Scientists have created a lab-grown black hole analog to test one of Stephen Hawking’s most famous theories – and it’s behaving exactly as he predicted.
The experiment, created using a string of single-file atoms to simulate a black hole’s event horizon, added further evidence to Hawking’s theory that black holes should emit a faint glow of radiation from virtual particles appearing randomly near their boundaries. .
Additionally, the researchers found that most light particles, or photons, should be produced around the edges of cosmic monsters. The team published their findings Nov. 8 in the journal Physical Review Research. (opens in a new tab).
Related: Black holes: everything you need to know
According to quantum field theory, there is no such thing as a vacuum. Instead, space is teeming with tiny vibrations that, if imbued with enough energy, randomly burst into virtual particles – particle-antiparticle pairs that annihilate almost immediately, producing light. In 1974, Stephen Hawking predicted that the extreme gravitational force felt at the mouths of black holes – their event horizons – would summon photons into existence in this way. Gravity, according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, warps spacetime, so quantum fields warp more as they approach the immense gravitational tug of a hole’s singularity black.
Due to the uncertainty and weirdness of quantum mechanics, this warping creates uneven pockets of differently moving time and subsequent energy spikes across the field. It is these energy shifts that cause virtual particles to emerge from what appears to be nothing on the outskirts of black holes, before annihilating to produce a faint glow called Hawking radiation.
Physicists are interested in Hawking’s prediction because it is made at the extreme frontier of the two major but currently irreconcilable theories of physics: Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which describes the world of large objects, and quantum mechanics, which details the strange behavior of the smallest particles.
But directly detecting hypothetical light is something astrophysicists will probably never achieve. First, there are the considerable challenges posed by both getting to a black hole – the closest known being 1,566 light-years from Earth – and, once there, not being sucked in and spaghettied by its immense gravitational pull. Second, the number of Hawking photons appearing around black holes is thought to be tiny; and in most cases would be drowned out by other light-producing effects, such as high-energy X-rays spewed out by matter swirling around the black hole’s precipice.
Read more: Dead and alive at the same time: black holes have quantum properties
In the absence of a real black hole, physicists have begun to search for Hawking radiation in experiments that simulate their extreme conditions. In 2021, scientists used a one-dimensional array of 8,000 supercooled, laser-confined atoms of the soft metal element rubidium to create virtual particles in the form of wave-like excitations along the string.
Now another atom chain experiment has achieved a similar feat, this time adjusting how easily electrons can jump from atom to atom in the line, creating a synthetic version of the event horizon. spatio-temporal distortion of a black hole. After tuning this string so that part of it falls above the simulated event horizon, the researchers recorded a temperature spike in the string – a result that mimicked the infrared radiation produced around black holes. . The finding suggests that Hawking radiation could emerge as a quantum entanglement effect between particles positioned on either side of an event horizon.
Interestingly, the effect only appeared when the amplitude of the jumps changed from a few defined configurations of flat spacetime to a distorted configuration – suggesting that Hawking radiation requires a change in the specific energy configurations of space-time to be produced. As the powerful gravity distortions produced by the black hole are absent from the model, what this means for a theory of quantum gravity and for the actual naturally produced Hawking radiation potential is unclear, but it offers some insight nonetheless. tantalizing with hitherto unexplored physics.
Originally published on LiveScience.
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