Surprise! Black holes can behave like quantum particles
Black holes have properties characteristic of quantum particles, a new study reveals, suggesting that the enigmatic cosmic objects could be simultaneously small and large, heavy and light, or dead and alive, much like Schrödinger’s legendary cat.
The new study, based on computer modeling, aimed to find the elusive link between the mind-boggling time-distorting physics of supermassive objects such as black holes and the principles governing the behavior of the smallest subatomic particles.
The research team developed a mathematical framework that simulated a quantum particle just outside a giant simulated black hole. The simulation revealed that the black hole showed signs of quantum superposition, the ability to exist in multiple states at once — in this case, to be both massive and not massive at all at the same time.
Related: Do we live in a quantum world?
“We wanted to see if [black holes] can have vastly different masses at the same time, and it turns out they do,” lead author Joshua Foo, a PhD researcher in theoretical physics at the University of Queensland, said in a pronunciation (opens in new tab). “Until now, we haven’t explored deeply whether black holes exhibit some of the weird and wonderful behaviors of quantum physics.”
The best-known example of quantum superposition is Schrödinger’s legendary cat, a thought experiment designed by early 20th-century physicist Erwin Schrödinger to demonstrate some of the key problems in quantum physics. According to quantum theories, subatomic particles exist simultaneously in multiple states until they interact with the outside world. This interaction, which could be the simple act of being measured or observed, throws the particle into one of several possible states.
Schrödinger, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, wanted the experiment to demonstrate the absurdity of quantum theory, as it would suggest that a cat locked in a box could be dead and alive at the same time based on the random behavior of atoms, until a observer breaks the superposition.
However, it turned out that while a cat in a box can be dead regardless of the observer’s actions, a quantum particle can indeed exist in a dual state. And the new study indicates that so does a black hole.
The American and Israeli theoretical physicist Jacob Bekenstein was the first to postulate that black holes may have quantum properties. Since a black hole is defined by its mass, its quantum superposition must mean that this strange gravitational gate can have multiple masses that fall within certain proportions.
“Our modeling showed that these superimposed masses were in fact in certain particular bands or ratios — as predicted by Bekenstein,” study co-author Magdalena Zych, a physicist at the University of Queensland and a co-promoter of the study , said in the statement. “We didn’t expect such a pattern to come in, so the fact that we found this evidence was quite surprising.”
Not that we’ve come any closer to understanding what goes on inside black holes. But whatever that is, it’s probably even more fantastic than we could have imagined.
The new study (opens in new tab) was published online Friday (Oct. 28) in the journal Physical Review Letters.
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