Speed Reads

the proof is in the...cosmic pudding

Physics professor says she has proof that black holes don't exist

Black holes have inspired everything from sci-fi films to questionably racist greeting cards — which is all the more surprising considering that, according to one scientist, they may not even exist.

Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says she has mathematic proof that black holes "can never come into being in the first place," according to a statement from the university. Black holes, scientists have long believed, are the "ultimate unknown," because they are "the blackest and most dense objects in the universe." Mersini-Houghton, though, wants to disprove common ideas about the elusive black holes.

Mersini-Houghton looked at two leading theories of the universe, Einstein's theory of gravity and a fundamental law of quantum theory. The theories appear to contradict each other — the quantum theory law says that "no information from the universe can ever disappear," while Einstein's theory "predicts the formation of black holes." But Mersini-Houghton has merged what was known as the "information law paradox," and her findings will make scientists "reimagine the fabric of space-time" and "rethink the origins of the universe," according to the university.

"I'm still not over the shock," Mersini-Houghton said in the statement. "We've been studying this problem for more than 50 years, and this solution gives us a lot to think about."

Previous thought suggests that black holes form when stars collapse, and their gravitational pull creates the black hole. Stephen Hawking proved that black holes release radiation, and Mersini-Houghton has built on Hawking's ideas. She argues that when stars release radiation, they also lose mass — so much mass, in fact, that the star wouldn't have enough density to ever become a black hole.

"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 said in the statement. "And that's a big deal."