There has been a great deal of study and debate surrounding the mysteries of black holes. The University of North Carolina’s Laura Mersini-Houghton believes that the reason there is so much uncertainty is because black holes don’t exist. Her paper has been submitted to ArXiv, but has not been subjected to peer review. Earlier this year, she published a paper with approximate solutions in the journal Physics Letters B.
Astrophysicists have been studying black holes for decades. It is widely believed that when a star 20 times more massive than our Sun or larger dies and collapses, it can condense into an incredibly small area known as the singularity that is extremely dense. It is surrounded by an event horizon, which is a region where the gravitational pull is so strong, not even light can escape. It is essentially the "point of no return."
Stephen Hawking first theorized in 1974 that due to quantum effects at the event horizon, it releases radiation now known as Hawking radiation. Over time, shedding this radiation can pull mass away, in a process known as evaporation. However, Mersini-Houghton states that so much radiation is shed from the star when it collapses, it is simply not possible for it to form a black hole.
Mersini-Houghton claims that she has clearly and effectively reconciled Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with quantum mechanics. Though the two have never necessarily been at odds on a large scale, physicists have previously been unable to merge the two cohesively. In terms of relativity, the formation of the black hole can be predicted. However, in quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle doesn’t really permit one to know exactly where something is located. It’s possible to get pretty close, but not exactly. This is just one of many ways in which quantum theory and Einstein’s classical field theory fail to align when it comes to black holes.
“Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories – Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum mechanics – for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony,” Mersini-Houghton stated in a press release. “And that’s a big deal.”
However, not everyone is on board with Mersini-Houghton’s conclusions. William Unruh, a theoretical physicist from the University of British Columbia, pointed out some fatal flaws in the paper's argument.
“The [paper] is nonsense,” Unruh said in an email to IFLS. “Attempts like this to show that black holes never form have a very long history, and this is only the latest. They all misunderstand Hawking radiation, and assume that matter behaves in ways that are completely implausible.”
According to Unruh, black holes don’t emit enough Hawking radiation to shrink the mass of the black hole down to where Mersini-Houghton claims in a timely manner. Instead, “it would take 10^53 (1 followed by 53 zeros) times the age of the universe to evaporate,” he explains.
“The standard behaviour by such people [who don’t understand Hawking radiation] is to project that outgoing energy back closer and closer to the horizon of the black hole, where its energy density gets larger and larger,” he continued. “Unfortunately explicit calculations of the energy density near the horizon show it is really, really small instead of being large-- Those calculations were already done in the 1970s. To call bad speculation "has been proven mathematically" is, shall we say, and overstatement.”