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Black Holes Were Such an Extreme Concept, Even Einstein Had His Doubts

April 10, 2019 in History

By Ian O’Neill

Einstein’s theory of relativity paved the way for black holes’ discovery, but the concept behind their existence was so bizarre that even the scientific visionary was not convinced.

More than a century ago, Albert Einstein stunned the world when he explained the universe through his theory of general relativity. The theory not only described the relationship between space, time, gravity and matter, it opened the door to the theoretical possibility of a particularly mind-boggling phenomenon that would eventually be called black holes.

The concept that explains black holes was so radical, in fact, that Einstein, himself, had strong misgivings. He concluded in a 1939 paper in the Annals of Mathematics that the idea was “not convincing” and the phenomena did not exist “in the real world.”

The first image of the shadow of the black hole in the center of M87 taken with the Event Horizon Telescope in 2019.

The unveiling of the first-ever picture of a black hole by the Event Horizon Telescope in April 2019, however, not only confirmed Einstein’s original theory, but also provided indisputable proof that the gravitational monsters are, in fact, real.

The Space-Time Theory

As described by American physicist John A. Wheeler, general relativity governs the nature of space-time, particularly how it reacts in the presence of matter: “matter tells space-time how to curve, and space-time tells matter how to move.”

Picture a flat rubber sheet (space-time) suspended above the ground. Place a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet (matter) and the sheet will distort around the mass, bending half way to the floor— this is matter telling space-time how to curve. Now roll a marble (matter) around the rubber sheet (space-time) and the marble’s trajectory will change, being deflected by the warped sheet— this is space-time telling matter how to move. Matter and space-time are inextricably linked, with gravity mediating their interaction.

Now, place a singularity—a theoretical point of infinite density—onto the sheet, what would happen to space-time? It was German theoretical physicist Karl Schwarzschild, not Einstein, who used general relativity to describe this hypothetical situation, a situation that would become the most extreme test of general relativity.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the curvature of space-time that propagate as waves traveling outward from their source.

At a certain threshold, Schwarzschild found that the hypothetical singularity would literally punch through space-time. In mathematics, singularities are interesting numerical …read more


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