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Santhosh Mathew, PhD Headshot

Beauty of the Beast

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Too often, black holes are pictured as ultimate destroyers that suck up everything in their vicinity. In a dramatic shift that shatters the traditional wisdom surrounding these cosmic monsters, some physicists are giving them a new look , and if they are right our universe resides inside a black hole. Apparently, the beasts of the cosmos , long thought to be the synonym of death and destruction, are gaining some respect from the same laws of physics that created them.

Death of stars in the universe is somewhat similar to our own demise. No one seems to care about the poor and ordinary beings when they depart. But, the noble and privileged make an impact of their death, and it is well celebrated. In a universe, which is filled with more stars than humans on the planet, death of small stars is often unnoticed and they may drag their second life in the form of white dwarfs-an ordinary star like sun will have such a fate .The big ones, on the other hand, send their death message to every corner of the cosmos in act known as supernova. Even their life after death, known as black hole, is acknowledged with horror and fear.

The stars much more massive than our own sun are possible candidates to
become black holes after they spend their active life. The life of a star is a constant battle
between the force of gravity that tries to collapse it, and the nuclear force that balance
the onslaught of gravity. But, ultimately nuclear fuel exhausts and gravity wins -a black hole is born. They come in different varieties from microscopic in size to super massive one at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and in fact, in all galaxies.

Black holes represent the breakdown of known laws of physics. When Einstein formulated
the theory of relativity, he could not have imagined such a consequence for his theory. But,
the seeds of destruction of space and time were already implanted in his
famous laws that govern gravity. Initially, Einstein rejected such a possibility claiming the nature will prohibit their formation. Ironically, it is his theory that predicted the very existence of black holes.

The direct detection of black holes is not possible since even light can't get off the event horizon, the radius of the black hole. But, astronomers have concrete evidence for the black holes. They track the motion of stars around them and measure the secondary x-ray emissions from the hot gases to confirm and identify these cosmic holes.

In a recent paper, 'Radial motion into an Einstein-Rosen bridge', Nikodem J. Popławski of Indiana University, reported that his theoretical study related to the motion of particles inside a black hole suggest that observed astrophysical black holes may be Einstein-Rosen bridges (wormholes), each with a new universe inside that formed simultaneously with the black hole. Accordingly, our own Universe may be the interior of a black hole existing inside another universe.

Scientists believe that our universe began with a singularity where the known laws of universe have no meaning. Similarly, it is assumed that inside a black hole the objects must propel towards the singularity that exists at the center of the black hole. But the motion of galaxies in the universe suggests that there is no preferred direction of motion in space , rejecting the notion that our universe is inside a black hole.

It remains to be seen how the new results explain such phenomena. At this point, Poplawski's results are speculative and not going to change our conventional understanding of the universe. Yet, it is a completely different way of looking at these fascinating objects and the creation of the universe -an alternate reality.

Originally known as 'frozen stars', these objects are the result of human knowledge and imagination. The visionary physicist, John Wheeler, a pioneer in nuclear fission, who argued with Einstein about the nature of reality invented the name 'black hole', and that stuck.

John Wheeler so aptly wrote, "We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance."

Black holes continue to strain our imagination. It is estimated that our own galaxy have millions of them. The universe seems like an arena where the black holes perform their cosmic dance. On a grand cosmic scale, they could be the destroyers as well as creators.They might be harboring the secrets of the beginning. Yes, it is time to appreciate the beauty of the beasts that will bring knowledge.

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