Einstein may have predicted Gravitational Waves, but what if his theory of general relativity is wrong…

After the groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves from a collision of two black holes 1.3 billion light-years away, the scientific community has been thrilled and overwhelmed with joy. The discovery marks the final piece of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, allowing scientists around the world to complete one journey and embark on another. Einstein’s theory of Relativity predicted the occurrence of the measured ripples in spacetime over a century ago. Since then the theory has allowed physics to accomplish great feats of discovery.

 

“What a satisfaction that is was all dreamt up by this guy with pure thought”- Rainer Weiss from MIT

What if Einstein’s theory was just that… pure thought. Could the model we use to understand the Universe be wrong? A team of research physicists at University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University have created a scenario which seems to defy the laws of relativity. The findings, published in the Physics Review Letters,  prove that a 5-dimensional black hole in the shape of a ring leads to the appearance of a naked singularity.

black hole (center) in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud

Black hole (center) in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud

What is a naked singularity you ask? well before we talk about ‘naked’ singularities, let’s briefly discuss what a singularity is. A singularity is a point where gravity is so intense that space, time and the laws of physics break down. Einstein’s theory of relativity predicts that singularities occur at the centre of black holes surrounded by an event horizon. The event horizon is the point at which nothing can escape, meaning the singularity is not visible from the outside.

Naked singularities on the other hand, are singularities that occur outside the event horizon and are hence visible. The black hole simulated by the supercomputer has quite an odd appearance. The ring-like tube wobbles back and forth until eventually it dies out. The video below shows what the black hole simulated model looks like:

 

The ring-like black holes were discovered by theoretical physicists in 2002 but was never proven or modelled as it has been now. The black hole starts as a very thin ring which then wobbles and bulges with interconnected strings. Over time, these become thinner and thinner until they laterally pinch-off into a series of smaller black holes. There is one catch, however. In order for this black hole to exist, there need to be 5 or more dimensions. Currently, we think the universe has four dimensions, the fourth being time; which makes up spacetime.

“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,”. Markus Kunesch, the study co-author said

Certain theories in theoretical physics, like String Theory, suggest that the universe could be made up of 11 dimensions. Humans however, can only perceive three dimensions and, therefore, require very high-energy experiments like the ones in the Large Hadron Collider to infer them.

For now, as long as naked singularities only stay visible in supercomputer simulations and not in the visible universe, we know that Einstein’s theory of relativity still holds.

To read up on more interesting topics regarding physics and the universe, check out our articles here.

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Saad Bhatty

Blogger, journalist, geologist and Tech-enthusiast. There is always something to write about!

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