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So there you are, about to leap into a black hole. What could possibly await should — against all odds — you somehow survive? Where would you end up and what tantalizing tales would you be able to regale if you managed to clamor your way back?

The simple answer to all of these questions is, as Professor Richard Massey explains, “Who knows?” As a Royal Society research fellow at the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University, Massey is fully aware that the mysteries of black holes run deep. “Falling through an event horizon is literally passing beyond the veil — once someone falls past it, nobody could ever send a message back,” he said. “They’d be ripped to pieces by the enormous gravity, so I doubt anyone falling through would get anywhere.”

If that sounds like a disappointing — and painful — answer, then it is to be expected. Ever since Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity was considered to have predicted black holes by linking space-time with the action of gravity, it has been known that black holes result from the death of a massive star leaving behind a small, dense remnant core. Assuming this core has more than roughly three-times the mass of the sun, gravity would overwhelm to such a degree that it would fall in on itself into a single point, or singularity, understood to be the black hole’s infinitely dense core.

The resulting uninhabitable black hole would have such a powerful gravitational pull that not even light could avoid it. So, should you then find yourself at the event horizon — the point at which light and matter can only pass inward, as proposed by the German astronomer Karl Schwarzschild — there is no escape. According to Massey, tidal forces would reduce your body into strands of atoms (or ‘spaghettification’, as it is also known) and the object would eventually end up crushed at the singularity. The idea that you could pop out somewhere — perhaps at the other side — seems utterly fantastical.

What about a wormhole?

Or is it? Over the years scientists have looked into the possibility that black holes could be wormholes to other galaxies. They may even be, as some have suggested, a path to another universe.

Such an idea has been floating around for some time: Einstein teamed up with Nathan Rosen to theorise bridges that connect two different points in space-time in 1935. But it gained some fresh ground in the 1980s when physicist Kip Thorne — one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity — raised a discussion about whether objects could physically travel through them.

“Reading Kip Thorne’s popular book about wormholes is what first got me excited about physics as a child,” Massey said. But it doesn’t seem likely that wormholes exist.

Indeed, Thorne, who lent his expert advice to the production team for the Hollywood movie Interstellar, wrote: “We see no objects in our universe that could become wormholes as they age,” in his book The Science of Interstellar (W.W. Norton and Company, 2014). Thorne told Space.com that journeys through these theoretical tunnels would most likely remain science fiction, and there is certainly no firm evidence that a black hole could allow for such a passage.

© Shutterstock If wormholes exist, they might lead to another universe. But, there's no evidence that wormholes are real or that a black hole would act like one.

© Shutterstock
If wormholes exist, they might lead to another universe. But, there’s no evidence that wormholes are real or that a black hole would act like one.

But, the problem is that we can’t get up close to see for ourselves. Why, we can’t even take photographs of anything that takes place inside a black hole — if light cannot escape their immense gravity, then nothing can be snapped by a camera. As it stands, theory suggests that anything which goes beyond the event horizon is simply added to the black hole and, what’s more, because time distorts close to this boundary, this will appear to take place incredibly slowly, so answers won’t be quickly forthcoming.

“I think the standard story is that they lead to the end of time,” said Douglas Finkbeiner, professor of astronomy and physics at Harvard University. “An observer far away will not see their astronaut friend fall into the black hole. They’ll just get redder and fainter as they approach the event horizon [as a result of gravitational red shift]. But the friend falls right in, to a place beyond ‘forever.’ Whatever that means.”

Maybe a black hole leads to a white hole

Certainly, if black holes do lead to another part of a galaxy or another universe, there would need to be something opposite to them on the other side. Could this be a white hole — a theory put forward by Russian cosmologist Igor Novikov in 1964? Novikov proposed that a black hole links to a white hole that exists in the past. Unlike a black hole, a white hole will allow light and matter to leave, but light and matter will not be able to enter.

Scientists have continued to explore the potential connection between black and white holes. In their 2014 study published in the journal Physical Review D, physicists Carlo Rovelli and Hal M. Haggard claimed that “there is a classic metric satisfying the Einstein equations outside a finite space-time region where matter collapses into a black hole and then emerges from a while hole.” In other words, all of the material black holes have swallowed could be spewed out, and black holes may become white holes when they die.

Far from destroying the information that it absorbs, the collapse of a black hole would be halted. It would instead experience a quantum bounce, allowing information to escape. Should this be the case, it would shed some light on a proposal by former Cambridge University cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking who, in the 1970s, explored the possibility that black holes emit particles and radiation — thermal heat — as a result of quantum fluctuations.

“Hawking said a black hole doesn’t last forever,” Finkbeiner said. Hawking calculated that the radiation would cause a black hole to lose energy, shrink and disappear, as described in his 1976 paper published in Physical Review D. Given his claims that the radiation emitted would be random and contain no information about what had fallen in, the black hole, upon its explosion, would erase loads of information.

This meant Hawking’s idea was at odds with quantum theory, which says information can’t be destroyed. Physics states information just becomes more difficult to find because, should it become lost, it becomes impossible to know the past or the future. Hawking’s idea led to the ‘black hole information paradox’ and it has long puzzled scientists. Some have said Hawking was simply wrong, and the man himself even declared he had made an error during a scientific conference in Dublin in 2004.

So, do we go back to the concept of black holes emitting preserved information and throwing it back out via a white hole? Maybe. In their 2013 study published in Physical Review Letters, Jorge Pullin at Louisiana State University and Rodolfo Gambini at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay, applied loop quantum gravity to a black hole and found that gravity increased towards the core but reduced and plonked whatever was entering into another region of the universe. The results gave extra credence to the idea of black holes serving as a portal. In this study, singularity does not exist, and so it doesn’t form an impenetrable barrier that ends up crushing whatever it encounters. It also means that information doesn’t disappear.

Maybe black holes go nowhere

Yet physicists Ahmed Almheiri, Donald Marolf, Joseph Polchinski and James Sully still believed Hawking could have been on to something. They worked on a theory that became known as the AMPS firewall, or the black hole firewall hypothesis. By their calculations, quantum mechanics could feasibly turn the event horizon into a giant wall of fire and anything coming into contact would burn in an instant. In that sense, black holes lead nowhere because nothing could ever get inside.

This, however, violates Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Someone crossing the event horizon shouldn’t actually feel any great hardship because an object would be in free fall and, based on the equivalence principle, that object — or person — would not feel the extreme effects of gravity. It could follow the laws of physics present elsewhere in the universe, but even if it didn’t go against Einstein’s principle it would undermine quantum field theory or suggest information can be lost.

© All About Space Artist's impression of a tidal disruption event which occurs when a star passes too close to a supermassive black hole.

© All About Space
Artist’s impression of a tidal disruption event which occurs when a star passes too close to a supermassive black hole.

A black hole of uncertainty

Step forward Hawking once more. In 2014, he published a study in which he eschewed the existence of an event horizon — meaning there is nothing there to burn — saying gravitational collapse would produce an ‘apparent horizon’ instead.

This horizon would suspend light rays trying to move away from the core of the black hole, and would persist for a “period of time.” In his rethinking, apparent horizons temporarily retain matter and energy before dissolving and releasing them later down the line. This explanation best fits with quantum theory — which says information can’t be destroyed — and, if it was ever proven, it suggests that anything could escape from a black hole.

Hawking went as far as saying black holes may not even exist. “Black holes should be redefined as metastable bound states of the gravitational field,” he wrote. There would be no singularity, and while the apparent field would move inwards due to gravity, it would never reach the center and be consolidated within a dense mass.

And yet anything which is emitted will not be in the form of the information swallowed. It would be impossible to figure out what went in by looking at what is coming out, which causes problems of its own — not least for, say, a human who found themselves in such an alarming position. They’d never feel the same again!

One thing’s for sure, this particular mystery is going to swallow up many more scientific hours for a long time to come. Rovelli and Francesca Vidotto recently suggested that a component of dark matter could be formed by remnants of evaporated black holes, and Hawking’s paper on black holes and ‘soft hair’ was released in 2018, and describes how zero-energy particles are left around the point of no return, the event horizon — an idea that suggests information is not lost but captured.

This flew in the face of the no-hair theorem which was expressed by physicist John Archibald Wheeler and worked on the basis that two black holes would be indistinguishable to an observer because none of the special particle physics pseudo-charges would be conserved. It’s an idea that has got scientists talking, but there is some way to go before it’s seen as the answer for where black holes lead. If only we could find a way to leap into one.

David Crookes
LiveScience

Mysteries

There are many mysteries in the Sahara Desert but scientific and archaeological expeditions are prohibited

There are many mysteries in the Sahara Desert but scientific and archaeological expeditions are prohibited 107

Throughout the history of this African desert, tens of thousands of people have gone missing in its vicinity, and this is only according to official data. The sand is much more destructive than the ill-fated Bermuda Triangle. This is understandable, five thousand kilometers covered with sand.

Scientists know for certain that millions of years ago there were rivers, lakes, flowering gardens and, most likely, even the ocean in the desert, since numerous whale fossils were found in the sands.

There are many mysteries in the Sahara Desert but scientific and archaeological expeditions are prohibited 108

The ruins of cities, underground canals, through which water once flowed, were discovered. In one of the Sahara caves, ancient drawings and hieroglyphs were found, depicting humanoid creatures, around which there was greenery and water. There are a lot of mountains in the desert, where people have never been.

Perhaps the most mysterious place in the Sahara is rocky terrain with melted earth and traces of radiation. At this place, according to scientists, an explosion of incredible power thundered. There is a theory that all this is due to the fall of a meteorite.

This is confirmed by the chemical elements that scientists find in glass and iron. These elements are of unearthly origin, and most likely came to us with a meteorite. Moreover, the crater itself is hidden somewhere under the sands, and has not yet been found.

There are many mysteries in the Sahara Desert but scientific and archaeological expeditions are prohibited 109

If you look at the desert from space, then the first thing that can be seen is the rings, called the eyes of the Sahara, with a diameter of more than fifty kilometers. There are rocky rocks near the rings that are not found anywhere else on Earth. The stones themselves are most likely solidified lava.

But all these secrets and riddles are not studied in detail, since archaeological and scientific expeditions are officially prohibited on the territory of the Sahara, due to safety. On the territory of the desert, armed conflicts constantly occur, which are a great risk for scientists. This is what official sources say.

There are many mysteries in the Sahara Desert but scientific and archaeological expeditions are prohibited 110

The desert can be easily studied from space, by analogy with, for example, Mars, where in the infrared range, with the help of orbiting satellites and telescopes, you can recognize artifacts, as well as make new discoveries. Unfortunately, this does not happen.

The Sahara Desert, along with the oceans of the Earth, remains the least studied.

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Mysteries

Subconscious Games: Eliza Müller’s Martian Language

Subconscious Games: Eliza Müller's Martian Language 111

The Swiss psychologist Theodore Flournoy did not know that, having accepted an invitation from a colleague to attend a seance, he would spend five years of his life studying the secrets of the medium’s subconscious. A tall, beautiful woman sat at a round table, glaring at those who came.

Eliza Müller recently turned 33 years old, but she never got married. At the end of the 19th century, this was considered a tragedy. Eliza did not take money for the sessions, earning good money in the accounting department of a famous trading house. Talking about her, Flournois hid her real name, giving Frau Müller the pseudonym Helen Smith.

During the session, she was transformed, falling into a trance. Her eyes opened wide, her gaze rushed into space or wandered senselessly. At this moment, Eliza’s dilated pupils did not react to the bright light, and her face turned into a lifeless mask. A few minutes later, Eliza began to speak on behalf of the “spirit” that had infiltrated her – Cagliostro, Marie Antoinette, Victor Hugo and other celebrities.

At the same time, her voice completely changed, imitating those whose “spirit” was embodied in her. Sometimes Eliza spoke in a normal voice, describing the visions that appeared to her. In a trance, Frau Müller spoke to only one of those present, answering his questions. The rest of the people did not exist for her.

When Cagliostro moved into Eliza, she stood up, proudly straightening herself up, and began to speak, majestically crossing her arms over her chest. Her voice became loud and low, like that of a man, and her pronunciation was similar to Italian, with ancient turns. Cagliostro answered questions familiarly, referring to the interlocutor on “you”.

Subconscious Games: Eliza Müller's Martian Language 112

Another “spirit” that entered the medium was the Indian princess Simandini, the daughter of an Arab sheikh and the eleventh wife of Prince Nayak Sivruk of the Canary Islands, who built the Chandragiri fortress in 1401.

“The real daughter of the East appeared before us,” recalled Theodore Flournoy. – She sat on the ground with crossed legs; her solemn kneeling before the invisible incense burner, full of religious feeling, her arms crossed reverently on her chest and threefold bows gave the impression of inimitable naturalness; the melancholic tenderness of her songs, the free flexibility of her serpentine movements – such a varied facial expression, distinguished by a purely exotic character, all these movements bore the imprint of originality and ease. Unwittingly, bewilderment arose, how could a woman who did not know the East at all learn them.

During the sessions, Simandini uttered words and whole phrases that no one understood. When they were recorded and contacted by specialists, it turned out that she spoke Sanskrit. Once Eliza, in a trance, wrote a few words in a strange language. Experts in oriental writing told Theodore that this is an Arabic proverb: “A little friendship is already a lot.”

At the end of the session, announced by three knocks on the table, Frau Müller gradually returned to her normal state. It did not come immediately – it was preceded by several short awakenings, alternating with falling asleep. The woman who came to her senses did not remember what happened in the trance.

Flights to Mars

Subconscious Games: Eliza Müller's Martian Language 113

On November 25, 1894, immersed in a trance, Eliza saw a bright light at a high altitude. Then she felt herself pumped.

An example of a text in “Martian language” as presented by Helen Smith

It seemed to her that her head was empty and her body was gone. Some force was carrying her up. Then Frau Müller saw a beautiful ball and was on its surface.

– Where I am? – She asked the familiar “spirit” who was nearby.

“On a planet called Mars,” he replied.

Eliza began to describe her first impressions. She saw carts without horses and wheels, which, sliding, scattered sparks; aircraft similar to coach lights; houses with water fountains on the roof; people who spoke a strange language and, greeting each other, gave clicks in the nose; children who slept in a cradle, which instead of curtains had an iron angel with outstretched wings …

Frau Müller began to visit Mars during almost every trance. Little by little, she learned to speak and write in Martian. It turned out that one of the rulers of the planet, a certain Astane, lived on Earth in a past life and was familiar with Simandini.

Once Eliza in the company of Astane attended a magnificent local celebration. Dressed in a sequined dress (she imagined it was a Martian one), she entered a large square hall, lit by lamps at the corners.

Many ornamental plants hung everywhere. In the middle of the room was a grove surrounded by small, shiny tables. Inside was a cheerful crowd of young men and women, whose hairstyles bore the appearance of a pink, blue, or green moth.

At a sign given by Astane, everyone sat down at the tables decorated with flowers. Two men placed square plates and forks without handles in front of the Martians. Then they served strange-looking dishes, but the taste was excellent. The holiday ended with dances and songs.

Even stranger things were said by Eliza about her visit to the Martian foster home. In the huge hall along the walls there were “cradles” that resembled changing tables. In each “cradle” lay a child.

Martians walked around the hall with domestic animals, which had a wide, flat, almost hairless head and large kind eyes, like those of seals. Their large udders were inserted into a square tube milking unit. The Martians now and then stuck a pipe into the mouths of babies, feeding them milk.

On the way to the solution

Subconscious Games: Eliza Müller's Martian Language 114

Trying to find out as much as possible about the past of the medium, Flournoy found the family doctor Frau Müller. After talking with an elderly doctor, the psychologist showed him a note with an Arabic proverb. The doctor replied that this was his writing style. Several years ago, he traveled to Arabia and knew Arabic well.

Every time he gave a book about travel to friends, he would add an Arabic saying to his autograph. Eliza saw one of the autographs and in a trance drew it from memory from left to right, and did not write, like a real Arab woman, from right to left.

When Flournois invited a famous linguist to the sessions, the scientist said that Simandini’s language is not real Sanskrit, but a mixture of it with words similar in sound, but at the same time meaningless. The linguist got the impression that Eliza somehow saw the Sanskrit dictionary or grammar and leafed through it out of boredom.

Frau herself, of course, had forgotten everything a long time ago, but the subconscious mind kept the words it saw in its memory and then used them during the trance, plugging the blanks with words of its own invention.

Then it was the turn to find out if Princess Simandini and her husband Sivruk existed. All historians amicably answered that these names were unfamiliar to them. Flournoy was ready to give up, but then an old book on the history of India, written in 1828, fell into his hands. Everything that the princess said to herself turned out to be exact quotes taken from there!

Flournoy was able to prove that the source of information from the “spirits” were books that Frau Müller read as a child and forgot. During her trance, her brain would extract pieces of forgotten memories and build plots from them – of course, without the knowledge of her sanity.

Scientists were presented with a fantastic game of the mind and subconscious, surpassing everything that they had previously encountered. The process, when fragments from long-forgotten memories float out and are perceived by the subject himself as something alien, otherworldly, Theodore called cryptomnesia.

Subconscious games

The scientific assault on the “Martian language” was short-lived. Linguists said that the Martian language completely copies the grammar of the French language.

“This is a language that a young child could compose by replacing every word in the French dictionary with an arbitrary combination of letters and each letter with an arbitrary sign,” the experts said. “The language is childish, but as an effort of memory it is a miracle.”

Eliza Müller’s subconscious was trying to get out not only in a trance state. Sometimes she switched to the “Martian language”, not noticing that the interlocutor did not understand her. There could be several such interruptions during one conversation. Even in business correspondence, Frau Müller often inserted phrases or individual letters in “Martian” without noticing the mistake.

In 1900, Flournoy’s book “From India to the Planet Mars” was published, where the author summed up the five-year work of a team of scientists. After reading it, Eliza was furious. Since then, no specialist has received permission to attend her sessions.

A year later, a wealthy American woman gave Eliza financial support so that she could quit her job and focus on developing her mediumship. Frau Müller, who is so good at drawing, has a new talent. Going into a trance, she took up brushes and painted pictures on religious themes. Eliza’s paintings are considered a prime example of art brut – art of non-professionals, which has a spontaneous character and does not depend on cultural traditions.

Frau Müller died on June 10, 1929 in Geneva. Until her last breath, Eliza believed that she was the chosen one of spirits, aliens and saints, called to bring the truth to our lost world.

Mikhail GERSHTEIN, magazine “Secrets of the XX century”

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Mysteries

Mysterious Lake Funduji: why you can’t take water from this African lake

Mysterious Lake Funduji: why you can't take water from this African lake 115

In the northeast of the Republic of South Africa is the picturesque, but mysterious and ominous Lake Funduji. The local population considers the lake sacred and tells legends about it.

Despite the problems with fresh water in Africa, the tribes never settled on the banks of the Funduji, did not fish there and did not even replenish the water supplies from this lake.

This is because, according to local legends, it is impossible to take a drop of water from Lake Funduji, and anyone who touches the water, or even more so drinks it, will soon die. Also, people made sacrifices to the mythical monster Funduji to appease him.

The general public learned about Funduji at the beginning of the 20th century, when deposits of chrome ore were found in the vicinity of the lake. When expeditions from Europe began to come to this area, the lake was finally mapped.

Scientists listened to the stories of the locals about the ominous lake and the monster, but in the course of geological research, nothing mystical was found.

Mysterious Lake Funduji: why you can't take water from this African lake 116

In 1955, Professor Henry Burnside and his assistant Thacker decided to check the legend about strange water that cannot be carried away from the lake. Scientists collected water in several containers made of different materials – glass, porcelain and plastic, and walked several kilometers, intending to examine the samples.

But it was not possible to carry out the analysis: in the morning all the containers were empty. Then the scientists decided to return to the lake and take new samples. This time, Burnside dipped his finger into the water and tasted it: the taste of the water was bitter-rotten.

Throughout the day, scientists observed the containers, but no changes occurred, and by morning the vessels were empty again. Burnside intended to go back to the lake and examine water samples on site, but the plans were prevented by a sudden deterioration in his health: the professor was hospitalized, and a week later he died – as it later turned out, from intestinal inflammation.

It would seem that there is evidence of sinister legends, but there is still a scientific explanation for the phenomena of Lake Funduji. In fact, chromium ore deposits are the cause of the anomalies.

Chromium salts are very toxic to humans, and the concentration of chromium in the lake was so high that a couple of drops killed Professor Burnside.

Mysterious Lake Funduji: why you can't take water from this African lake 117

The disappearing water phenomenon is also explained by the high chromium content. At temperatures below 19 degrees Celsius, chromium particles in water crystallize (therefore, the water “disappeared” at night, when it was cooler). In fact, the liquid from the vessel does not go anywhere, but turns into a solid state, scattering along the bottom and walls of the vessel.

To be fair, some of Funduji’s riddles have not yet been solved – for example, it is not clear why a large number of crocodiles live in the poisonous lake. It is also unclear what these reptiles eat, because there are no fish in the lake, and other animals do not go there to drink.

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