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SPACE

“If you fell into a black hole, it’s not clear how you would die.”

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Will gravity rip you apart and crush you into the black hole’s core? Or will a firewall of energy sizzle you into oblivion? Could some essence of you ever emerge from a black hole? First posited by a group of theorists including Donald Marolf, Ahmed Almheiri, James Sully and Joseph Polchinski in March 2012, the question of how you would die inside a black hole is probably the biggest debate in physics right now. It’s called the firewall paradox.

Based on the mathematics in Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity, you would fall through the event horizon unscathed before gravity’s force pulled you into a noodle and ultimately crammed you into singularity, the black hole’s infinitely dense core.

But Dr. Polchinski and his team pitted Einstein against quantum theory, which posited that the event horizon would become a blazing firewall of energy that would torch your body to smithereens.

Keep both theories, the physicist Stephen Hawking said in January 2014. Black holes aren’t what we thought they were. There is no event horizon, and there is no singularity. They’re just different.

According to Dr. Hawking, at the edge of a black hole, the fourth dimension known as space-time fluctuates like weather, making the crisp edge we assume impossible. Instead, Dr. Hawking’s “apparent horizon” would be like a purgatory for light rays attempting to escape a black hole, slowly dissolving and moving inward, but never being pulled into singularity. The event horizon, he says, remains the same, or even shrinks as a black hole slowly leaks energy. Suspended in the apparent zone, you would scramble and leak out into the cosmos as “Hawking radiation.”

From yesterday’s New York Times

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