[FoRK] Big Sucking Sound

Regina Schuman rschuman at jfcsjax.org
Wed Jul 21 12:11:18 PDT 2004

Hawking Says He Was Wrong About Black Holes

Published: July 21, 2004


Haydn West/European Pressphoto Agency
Dr. Stephen W. Hawking settled a 7-year-old bet today with Professor
John Preskill, who insisted that matter consumed by black holes couldn't
be destroyed, by giving him a book.  

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 Black Holes 


Filed at 1:22 p.m. ET

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) -- Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said
Wednesday that black holes, the mysterious massive vortexes formed from
collapsed stars, do not destroy everything they consume and instead can
fire out matter and energy ``in a mangled form.''

Hawking's radical new thinking, presented in a paper to the 17th
International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation in
Dublin, capped his three-decade struggle to explain an elemental paradox
in scientific thinking: How can black holes destroy all record of
consumed matter and energy, as Hawking long believed, when subatomic
theory says such elements must survive in some form?

Hawking's answer is that the black holes hold their contents for eons
but themselves eventually deteriorate and die. As the black hole
disintegrates, they send their transformed contents back out into the
infinite universal horizons from which they came.

Previously, Hawking, 62, had held out the possibility that disappearing
matter travels into a new parallel universe within the black hole -- the
very stuff of most visionary science fiction.

``There is no baby universe branching off, as I once thought. The
information remains firmly in our universe,'' Hawking said in a speech
to about 800 physicists and other scientists from 50 countries.

``I'm sorry to disappoint science fiction fans, but if information is
preserved, there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to
other universes,'' he said.

``If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to
our universe, but in a mangled form, which contains the information
about what you were like, but in an unrecognizable state,'' he said with
a smile, sparking laughter from the audience.

Hawking added, ``It is great to solve a problem that has been troubling
me for nearly 30 years, even though the answer is less exciting than the
alternative I suggested.''

In a humorous aside, Hawking settled a 7-year-old bet made with Caltech
astrophysicist John Preskill, who insisted in 1997 that matter consumed
by black holes couldn't be destroyed. He presented Preskill a favored
reference work ``Total Baseball, The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia''
after having it specially flown over from the United States.

``I had great difficulty in finding one over here, so I offered him an
encyclopedia of cricket as an alternative,'' Hawking said, ``but John
wouldn't be persuaded of the superiority of cricket.''

Later, Preskill said he was very pleased to have won the bet, but
added: ``I'll be honest, I didn't understand the talk.'' Like other
scientists there, he said he looked forward to reading the detailed
paper that Hawking is expected to publish next month.

Hawking pioneered the understanding of black holes -- the
matter-consuming vortexes created when stars collapse -- in the
mid-1970s. He has previously insisted that the holes emit radiation but
never cough up any trace of matter consumed, a view that conflicts with
subatomic theory and its view that matter can never be completely

Hawking, a mathematics professor at Cambridge University, shot to
international fame with his best-selling book ``A Brief History of
Time,'' which sought to explain to a general audience the most complex
aspects of how the universe works.

Despite being virtually paralyzed and forced to rely on a wheelchair
with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis since his mid-20s, Hawking travels
the world on speaking engagements. He communicates by using a hand-held
device to select words on his wheelchair's computer screen, then sending
them to a speech synthesizer.

The slow process of constructing answers meant that, in the press
conference that followed his paper, Hawking was able to answer only two
questions in a half-hour. The final questioner asked him what problem he
intended to tackle next, now that he had solved the paradox of the black

``I don't know,'' Hawking quickly replied, bringing the house down with


On the Net:

Hawking's site, www.hawking.org.uk 

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