Sep 26, 2023

Two Black Holes Masquerading as One

Posted by in categories: cosmology, information science, quantum physics

Black holes may be less unique than previously thought, as the expansion due to a cosmological constant can hold apart a pair of holes and allow them to mimic a single black hole.

Black holes are astonishing objects that can pack the mass of Earth into a space the size of a pea. A remarkable attribute is their stunning simplicity, which is encapsulated in the celebrated uniqueness theorems [1]. Briefly stated, these theorems say that there is only one solution to Einstein’s equations of general relativity for a fully collapsed (nonevolving) system having fixed mass and angular momentum [2]. The implication is that all black holes that have settled down to equilibrium with the same mass and rotation are precisely the same: their entire behavior described by a single equation—the so-called Kerr solution—filling only a few lines of paper!

But there is a catch. The uniqueness theorems make a number of assumptions, the key one being that the space around the black hole is “empty”—in other words, there is no energy that might influence the black hole. Such energy can arise from fields, for example, those of the standard model, or from a “cosmological constant,” which is a form of dark energy that might be behind the accelerated expansion of our Universe today. In a fascinating study, Óscar Dias from the University of Southampton, UK, and colleagues demonstrate that uniqueness is violated in the presence of a positive cosmological constant [3]. Specifically, they show that a pair of black holes whose mutual attraction is balanced by the cosmic expansion would look the same to a distant observer as a single isolated black hole. The results may lead to a rethinking of how simple black holes really are.

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