are pointing out that physicists have swept some "humiliating"
    problems with black holes under the carpet. By confronting these
    problems, they say, they have found an alternative fate for a
    collapsing star. Emil Mottola of the Los Alamos National Laboratory
    in New Mexico and Pawel Mazur of the University of South Carolina
    in Columbia think it might turn into an exotic bubble of superdense
    matter, an object they call a gravastar.

    According to Mottola and Mazur, gravastars are cold, dense shells
    supported by a springy, weird space inside. They'd look like black
    holes, lit only by the material raining down onto them from outside.
    In fact, they seem to fit all the observational evidence for the
    existence of black holes.

    So far, however, physicists have mixed feelings about the idea of
    gravastars. Their verdicts range from "outstandingly brilliant" to
    "unlikely". What's certain is that gravastars will rekindle a great
    debate of the early 20th century: are black holes fact or fantasy?

    The idea of black holes dates back to the First World War, when German
    astronomer Karl Schwarzschild solved the equations of Einstein's
    newborn theory of gravity while serving on the Russian front. He
    showed that space-time around any massive star would be curved.
    Squeeze a large enough star into a tiny enough space and its density
    would become infinite and the curvature of space-time would spiral
    out of control. The gravity near one of these objects would be so
    strong that nothing -- not even photons -- could escape its grasp.

    Einstein shared the view of most physicists of the time that such
    objects, later dubbed black holes, were too outrageous to exist. He
    argued that it was all academic anyway, since stars never shrink
    this small. But scientists gradually became convinced that they
    do. If a star is very massive, it will blast apart in a supernova
    explosion at the end of its life and if a core twice as heavy as the
    Sun remains, no known force can prevent gravity squeezing it to a

    The result is a "singularity" with infinite density, where the known
    laws of physics break down. The singularity's gravity would be so
    powerful it would be cloaked in an "event horizon", a boundary beyond
    which matter or light couldn't get out. The dramatic idea of a black
    hole, which would rip to shreds anyone caught inside it, fired the
    imaginations of scientists, artists and writers alike. But no one
    has ever rooted the drama in fact. "So far, there is no direct
    observational evidence to show that any of the things astronomers
    call black holes have event horizons or central singularities," says
    Neil Cornish, an astrophysicist at the University of Montana in

    We know there are compact objects millions of times as heavy as the
    Sun that hog the centres of galaxies. These black hole candidates give
    themselves away because hot stars, gas and dust spiralling towards
    them emit bright X-rays. But that doesn't mean there's a cataclysmic
    black hole in the vicinity; it could simply be a very massive object.
    The debate petered out decades ago but there's still no ironclad proof
    that black holes exist.

    But never mind the lack of physical evidence -- there are enough
    problems in black-hole theory itself to make their existence seem
    implausible to say the least. These problems stem from the fact
    that our Universe is actually very different from the one that
    Schwarzschild considered. If we're to produce a proper description
    of the Universe we live in, Einstein's classical theories need to be
    meshed together with what we know about the quantum laws governing
    the behaviour of fundamental particles and fields.

    Mazur and Mottola have been thinking about quantum gravity for nearly
    a decade. They began by examining the nature of "quantum fluctuations"
    in space, time and even in energy fields. Empty space, for example, is
    never really empty. On the tiniest scales, little particles are popping
    in and out of existence all the time, creating a seething, fluctuating
    fluid. "Like a fish in a calm pond, who is not aware of all the
    incessant jiggling of the water molecules, we are usually not aware of
    the quantum medium we are immersed in," says Mottola.

    And they have found that quantum fluctuations in the electromagnetic
    fields that describe tiny things like photons can influence
    gravitational phenomena on the large scale -- such as black holes. So,
    they reasoned, when early black-hole theorists ignored quantum effects
    they were creating an unreal space-time.

    Information overload

    This traditional approach to black holes has produced strange anomalies
    anyway, and these have remained unresolved, Mazur and Mottola claim.
    There are problems, for instance, with a black hole's entropy, a
    measure of the amount of information it holds. An object that contains
    many possible states has high entropy, in the same way that a computer
    with more bits of memory can store more information. When a star forms
    a black hole, all the unique information about the star -- its chemical
    composition, for instance -- appears to be squashed out of existence.
    Yet current theory suggests black holes have enormous entropy -- a
    billion, billion times that of the star that formed them. No one can
    fathom where all this extra entropy comes from or where it resides.
    "Where are all these zillions of states hiding in a black hole?" says
    Mottola. "It is quite literally incomprehensible."

    Another seemingly impossible feature is that photons falling into a
    black hole would gain an infinite amount of energy by the time they
    reach the event horizon. But the gravitational effects of this
    enormous energy are ignored in the classical theory. Mottola says
    these problems have forced physicists to dream up far-fetched
    excuses. They say, for example, that some of the black hole's entropy
    might be hidden in other universes. Mottola doesn't buy these
    "esoteric assumptions", and concludes that black holes are a bag of
    contradictions that don't make a good case for their own existence
    at all.

    But is there an alternative? Could it be that when a star collapses,
    something happens to prevent a black hole forming? Mazur and Mottola
    think so. They have shown that quantum effects can make space-time
    change into a new and curious state that would lead to the formation
    of a strange new object.

    That change is a phase transition, like liquid water turning into a
    solid block of ice. They believe that in the extreme conditions of a
    collapsing star, space-time undergoes a quantum version of a phase
    transition. The phenomenon is nothing new. The Nobel Prize for
    Physics in 2001 was awarded for the observation of just such an event
    in the lab: the transformation of a cloud of atoms into one huge
    "super-atom", a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). This clump of atoms,
    which all share the same quantum state, forms at temperatures within
    a whisker of absolute zero.

    When an event horizon is about to form around a collapsing star,
    Mazur and Mottola believe that the huge gravitational field distorts
    the quantum fluctuations in space-time. These fluctuations would
    become so huge they would trigger a radical change in space-time,
    very similar to the formation of a BEC. This would create a condensate
    bubble. It would be surrounded by a thin spherical shell composed of
    gravitational energy, a kind of stationary shock wave in space-time
    sitting exactly where the event horizon of a black hole would
    traditionally be. The formation of this condensate would radically
    alter the space-time inside the shell. According to Mazur and
    Mottola's calculations, it would exert an outward pressure. Because
    of this, infalling matter inside the shell would do a U-turn and head
    back out to the shell, while matter outside the shell would still
    rain down on it.

    In a paper submitted to Physical Review Letters, Mazur and Mottola
    have shown that, like classical black holes, gravastars are a stable
    solution of Einstein's equations. What's exciting, they say, is that
    gravastars don't suffer any of the mathematical ailments of black
    holes. There's no riotous singularity where the laws of physics break
    down. There's no event horizon to imprison light and matter. And the
    entropy of a gravastar would be much lower than that of any star that
    might collapse to form it, dodging the problem of excessive entropy
    that plagues black holes.

    Take a gravastar with a mass 50 times that of the Sun, for example.
    Like the event horizon of a black hole with the same mass, the shell
    would be roughly 300 kilometres in diameter. But it would be around
    just 10**-35 metres thick. Just a teaspoonful of the material would
    weigh about 100 million tonnes. But Mazur and Mottola have shown it
    would have a temperature of only about 10 billionths of a degree above
    absolute zero. And it wouldn't emit any radiation, making it as black
    as any black hole would be.

    Dark energy

    Gravastars would be just as much fun for sci-fi buffs -- in fact
    they'd be even more ruthless. Imagine a black hole of a million solar
    masses, like the one thought to sit in the centre of our Galaxy. You
    could cross its event horizon without feeling a thing: it's only as
    you approached the singularity that you'd be torn apart by the huge
    gravity gradient. But if you were drifting towards a gravastar of the
    same size, you'd never get anywhere near its centre. As soon as you
    hit the shell you'd explode into pure gravitational energy.

    Marek Abramowicz, an expert on black holes at Gothenburg University in
    Sweden, calls the idea of gravastars "outstandingly brilliant". "Their
    unique and remarkable properties could explain several high-energy
    astrophysical phenomena that now are puzzling." He thinks they might
    explain gamma-ray bursts -- ultra-intense flashes of gamma radiation
    from a distant source that appear somewhere in the sky about once a

    Astronomers aren't certain what causes gamma-ray bursts. It might be
    the formation of a black hole in a supernova explosion, but this
    process would struggle to muster enough energy. The birth of a
    gravastar, on the other hand, would be extraordinarily violent and
    might shed enough energy to account for gamma-ray bursts.

    Mottola points to another possible connection between gravastars and
    astronomical observations. Three years ago, data from distant stellar
    explosions suggested that the expansion of the Universe is getting
    faster all the time (New Scientist, 11 April 1998, p 26). Many
    physicists ascribe this acceleration to a mysterious "dark energy"
    that gives space an outward pressure. Mottola says that if you scale
    the size of a gravastar up to around the size of the visible Universe,
    the pressure of the vacuum inside roughly matches the pressure that
    seems to be accelerating the expansion of the Universe. So our
    Universe might be one cosmic gravastar: a giant shell trapping the
    Milky Way and all the other galaxies we see. "We might be able to
    entertain the really radical notion that we -- and everything we see
    in the Universe -- could be inside such an object," Mottola speculates.

    It's a bold claim, and he and Mazur are still working out whether it's
    justifiable. Unlike their hypothetical gravastar, the Universe contains
    copious ordinary matter and its visible edge is always ballooning
    outwards. But they're keen to see what happens when they modify their
    gravastar model to include these complications. "It is certainly
    premature at this point, but the seeds of a possible new cosmological
    model are contained in the gravastar solution," says Mottola.

    Fact or fantasy?

    In the meantime, they are trying to figure out how they could tell
    ordinary-sized black holes and gravastars apart. The differences might
    be subtle -- after all, in isolation, they're both dark and the
    gravitational fields outside a black hole event horizon and the
    gravastar shell would be the same. But a good guess would be that
    gravastars would shine more brightly, since matter falling onto one
    would be turned into radiation. Black holes would gobble all the
    matter, but a gravastar would let its energy escape.

    The next step is to identify the telltale signs of a gravastar,
    Mottola says. "It is the only way to convince the sceptical --
    including ourselves -- that nature really behaves this way." Yet
    physicists aren't even sure what black holes look like. In October
    last year, they reported seeing what appeared to be a heavyweight
    black hole, but material falling onto it is emitting far brighter
    X-rays than theories predict. The excess energy is roughly equivalent
    to the output of 10 billion Suns. If it is a black hole, it's not
    clear why it's so bright.

    The object may be whirling round and dragging magnetic fields at the
    event horizon with it, and these could generate the extra energy by
    whipping up and heating nearby gases. But Mazur thinks there's a
    better explanation for that extra energy. The "black hole" could be
    a gravastar, he says. Stars, gas and dust raining down onto its shell
    would violently dissolve into pure gravitational energy that might
    emerge as bright X-rays.

    To try to resolve this issue, Mazur is working out what a rotating
    gravastar might look like. Like every other compact object in the
    Universe, a gravastar would almost certainly be spinning rapidly.

    Not all astronomers are as enthusiastic about gravastars. Cornish
    questions whether an exploding star could really lose enough entropy
    to form a gravastar, given that the second law of thermodynamics says
    that the entropy of an isolated object will always tend to increase.
    "In other words, a cup can break into a thousand pieces, but it is
    highly unlikely that a thousand shards of pottery will spontaneously
    come together to form a cup," says Cornish. "Mazur and Mottola talk
    about a star shedding entropy in some way to make the formation of
    a gravastar possible, but I don't think that is a likely scenario."
    But Mottola points out that when exploding stars form other remnants,
    such as neutron stars, they do shed entropy.

    And although Cornish admits that black hole singularities are
    mathematically troublesome, he also believes that a satisfactory
    quantum theory of gravity will cure this problem. Then there'll be
    no need for gravastars, he says. Robert Wald of Chicago University
    adds that Mottola and Mazur have put forward no arguments about how
    gravastars could form in the devastating collapse of a massive star.
    Even if they did form, how would they survive the onslaught of matter
    raining down on them? "What happens if a gravastar has accreting
    matter showered upon it? Won't it collapse to a black hole?" he says.

    "The gravastar is stable," counters Mottola. He says that matter
    falling onto the shell could make it wiggle and radiate away energy,
    but because the gravitational pull of the shell balances the force of
    the springy vacuum inside, it couldn't actually collapse. Any matter
    that fell onto the shell would simply become part of it, he says.

    All the same, Mottola and Mazur admit there are still unsolved issues
    with the formation of gravastars. "We must have a better idea of how
    this phase transition actually occurs in the gravitational collapse
    process," says Mottola. The exact nature of the exotic stuff inside
    the gravastar shell is still open to debate, and they hope to find
    out whether gravastars can really form in the mayhem of a star's
    violent death -- and whether gravastars could merge to form the
    heavyweight objects that sit at the centre of galaxies. They are
    encouraging others to join the investigation. "There are many
    unanswered questions and we are really just opening a new direction
    for future research," says Mottola.

    But if gravastars can weather the controversy, then maybe there'll
    no longer be any need for black holes -- maybe they really are pure
    fantasy. It wouldn't be the first time that Einstein's dazzling
    intuition has been proved correct.


    Further reading:

    New Scientist issue: 19th January 2002

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  3. c'est moi all is energy and entropy Registered Senior Member

    interesting! thanksssss
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  5. Mr. G reality.sys Valued Senior Member

    As neither blackholes nor gravastars have been directly observed/sampled, the debate remains limited to conflicting mathematical models.

    Those who say that if it can be imagined it must exist are again satisfied beyond all rational proportion.

    On the other hand, one, the other, neither, or both may actually exist. No problem.

    Frankly, the uncertainty is so enjoyable.

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  7. Adam §Þ@ç€ MØnk€¥ Registered Senior Member

    I've always felt that black holes and many other such theoretical constructs are basically the scientific equivalent of religion/superstition. There's never been any proof of their existence, yet they continue as a means of plugging up the holes in current theories. Personally, I'd mucyh prefer people to go out and try figuring things out rather than just keep dribbling on about the existence of such superstitious mumbo-jumbo.
  8. thed IT Gopher Registered Senior Member


    There is a huge difference between superstition/magic and the scientific method. If no objects had been observed that appear to have the properties of Black Holes, the idea wuold have been dropped.

    You can not deny that objects have been observed with stellar masses that are not stars, they emit no light. Hubble recently observed a gas flow infalling into a suspected black holes candidate and simply disappearing at about where the event horizon would be. Pretty good proof for me.
  9. Adam §Þ@ç€ MØnk€¥ Registered Senior Member

    The problem is that every person I have ever asked or read from has a different idea about what exactly a black hole is. Also, while these observations have been made, the actual reasons are not even slightly clear; the black hole thing is still just speculation. Gravity lensing caused by all manner of things in space blanks out huge areas or the sky for us, refraction means we only see what makes it our way, and apart from that everything we see is thousands of years old or more. I know there are massive sources of gravity out there, but the black hole idea is counting your chickens before they're hatched.
  10. flamethrower Junior Registered Senior Member


    In a way you're right. We can't be certain about Black Holes or Gravastars since they have not been directly observed. Their properties are of a theoretical nature. However, these objects, whatever the are, are based on general relativity, which is a theory that seems supported by available evidence. And we can discuss GR at another time.

    Primarily your concern is the fact that you've uncovered various versions of what these objects might be perceived. And perhaps the conclusions to the observations, correct? I would ask then, what is your interpretation of the observations and the evidence?
  11. Adam §Þ@ç€ MØnk€¥ Registered Senior Member

    My theory is that there seems to be some incredibly powerful source of gravity in certain areas, and it should be researched more. So every company in the world should freely donate 99% of their profits to a joint international space programme! Yeah, like that would ever happen.
  12. Mandrax Registered Member


    The idea of gravastars is very entertaining. If they indeed exist and bear properties of Bose-Einstein condensates we will some day be able to verivy there existence as we are in the lucky position today to study the bose-einstein condensate on a nanoscopic scale i think this will ultimately lead to understanding of how to verify this matter on a macroscopic scale.

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  13. zonabi free thinker Registered Senior Member

  14. Vortexx Skull & Bones Spokesman Registered Senior Member

    Some problems with black holes is that they seem to have too much entropy, I was thinking, how about those heavy gravity waves some black holes are theorised to produce at formation time, wouldn't that be a manner to get rid of entropy?

    Do gravastars also evaporate like black holes , hawkins radiation etc?

    what would be interesting is that if two

    - black holes merge you would expect one new larger black hole

    - if two gravastars collide at the moment their thick dense shells impact, you would expect them to annihillate instantly both into pure energy an event that would even dwarf the energy released by a Gamma Ray Burst ? Somebody asked on this board the impossible question, what happens if an unstoppable force hits an immovable object, well, this is as close as it gets...

    Maybe we get to observe the merge of black holes / gravastars / or whatever they might be , someday....

    Maybe, we can with the aid of the coming Large Hadron Collider determine what happens if two nanoscale black holes / gravastars merge, you would have to produce two and smash them together before they decay by Hawkins radiation.

    Also the event of two heavy neutron stars colliding would be interesting as it would maybe or maybe not produce a black hole /gravastar without a preceding supernova / implosion.... The outcome might be different
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2004
  15. blobrana Registered Senior Member

    For all intent and purposes a gravastar would behave exactly like a black hole.
    There would be hawkins radiation , but no loss of entropy due to `gravity waves` (imho).
    The only reason to consider the gravastars theory is the entropy problem of blackholes..
    I`m sure that there will be some intense debate on this, and the problems of the black-hole entropy may be solved through `leakage` to other compactified dimensions ( the `singularity` being no smaller than 10<sup>-33</sup> and directly `<b>compatible/communicating</b> (?)` with the other 6 compacted dimensions)
    (er, just a thought)
  16. Gravage Registered Senior Member

    All of you like it or not,black holes DO exist,the way Hubble is finding them is when they are eating an star,that star before it disappears(gas and dust) are geting extremely hot and they emit radiation,in this way we actually see black holes,like it or not it's a fact.It has been proven so many times.
  17. Zarkov Banned Banned

    To create a black hole you must believe in an "attracting mechanism" for matter.

    Attraction or pull is philosophically unsound.... matter can only push matter.

    In ESGT spin fields can compress matter as per 'gravity'. but it is the field that is doing this not the matter.

    To create a spin field strong enough to simulate a BH IMO is impossible.

    BH are a GR mathamatical division by zero.

    No one should have even contemplated them in the first instant, let alone create this whole black hole fan club.

    This shows to me, the state of cosmology at the present moment is dominated by illusion.
  18. 2inquisitive The Devil is in the details Registered Senior Member

    Zarkov, there is undeniable observational evidence for massively gravitating bodies
    in the universe, call them black holes, gravistars, rubber duckies or whatever you
    want, they are still there. Kind of puts the hurt on push-gravity models, doesn't it?
  19. 2inquisitive The Devil is in the details Registered Senior Member

    "Attraction or pull is philosophically unsound....matter can only push matter."

    Ever heard of a magnet? Opposites attract. Who's living an illusion?
  20. Zarkov Banned Banned

    >> Ever heard of a magnet? Opposites attract. Who's living an illusion?


    Yep easy words, but opposites contract, the lines of force are likened to rubber bands, stretch and contract.

    When you get the observations correct, theory becomes much easier to both formulate and understand.

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  21. 2inquisitive The Devil is in the details Registered Senior Member

    A force that "contracts" is not pulling two objects together? What is the difference
    between a "contracting" force and an "attracting" force other than a play on words?
  22. Zarkov Banned Banned

    >> A force that "contracts" is not pulling two objects together?

    For contraction there must be a medium, eg a rubber band can be stretched and then it will contract, a two way mechanism.

    'Spooky action at a distance' was one way only, with no apparent mechanism other than "gravitation" ( the only one way force in the Universe).

    Stretching is achieved by motion (energy in), whereas contraction or relaxation is always towards the inertial state ( lowest energy state).

    Mechanisms are still unfolding, as in electric and magnetic fields. Waves everybody agrees upon... so why not fields?? which are nothing but standing spherical waves in 3D space.

    We use pulling to depict "push from the front" as opposed to "push from behind". It was all to do with the motion of the body.... and nothing to do with physics.... but it has created confusion ever since.

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    But this is off subject see "spooky action at a distance" thread
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2004
  23. Zarkov Banned Banned

    Just as an exercise, try pulling a door open, without vice gripping the perimeter of the door knob (this would be becoming part of the door, still a push) or placing your fingers behind the door knob ( this would be pushing from behind the door knob).

    There is no way you can, in a physics sense, pull open/shut a door, or anything for that matter.

    Force has to be transmitted via push.

    So gravity is a push to the centre of field spin (not planet rotation),...... and in the motion of the planets the electric force drives the motion which modifies the contracting magnetic fields -----> circular motion..... however elliptical motion is seen, this is due to an electrostatic force pushing all the solar bodies away from their centres of spin.

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