Friday, March 10, 2006

Dark Energy Stars? The End of Black Holes?

A provocative article in the New Scientist online today suggests the possibility that maybe black holes really are just too cool to be true, and that what we should be looking for instead are "dark energy stars." Furthermore, to quote from the article by Zeeya Merali, "Dark energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin." Which would be a neat trick, since dark energy is apparently blowing the universe apart, while dark matter is helping to hold things together.

George Chapline, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin of Stanford University, and their colleagues have suggested that "the objects that till now have been thought of as black holes could in fact be dead stars that form as a result of an obscure quantum phenomenon. These stars could explain both dark energy and dark matter." The obscure quantum phenomenon is one that has been observed in superconducting crystals "as they go through something called 'quantum critical phase transition.'" It all has to do with an apparent slow-down in the passage of time, due to some quantum trick that I certainly don't understand.

Anyway, this gave the researchers an epiphany regarding black holes, and they set about analyzing what would happen if matter falling onto a collapsing star were passing through a layer of " quantum critical phase transition." And what they came up with was something that looks from the outside very much like a black hole, but without a singularity—and also without some of the problems that have frustrated black hole researchers for a while now.

I'll stop trying to summarize, because it gets a little complicated. If this intrigues you, do read the article. It might ruin your day, if you really like singularities (as I do). But what the hey, I think we were all getting a little too comfortable in our cozy little feeling that we understood all about black holes. Don't you?


At 2:45 PM, Blogger Jose said...

Great link Jeff. I think its almost a given that a lot of sacred cows are going to be tipped over the next few decades. The universe is turning out to be a far stranger place than previously imagined.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Jeffrey A. Carver said...

Sacred cow tipping--there's an image I like!


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