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04/04/2005 Archived Entry: "Do black holes exist?"

Some scientific perspective courtesy of Gordon P. who responds to my query on what he thought about a news item in which a scientist argues, "Black holes are staples of science fiction and many think astronomers have observed them indirectly. But according to a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, these awesome breaches in space-time do not and indeed cannot exist." Gordon responds...

Yes, this idea has been floating around for a couple years now; googling a bit, I found a marginally-readable account of it in Lubos Motl's blog.

This paper is similar to a series of papers on "condensate stars" floated by Emil Mottola and Pawel Mazur (plus others) which are also in arXiv; however, very few physicists take their ideas seriously. (It probably would not have gotten much attention at all if it hadn't been endorsed by Robert Laughlin --- a Nobel Prize-winner in an unrelated subfield of physics who is IMO speaking outside his area of personal competence --- and also because it appeals to the crowd of (IMO anti-science) "science reporters" who go into a feeding-frenzy whenever there is any hint that "Einstein might be wrong !!!")

The basic thesis is that it's simply "impossible" for a "black hole" to form, because when the star's gravity becomes strong enough, the "structure of spacetime itself breaks down" and turns into "something else" that is (according to some viewpoints) "neither space nor time," (Personally, I find aspects of this position virtually incomprehensible, and bordering on crankdom.) Chapline's "contribution" is to try to identify this imponderable "something else" with the equally imponderable "Dark Energy" that some astrophysicists believe is necessary to "explain" the apparent "acceleration" of the expansion of the universe.

While I'm _somewhat_ sympathetic to the viewpoint that "Black Holes" are a rather unesthetic consequence of General Relativity (they are an "ugly" concept, and their very name itself is an extremely obscene and vulgar reference when translated into Russian :-/), it doesn't seems to me that replacing them with an imponderable "something else" is any great logical improvement --- it's almost like postulating "invisible pink unicorns" as an explanation... :-(

Also, I'm not personally a fan of the "Dark Energy" concept -- I'm reasonably convinced that the whole "accelerated expansion" scenario is going to turn out to be due to some systematic error in the observations (al they've _really_ shown so far is that high-redshift supernova are "anomalously dim" and that some of the more prosaic explanations such as obscuring dust can't easily explain the data), whereas the "Dark Energy" scenario is IMO the result of taking an unjustifiably simplified model of the Universe too seriously. (IMO, the whole thing is probably going to become a tremendous embarrassment to cosmologists in a few years when they find out they've overlooked something that in hindsight should have been blindingly obvious --- insert story of drunk under streetlight looking for keys here :-)

Okay. Insert preprared: a drunk searches the ground under a streetlight, looking for the keys he dropped several feet away. He's searching there 'cuz the light is so much better.

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