Simulated Image of a Black Hole. Image obtained via Creative Commons License
Stephen Hawking recently announced that he has solved one of the most famous puzzles in science, the black hole information paradox. The information paradox is a conundrum of Hawking’s own making. In the 1970s, he predicted that black holes radiate, evaporate, and eventually disappear. This scenario is particularly concerning, because once inside a black hole, nothing can escape. If a black hole were to completely evaporate, all of this information would be lost, defying the laws of quantum mechanics.

The boundary of a black hole is referred to as the event horizon. Hawking claims that the information from particles or light that enter a black hole is not stored inside the event horizon, but on the event horizon itself. Hawking was inspired by the work of Andrew Strominger, a faculty member here at Harvard, who has been studying special symmetries of nature known as “supertranslations” and “superrotations.” According to Hawking, Strominger, and their collaborator Malcolm Perry, supertranslations could provide a way to encode all of the “lost” information on the event horizon, in a manner analogous to how a hologram can encode information about three dimensions on a two dimensional space.

Unfortunately for other scientists in the field, Hawking only presented a cursory outline of his proposed solution, making it difficult to judge the validity of his claims. The three collaborators are currently working together on a paper to support Hawking’s claims. Skepticism seems prudent until the paper is peer reviewed.

Even if Hawking’s proposal proves correct, many scientists think his claims are at best a step in the right direction. There are still many open questions that need to be answered. One has to wonder if all relevant quantum information can be encoded with supertranslations, and if superrotations come into play at all.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Prahar Mitra, a graduate student in the Department of Physics at Harvard University, for providing his expertise and commentary on the subject

Managing Correspondant: Karri Folan DiPetrillo

Media Coverage:
“Stephen Hawking hasn’t solved the information paradox just yet” Scientific American
“Hawking Proposes Solution to Black Hole Problem” Science News

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