A whisper from a lab-manufactured black hole may confirm the existence of radiation predicted by University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking four decades ago. If validated by further research, the finding would offer evidence that particles blinking in and out of existence can rob black holes of mass.
"It's amazing, groundbreaking work," says Daniele Faccio, a physicist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. The work "demonstrates something that everyone thought was impossible."
For decades, scientists thought of black holes as everlasting objects from which nothing, not even light, could escape. But in the mid-1970s, Hawking proposed an amendment to that rule with huge implications.
He noted that quantum mechanics allows pairs of particles to spontaneously pop into existence in the vacuum of space. Usually those particles quickly annihilate each other. But if they formed at the event horizon — the black hole's point of no return — then one particle could get dragged in, while the other could escape as energy called Hawking radiation.