Branching from Stephen Hawking’s ideas which seem to prove black holes are real, Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at Chapel Hill’s University of North Carolina, claims the mysterious (and still controversial) objects “can never come into being in the first place.” It took years for scientists even to agree amongst themselves—based on data acquired primarily through X-ray astronomy—that black holes could exist. Mersini-Houghton revisited Einstein’s theory of gravity, and another basic in quantum theory that states “no information from the universe can ever disappear.” Einstein’s notion “predicts the formation of black holes,” but appears to contradict the quantum theory. “I’m still in shock,” said Mersini-Houghton on The Week. “We’ve been studying this problem for more than 50 years, and this solution gives us a lot to think about.” Historically, there is convincing evidence in our Milky Way (spiral) galaxy for a supermassive black hole. And, in 1994, the Hubble Space Telescope detected and measured the mass of an invisible object at the center of M87, a giant elliptical galaxy 53,490,000 light years distant. Estimated at 3 billion times the mass of our Sun, the suspected black hole appears compressed enough to fit inside our solar system. But is it real?
As a long-time amateur astronomer, I find Mersini-Houghton’s claim fascinating. It says much about not only occasional scientific hubris, but also about our apparently collective acceptance of “expert” knowledge (in this case, though, literally impossible for non-physicists to verify!). When Werner Heisenberg said, “Not only is the universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think,” he was having a very good day.
—NOTE: thanks to an email from Ulrik Lyngs at the Institute of Art and Ideas in London, we’ve been provided a link where you can hear Professor Laura Mersini-Houghton talk about her findings at the the IAI. Cheers.