Stephen Hawking’s last scientific paper, which he was working on just before he died, could unlock a mystery he grappled with for much of his life.
The paper, Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair, deals with the mystery of the boundary around black holes – and the ‘information paradox’ of what happens when something falls in.
Many of Hawking’s papers focused on the thorny question of what happens to all the information that disappears into a black hole.
One of the fundamental tenets of physics is that information can never be completely erased from the universe.
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His last paper was finalised and published by colleagues at Cambridge and Harvard university, the Guardian reports.
Co-author Malcolm Perry said that the information paradox as ‘at the centre of Hawking’s life’ for more than 40 years.
Perry said, ‘We still don’t have the technology to verify Stephen Hawking’s big ideas. The difficulty is that if you throw something into a black hole it looks like it disappears.
‘How could the information in that object ever be recovered if the black hole then disappears itself?’
The new paper suggests that objects thrown into a black hole may change its temperature – and its ‘entropy’, a measurement of its internal disorder.
This ‘entropy’ may be recorded by light particles at the event horizon – described as ‘soft hair’.
Perry said, ‘What this paper does is show that ‘soft hair’ can account for the entropy. It’s telling you that soft hair really is doing the right stuff.’
Hawking died in March aged 76.
Ravaged by the wasting motor neurone disease he developed at 21, Hawking was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life.
But his work – including the nine-million-selling book A Brief History of Time – made him one of the most recognisable scientists on Earth.