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Toward a more realistic view inside black holes

NSF Award:

The Dynamics of Quantum Gravity  (Louisiana State University & Agricultural and Mechanical College)

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Does Einstein's general theory of relativity by itself fully explain what happens inside a black hole? Not completely. In fact, the equations of Einstein's theory actually cannot describe the interior of black holes, a region where gravitational forces are very intense. This isn't too surprising to researchers. They had long expected that at such intensities the description provided by general relativity would get corrected due to quantum physics, the theory that describes elementary particles and atoms.

To better explain what occurs within a black hole's strong gravitational forces, NSF-funded researchers are proposing a theory called loop quantum gravity. By combining Einstein's theory with quantum physics they have produced a detailed picture of the inner workings of black holes. Strong gravitational fields do exist, but the equations of the proposed theory show that the black hole connects to another region in space-time.

The researchers applied the theory of loop quantum gravity to study empty space-time regions that are spherically symmetric. The team showed that the place where Einstein's equations of general relativity break down gets replaced by a region of strong gravitational fields where quantum effects are important but the theory holds up.

Understanding the quantum behavior of black holes near their core is essential for solving several puzzles in fundamental physics. Although researchers are still far from realistically describing black holes, the quantum treatment of an eternal black hole like the one discussed here is a first step toward such a description. In addition, understanding how the laws of gravity described by Einstein's theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics fit together is one of the main challenges facing fundamental physics.

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  • depiction of the space-time curvature near a black hole
Space-time curvature in the vicinity of a black hole.
Clifford Pickover, www.pickover.com

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