The Cornell University astrophysicist and television star consulted his friend Kip Thorne, a black hole expert at the California Institute of Technology.
Now, decades later, a new species of traversable wormhole has emerged, free of exotic material and full of potential for helping physicists resolve a baffling paradox about black holes.
John Preskill, a black hole and quantum gravity expert at Caltech, says the new traversable wormhole comes as a surprise, with implications for the black hole information paradox and black hole interiors.
The ER = EPR conjecture, posed by Maldacena and Leonard Susskind of Stanford, was an attempt to solve the modern incarnation of the infamous black hole information paradox by tying space-time geometry, governed by general relativity, to the instantaneous quantum connections between far-apart particles that Einstein called “Spooky action at a distance.”
The paradox has loomed since 1974, when the British physicist Stephen Hawking determined that black holes evaporate – slowly giving off heat in the form of particles now known as “Hawking radiation.” Hawking calculated that this heat is completely random; it contains no information about the black hole’s contents.
Almost everyone believes in unitarity, which means information must escape black holes – but how? In the last five years, some theorists, most notably Joseph Polchinski of the University of California, Santa Barbara, have argued that black holes are empty shells with no interiors at all – that Ellie Arroway, upon hitting a black hole’s event horizon, would fizzle on a “Firewall” and radiate out again.
Many theorists believe in black hole interiors, but in order to understand them, they must discover the fate of information that falls inside.