British physicist Steven Hawking could finally win a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking theory on black holes thanks to new research out of Israel’s Technion university.
In 1974, Hawking hypothesized that black holes are slowly evaporating, challenging the conventional understanding that nothing could escape from the void of a black hole.
The theory, known as Hawking Radiation, suggests that subatomic light particles are sometimes ejected back out of a black hole, taking with them tiny amounts of energy, resulting in a gradual decrease in its mass over time until it evaporates completely.
But more than 40 years later, no one had been able to prove Hawking’s theory, mainly because light particles from black holes are too small to be detected from Earth.
Enter Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Physics Professor Jeff Steinhauer. Last year, he and his team of researchers recreated the conditions of a black hole in a lab using sound waves in order to study how subatomic particles behave on its edge, known as an event horizon.
In his new paper published on the arXiv.org physics site, Steinhauer explains that he simulated a black hole event horizon by cooling helium to just above absolute zero (–273.15 degrees C or –459.67 degrees F), and then heating it rapidly to create a barrier impenetrable to sound waves, similar to light from a black hole.
During the experiment, Steinhauer found that tiny particles of energy that formed sound waves did escape his simulated black hole, as Hawking suggested.
“This confirms Hawking’s prediction regarding black hole thermodynamics,” Steinhauer wrote in the introduction to his paper.
Silke Weinfurtner, a physicist at the University of Nottingham who is also working to detect Hawking Radiation in a lab-simulated black hole, warned Steinhauer’s results were not conclusive.
“The experiments are beautiful,” he told The Times of London this week. “Jeff has done an amazing job, but some of the claims he makes are open to debate. This is worth discussing.”
According to the report, the research is currently undergoing peer review at a prominent journal, where experts are checking if Steinhauer’s observations could be attributed to something else, such as tiny vibrations caused by flaws in the experiment’s design.
If Steinhauer’s observations are accepted by the scientific community, it would become the strongest evidence to date supporting Hawking Radiation, the Times said.
According to numerous reports, Steinhauer’s observations on the ground-breaking theory could win Hawking his first Nobel Prize.
Ironically, Hawking supports the academic boycott of Israel, and in 2013 canceled his participation in a Jerusalem conference organized by then-president Shimon Peres.