Simulated five-dimensional black hole breaks general relativity

Researchers have shown that an ad-hoc-shaped, computer-simulated black hole can break down Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The discovery stimulates the search for alternative ways of explaining our universe beyond the current accepted theories.

Computer-simulated, ring-shaped black hole that breaks Einstein’s theory of general relativity in a five-dimensional universe (credit: Pau Figueras, Markus Kunesch, Saran Tunyasuvunakool/University of Cambridge).

Computer-simulated, ring-shaped black hole that breaks Einstein’s theory of general relativity in a five-dimensional universe (credit: Pau Figueras, Markus Kunesch, Saran Tunyasuvunakool/University of Cambridge).

The research was conducted at the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London and the results were published in the journal Physical Review Letters last week. The scientists simulated a bizarrely-shaped black hole which looks like a very thin ring with a set of bulges connected by strings that thin down and pinch off into a series of miniature black holes. The aim of the study was to find the deliberate conditions under which a ‘naked singularity’ could form causing the equations of general relativity to break down.

General relativity predicts that singularities exist at the centre of black holes and are surrounded by an event horizon – the frontier where the gravitational pull of the black hole becomes so strong that even light cannot escape. “As long as singularities stay hidden behind an event horizon, they do not cause trouble and general relativity holds – the ‘cosmic censorship conjecture‘ says that this is always the case,” said co-author of the study Markus Kunesch.

However, if a singularity existed beyond the event horizon it would be visible from the outside and would constitute a ‘naked singularity’ – an object that has collapsed to an infinite density, hence violating the currently accepted laws of physics. “If naked singularities exist, general relativity breaks down,” said co-author Saran Tunyasuvunakool. “And if general relativity breaks down, it would throw everything upside down, because it would no longer have any predictive power – it could no longer be considered as a standalone theory to explain the universe.”

Using the COSMOS supercomputer the scientists involved in the study were able to perform a simulation of Einstein’s complete theory of general relativity in more than the four dimensions of standard space-time. They found that a special class of black holes in the shape of ‘black rings’ can evolve to form naked singularities in a five-dimensional universe. This is interesting because Einstein’s theory does not put constraints on how many dimensions there are in the universe. In fact, certain theories such as string theory argue that our universe could be made of up to 11 dimensions.

While the cosmic censorship conjecture seems to hold true in a four-dimensional universe, it might not in a higher-dimensional one, which would require an alternative theory – quantum gravity being at the forefront – of explaining things.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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