UNB Research

New UNB research may solve 50-year-old black hole mystery

Author: UNB Research

Posted on Apr 26, 2022

Category: Accolades , Publications , Category , Research

A new paper published by researchers at UNB might create some big shockwaves in the study of black holes.

In their research, published in Physics Review Letters 128(12), Dr. Viqar Husain, Jarod Kelly, Robert Santacruz and Dr. Edward Wilson-Ewing describe the creation of a simulation that might just resolve a question that has stumped physicists for five decades: the so-called black hole information paradox.

For the benefit of those of us without advanced degrees in quantum physics, we asked them to share a bit of information about themselves, their research, and what it all means.

Read on to learn more about how computer simulations might be able to peek past the virtually-impenetrable horizon of a black hole.

Who are you?

Dr. Viqar Husain: I am a professor of mathematics and statistics at UNB. I have a PhD in theoretical physics from Yale University, and my research interests are in classical and quantum gravity, and in scientific computation.

I’ve served as the scientific director of the Atlantic Association for Research in the Mathematical Sciences (AARMS), and on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery.

Dr. Edward Wilson-Ewing: I’m an associate professor of mathematics and statistics at UNB. I obtained my PhD from the Pennsylvania State University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Aix-Marseille University, Louisiana State University, and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics before coming to UNB.

I work in theoretical physics on the problem of quantum gravity, where; our main goal is to reconcile the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity. I am particularly interested in studying the role that quantum gravity effects may have in the very early universe and in black holes.

Robert Santacruz: I come from a small town called Benifaio, in the province of Valencia, Spain, and I have a BSc and a MSc degree in physics from the University of Valencia. Currently, I am a PhD student at UNB, where I am working on quantum gravity applied to black holes. However, my research interests vary from black holes, cosmology and quantum physics to data analysis and its applications; I am part of a collaboration between UNB and a private company where I work on epidemiology.

Jarod Kelly: I am a PhD candidate in mathematics at UNB from Saint John, New Brunswick. I completed a BSc in mechanical engineering at UNB, at the end of which I decided to move from a more practical to theoretical subject. After my BSc, I started my master’s degree in mathematics, but was invited to move to the doctoral program after my first year. I am currently nearing the end of my PhD, and my current research is focused on quantum gravity, and in particular on its application to black hole space-times.

What should we know about this article?

Recent observations of the cosmos have established that black holes are massive astronomical objects shrouded by a surface of no return called an event horizon. Our present understanding is that behind this veil lies an undesirable physical feature: a single point at its center where all the black hole’s mass is concentrated; the mass density there is infinite. Wherever an infinity is encountered in science, it signals a problem with our understanding.

Our article proposes a remarkable resolution of this singularity problem: by applying an idea that unifies the two great theories of the 20th century, quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity, we created a computer simulation that predicts how a black hole forms, how matter moves inside its horizon, and how the matter finally explodes outward as a shock wave, destroying the black hole in its wake.

This sequence of events provides an entire life history of a black hole, and it also gives a precise measure of its lifespan, a time significantly shorter than that predicted by Hawking.

Lastly, our work offers a potential solution to the famous black hole information loss problem. This paradox concerns whether or not physical information persists inside a black hole, a puzzle first posed by Hawking. Currently there is no firm consensus on this issue. Our simulation suggests that information can escape the black hole in a shockwave. If astronomers detect an energetic event coming from a black hole, its origin could well be the shockwave we predict.

What is significant about these findings?

This is ‘blue skies’ research, which we also call fundamental or curiosity-driven research. In this type of work, we search for the basic laws that govern the universe.

But, simply because we’re not looking at real-world applications doesn’t mean there won’t be any. Solving fundamental scientific problems such as what is electricity, magnetism, gravity, the structure of the atom, quantum theory and so on have led, sometimes 100 years later, to trillion-dollar industries.

Our research is foundational in nature. There remain basic unanswered questions such as what is the nature of space and time? Research on black holes falls into this last category, where the goal is to combine the quantum world with gravity.

The societal impact of this kind of research is at least two-fold: providing inspiration in the same way as art and literature, and potential applications down the line.

So, what comes next? Will you be conducting follow up research?

We have a fairly long list of related projects to pursue. This work is really the first of its kind, and our group at UNB will not be the only one following up.

One of the things we want to understand is whether black holes die in a shockwave regardless of the type of matter that went into forming it. We also want to understand whether a black hole ultimately releases all the information that disappeared into it.

What does it mean to have your paper receive the attention it has?

Physical Review Letters is among the world's top scientific journals in terms of impact and prestige. Even there, only a small subset of the papers published there are picked up by the American Physical Society for wider communication. It obviously feels good to be recognized this way. And it helps highlight UNB on the global scientific map.

More information

Dr. Viqar Husain (orcid) | Dr. Edward Wilson-Ewing (orcid)| Department of Mathematics and Statistics | Department of Physics | Faculty of Science

Research at UNB | Graduate Studies at UNB | Postdoctoral fellowships

Banner image: The first picture of a black hole was made using observations of the center of galaxy M87 taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. The image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole 6.5 billion times the Sun’s mass. Image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration / Caption: NASA