TEL AVIV – After 40 years, Israeli researchers may have found proof of Stephen Hawking’s most mind-boggling theory on black holes that could finally win the British physicist a Nobel Prize.
Known as Hawking Radiation, the 1974 theory proposes that not everything that comes into contact with a black hole is sucked in by it. Subatomic light particles – or photons – are sometimes ejected back out, and this gradual loss of mass over time means every black hole eventually evaporates out of existence.
Until now, 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.
Last year, however, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology physics professor Jeff Steinhauer and his team of researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute recreated the conditions of a black hole in a lab by cooling helium to almost absolute zero and spinning it around to form a sound barrier.
Steinhauer reported that some tiny particles of energy did indeed escape.
“This confirms Hawking’s prediction regarding black hole thermodynamics,” Steinhauer writes in his report.
Silke Weinfurtner, a physicist at the University of Nottingham who is also working to detect Hawking Radiation in a lab-simulated black hole, said the research was a “huge leap forward” but more experiments were needed to prove the theory conclusively.
“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.”
Steinhauer’s observations are currently undergoing peer review at a prominent journal. If they are accepted by the scientific community, it would become the strongest evidence to date supporting Hawking Radiation, and could win Hawking his first Nobel Prize.
Ironically, this could prove awkward for Hawking, who is a staunch supporter of the academic boycott of Israel, and in 2013 canceled his participation in a Jerusalem conference organized by then-president Shimon Peres.