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Maybe black holes don’t really exist

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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On March 28, 2011, the Swift Burst Alert Telescope detected a gamma-ray event that, in contrast with any previously observed gamma-ray burst, remained bright and highly variable for 48 hours. The gamma-ray emission was accompanied by bright x-ray emission that continued for two weeks. Astrophysicists attributed this event to the tidal disruption of a star by a black hole in the center of a distant galaxy. I would argue, however, that it would have been more accurate to describe this event as the tidal disruption of a star by a compact object. This distinction is important because the black-hole model has serious problems. The March event lends support to a heretical idea: that black holes do not exist.

The brightness of the gamma-ray and x-ray emissions suggests they are coming from a jet of charged particles moving at nearly the speed of light, but there is no obvious reason why the tidal disruption of star by a black hole should give rise to such a jet. In fact, the astrophysical community has been struggling to explain the observed ubiquity of jets. A leading idea is that, in the presence of a external magnetic field, electromagnetic energy is extracted from a rotating black hole and used to accelerate charged particles. The source of the field could be the disk of material swirling around the black hole. Yet disks do not generate magnetic fields with the right shape to produce well-collimated beams of particles.

More deeply, there are fundamental reasons why no compact object can be a black hole. The problem is that solutions of Einstein’s general-relativity equations that contain event horizons are inconsistent with quantum mechanics. For example, these spacetimes do not possess a universal time, which is required for quantum mechanics to make sense. Astrophysicists came to accept the idea of black hole because the gravitational collapse of sufficiently large masses cannot be stopped by ordinary means. But Pawel Mazur and I realized some time ago that quantum gravitational effects modify the collapse process.

Ordinary matter will be converted into vacuum energy when it is compacted to the point where general relativity predicts that an event horizon would begin to form. In contrast with ordinary mass-energy, vacuum energy is gravitationally repulsive, so it would act to stop the collapse and stabilize the object. At the surface of such objects, there is a transition layer between the large vacuum energy of the interior and the very small cosmological vacuum energy. In 2000 my colleagues and I suggested that this transition layer represents a continuous quantum phase transition of the vacuum. In 2003 George Musser wrote in Scientific American about the concept and suggested the name "crystal stars". But I prefer the name "dark energy stars".

Low-energy particles entering a dark energy star do not disappear, but follow a curved trajectory and emerge from the surface in much the same way that light does in a defocussing lens. On the other hand, the surface is opaque to elementary particles having energies exceeding a certain threshold. This is a result of the fact that near to a continuous phase transition, there are large fluctuations in the energy density, which in the case of a dark energy star means in the vicinity of the surface. Because the quarks inside protons and neutrons have energies exceeding the threshold for opaqueness, protons and neutrons falling onto the surface of a dark energy star will decay into positrons, electrons, and gamma-rays. In fact, one can make use of quantum chromodynamics (QCD) to predict the energy spectrum of these decay products [4]. The result is that for both the leptons and gamma-rays the spectrum extends up to energies of several MeV. Thus the model predictes that matter falling onto the surface of a dark energy star will result in the production of high-speed electrons and positrons and gamma-rays. The March 28 Swift event is perhaps the clearest evidence to date of this process.

Dark energy stars can readily explain jets. Their angular momentum is carried by spacetime vortices concentrated near the axis of rotation ( As a result an external magnetic field will be wrapped around this vortex core in a barber-pole pattern. Injecting nucleon decay electrons and positrons into a rotating dark energy star will result in a highly collimated lepton jet. Such a jet has a structure very similar to that seen in the jets emerging from the centers of many distant galaxies. What is unique about the March 28 Swift event is that we can see for the first time that the formation of this kind of jet is completely in accordance with what would be expected in a dark energy star.

We arrive at the following picture. When matter from a nearby star hits the surface of a dark energy star, it is instantaneously converted into gamma-rays, electrons and positrons, the majority of which have energies in the 100 keV to few MeV range. It takes about a minute for these particles to fill the interior of the compact object and form a jet. Because the gamma-rays can scatter off the magnetically guided positrons and electrons, a burst of gamma-rays directed along the axis of rotation will initially accompany the jet. After the supply of gamma-rays is exhausted, a beamed emission of x-rays will persist as long as the supply of electrons and positrons lasts.

I doubt that this event alone will dislodge black holes as the astrophysical community’s standard model for compact objects. On the other hand, the unique properties of the March 28 event, together with other ways that the dark energy star theory might be tested in the near future, such as direct millimeter VLBI observations of the massive compact objects at the center of own and nearby galaxies, may soon allow the astrophysical community to see that black holes are really crystal stars.

About the Author: George Chapline is a theoretical physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He led the team that demonstrated the first working x-ray laser, developed the concept of a "gossamer metal," and has contributed to string theory.


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. lamorpa 2:07 pm 07/28/2011

    Well George, I’m glad you were telling that story and not me.

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  2. 2. jtdwyer 4:45 pm 07/28/2011

    Frankly, I think you raise some valid issues that are not usually address in at least the common conception of a black hole that contains all ingested matter compacted within its singularity.

    That conception is essentially the extrapolation of the gravitational collapse and compaction of matter producing white dwarf and neutron stars. I can’t asses any solutions to Einstein’s general-relativity equations, but I agree with you that quantum processes would prevent a complete gravitational collapse of stellar material.

    Those quantum impediments to collapse require the spatial disintegration of stellar material during the collapse process, as indicated by the expulsion of electrons (that would otherwise occupy so much space) and conversion of protons to neutrons during the collapse of a neutron star, allowing for the dense compaction of the remaining matter.

    In the gravitational collapse of a black hole these dimensional sparing processes must proceed further to produce a singularity. The singularity is dimensionless and cannot contain any matter occupying spatial dimensions, but must retain much of the ingested material’s converted mass-energy.

    The mechanical process that could achieve the singularity is the high velocity disintegration of ingested matter, separating it into its constituent fundamental particles and its binding mass-energy. The fundamental particles occupying spatial dimensions must be expelled – preventing their occupying space within the black hole. However, the separated mass-energy must be locally retained, redirected to the singularity.

    In this scenario, not even any compacted matter is retained within the singularity, yet it retains the mass-energy of all ingested material, producing the tremendous gravitational effects of the black hole.

    The collimated beams of charged particles expelled during the back hole’s ingestion of matter are the residue of unbound dimensional material now separated from its binding mass-energy.

    Of course, this scenario requires that quantum mass is not a fundamental property of matter but a separable, external binding energy. This could explain how high velocity collisions of matter disperse mass-energy just as they disperse the imposed experimental velocity rather than expose any detectable particle mediating mass (just as there is no particle mediating the experimentally imparted velocity) – but that’s another story.

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  3. 3. David Russell 7:20 pm 07/28/2011

    When you look at the center of the milky way there are a plethora of stars that are rapidly orbiting an object that does not show up as anything other than a black pixel. Einstein agreed that because the photon has energy it also could be slowed by huge amounts of gravity to the point that light could not escape. We will probably not see the actual black hole due to the event horizon basically freezing the electromagnetic image of the in falling object giving it an eternal frozen appearance but on the other side of that the object inside the black hole is probably unaware it has crossed an event horizon and will experience no real physical effect until it gets closer to the singularity.

    But if gravity is a function of geometry which it appears to be there is a point where all functions fail and that is at infinity or x/0. This paper may account for some observations but something on the order of 1,000,000,000 suns our small little brains become overwhelmed. Kinda like falling into a black hole.

    One last note, if we are being affected by dark energy and it is pushing all space apart to the point where we will not be aware of anything outside the milky way and then even less area it makes me think we are in an event horizon already.

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  4. 4. jtdwyer 8:20 pm 07/28/2011

    I agree that the observation of stars following exceedingly high velocity elliptical orbits around a compact region of space is convincing evidence of supermassive black holes. IMO, that they produce gravitational effects equivalent to those expected for a discrete object containing so much matter does not prove that any matter is actually contained within the event horizon, only that equivalent mass-energy does. That so many high energy fundamental particles are expelled by their relativistic jets is evidence that mass-energy is being retained while dimensional matter is being discarded.

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  5. 5. David Russell 8:54 pm 07/28/2011

    That would make it very hard to create a new universe on the other side of the black hole which to the best of my knowledge are the only two singularities we are aware of. I believe Smolin is finally coming to the same conclusion which he had laid out so well in Life in the Cosmos but wussed out on calling it a fractal event. But if you read between the lines he is saying it and now he is actually seeing it.

    We give our highly insulated senses a lot of credit for describing all reality when it can only at best substantiate 4% of it. We really don’t know what the other 96% of our part of it is. Do you think if neutrinos can fly through you with no effect I would keep in mind it is a big Universe and a lot of waveband availability.

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  6. 6. Quinn the Eskimo 10:15 pm 07/28/2011

    Could it be? Something unreal actually exists?

    I think it highly improbable. However, there is good evidence that the Congressional Budgeting program has fallen into some black hole, somewhere.

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  7. 7. jtdwyer 2:04 am 07/29/2011

    Please, be more specific in describing your objections.

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  8. 8. ttheobald 4:52 am 07/29/2011

    Boy oh boy, is Maximillian Schell going to be pissed off and spinning in his grave when he hears about this ).

    @David Russel – so it shows up as just a black pixel…huh? The event horizon there is considerably larger than a pixel, dude, and we’ve never directly imaged it – too much dust in the way.

    That said, there’s a reason why ‘black hole’ has been a colloquial term for so long – it fits the evidence.

    However, the theory described above may end up being an accurate depiction of the structure of the contents of such a creature. That it bends space is already known, and given its density that curvature is going to be rather extreme…and it’ll probably look for all intents and purposes like the "black hole" we’re familiar with. So what’s the problem?

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  9. 9. jtdwyer 7:03 am 07/29/2011

    The author states:
    "More deeply, there are fundamental reasons why no compact object can be a black hole. The problem is that solutions of Einstein’s general-relativity equations that contain event horizons are inconsistent with quantum mechanics. For example, these spacetimes do not possess a universal time, which is required for quantum mechanics to make sense."

    As I understand, following this line of reasoning there is an even more fundamental reason that black holes cannot exist: gravitation is incompatible with quantum mechanics.

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  10. 10. David Russell 9:09 am 07/29/2011

    What do you mean quantum mechanics requires a universal time what happened to the speed of light and have you read Smolin’s or anyone else on loop quantum gravity where time is based on the event, the observer and the relative difference in there velocity.

    Based on the article in Sciam a few months ago I would tend to agree that gravity is an illusion similar to space and time and has little influence on objects that are extremely small where the other forces have more impact but gosh even string theory allows for gravity being a transient feature of a force that acts across branes. ( I tend to side with Smolin who won’t completely say it but does imply it that black holes are the other side of galaxies).

    But to think their is anything universal is so 19th century. Even Einstein gave up on universal time in fact he was the one who showed it was impossible and i do not remember any quantum physicist who requires universal time in fact most of them reject the ideal of time as a reality when quantum theory allows time to go in both directions. Where the ball gets dropped and Feynman was really guilty of it in QED is where the clock spin or can we at least call it the frequency starts at a fixed spin. It only works on one or two objects after that it is conditional on velocity and direction or can we say the relative difference between the objects.

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  11. 11. jtdwyer 10:01 am 07/29/2011

    You misunderstood – it was the author that stated: "…these spacetimes do not possess a universal time, which is required for quantum mechanics to make sense." I was quoting the article.

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  12. 12. David Russell 10:25 am 07/29/2011

    that sounds more like you.

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  13. 13. Peter D Rodgers 4:15 am 07/30/2011

    In Beyond Albert Einstein’s Relativity: UFT Physics, I have mathematically united relativistic and quantum equations very well. I am Peter D Rodgers of Australia. My physics paper can be found in the National Library of Australia. Also, my physics paper can be found at
    (On some computers the characters are not the characters I intended.)
    Best wishes, Peter D Rodgers of Australia

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  14. 14. MIckey23 7:10 pm 07/30/2011

    @jtdwyer, due to my lack of expertise, these are more questions then comments ;-) .
    The (quantum) processes you describe do offer me a fresh perspective on black holes, so thank you for that. However it fails to explain why these "unbound dimensial materials" are expelled along rotational axes. If they’re rid/decoupled of their mass-energies, shouldn’t their explusion pattern be much more scattered (more like Hawking radiation?). Since they’ve lost their mass-energies, I would think they’d be unaffected by gravity.

    Another question following your nr.10 comment; "these space-times do not possess a universal time" seems to follow logically from one of your previous descriptions of a singularity as a dimensionless "object" (thus no spatial or temporal dimension for these objects). If quantum physics needs a Universal time to make sense, wouldn’t it be equally valid to conclude quantum physics doesn’t make sense "inside" a singularity? (as opposed to your conclusion (parafrased) the black hole doesn’t make sense).

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  15. 15. jtdwyer 12:53 am 07/31/2011

    First, I have no education or background in physics – I’m simply suggesting alternative mechanisms that seem to address some open problems.

    Unlike the author, George Chapline, I am less concerned with explaining the mechanism that produces the observed relativistic polar expulsion jets of active galactic nuclei than the question of how a singularity could possibly be produced. The author contends that there is no singularity and that ingested matter is converted into hypothetical, unidentified dark energy to produce a compact massive object.

    I particularly find another solution that requires some unknown ‘dark’ entity to be problematic. One could simply propose a new ‘dark dimension’ to contain all the ingested matter…

    I suggest that mass-energy is decoupled from matter (which is expelled as fundamental particles). The retention of significant mass-energy directed to the geometric singularity, or focal point of gravitation, requires primarily nucleons are disintegrated into more fundamental component particles of much lower mass. Low mass, loosely bound electrons may be decoupled and ejected early in this process. I don’t suggest that these ejected particles do not contain any mass, but most mass-energy must be extracted and retained within the black hole, redirected to the singularity.

    I’m not knowledgeable enough to explain the ejection process, but I think in general the free electrons are involved in producing highly charged, rotating EM fields that contribute if not accomplish the polar ejection.

    Again, I was quoting the author (third paragraph):
    "…these spacetimes do not possess a universal time, which is required for quantum mechanics to make sense."

    I think I generally agree with your comments. An possible explanation is that, at quantum scales, local time can be treated as though it were a universal time, allowing QM to ‘make sense’. Alternatively, perhaps at macro scales QM simply does not make sense! There are a few other problems – as I understand, gravity is not consistent with QM. I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to ensure that existing QM be made to ‘make sense’ at macro scales – some other solution may be necessary for that.

    The only problem I have for the consensus black hole solution is what to do with the ingested matter. I find it difficult to accept that the ingested matter disappear down some extradimensional rabbit hole, and think the material ejected by relativistic jets is strong evidence that dimensional matter is ejected while mass-energy is retained, producing a singularity.

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  16. 16. David Russell 1:03 am 07/31/2011

    The day I agree with anything Hawkings says will be in july and very cold and not on earth. That said you hit on an interesting concept that may tie quantum and relativity and remove the issue of gravity.

    We all can agree that acceleration adds mass to any particle that contains matter. If we kill time or the ability to have acceleration mass may disappear all by itself with only vacuum energy adding to the picture. If we are in a singularity and the problems with infinity point to it then time, space, acceleration are all illusions which we agree on. It is a shame that absolute zero and the speed of light only work for objects with no mass or maybe that is the answer.

    Anyway I like you look on the outside of the box keep it up.

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  17. 17. David Russell 1:11 am 07/31/2011

    I think we all have an answer. My problem with all these solutions is that quantum mechanics is so tied to the observer that each of our answers are probably both right and wrong at the same time. Kind of like a cat in a box with a vial of poison that may or may not have already broken open. It depends on which cat you are.

    Don’t you hate that current physics is finding out that all the squares, straight lines and triangles are not necessarily based on what the Greeks gave us. Instead they are tied to what forces affect the observer and the observed and in every case one of them is not the same.

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  18. 18. David Russell 1:14 am 07/31/2011

    This is what I really like about Einstein he understood that each observer is not seeing the same thing and in some cases no in the same order but he explained why so well when he decided c is constant. I hope that we don’t decide it might not be. Then I am totally lost.

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  19. 19. ttheobald 4:02 am 08/1/2011

    "The day I agree with anything Hawkings says will be in july and very cold and not on earth."

    Hmm. Seems that day came and went the day you wrote that post, given the content therein. Forgive me for pointing this out, but my money’s on Hawking, not some woo-filled blog commenter who can’t be bothered to do the math.

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  20. 20. David Russell 10:37 am 08/1/2011

    I am a little confused considering no math was involved but I am still working on the spelling of your user name. I have not met a ttheobald but I do know some odd balls, which I am sure have no relation. Hawking has reversed himself more often than not and has lost bet after bet with some of his more off the wall assertions. Have you read Susskind’s book on the War over Black Holes. And that was not the first time Hawking has lost a bet. I will agree with one thing he claims and that is if another race from another place in space would probably do great damage and not have a friendly face.

    I have done a lot of the math but we are really talking concepts and your comment doesn’t address what you think Hawking has done that is correct. I put my money on Lee Smolin and Loop Quantum Gravity. I enjoyed Susskind because he was able to explain in layman terms why what observers would see from either side of the black hole and how information was preserved.

    We have yet to find a black hole that has evaporated and it is true and verified by many people smarter than me and that can spell their names that agree that we can only account for no more than 4% if the matter in the Universe and there are some reports that cut the number to 2%. As a rule I don’t make things up or make statements that are like swiss cheese full of holes.

    When you can explain what Dark Matter, Dark Energy and whether we are in a singularity or a multiverse you will have my interest. Insulting with out back up is lame at best. So maybe start with where my math was wrong and you will regain my interest. Asking you to use your real name would probably be to much.

    If it was the attack on mass I believe and have some of the math that velocity is more important to matter than mass and the only other influence would be what information is contained in the matter. I have read Feynman but enjoyed the work Dyson did to put all the pieces together. And to be honest in some cases I had to read the books a few times to catch the nuances. But I’m sure you have written several from the remark you started out with. I would also be interested in your concept of what perfection and infinity is because I think you have one.

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  21. 21. David Russell 10:43 am 08/1/2011

    check out this simulation it took me 2 minutes to find: I will look for some more but when the pixelization was done it was simply black regarding what the stars are orbiting against.

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  22. 22. David Russell 10:45 am 08/1/2011

    At 35,000 light years a lot of big things show up as just pixels especially with all the dust between there and here.

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  23. 23. jgrosay 4:55 pm 08/3/2011

    A recent image you published, about something like a diabolo with a size superior to any imaginable star, can have existed only if a black hole was in the center of it, the jets or cones in a perfect cone section shape coming from a not visible point in the center can be expalined only if there’s a black hole there, and the diabolo image is made from matter expelled from it. The definitive evidence of the existence of black holes will never come, as nobody will be able to go there and come back.

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  24. 24. Grumpyoleman 7:21 pm 08/3/2011

    I’m staying out of this one. And you guys should thank me for that.

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  25. 25. johnthetraveller 11:51 am 08/5/2011

    I am way out of my depth here, but I wonder if anyone can answer my naive queries.
    I though theory holds that gravity may well be transmitted by a particle (the Higgs boson?). Black holes supposedly suck matter in via gravity. Doesn’t that mean that matter inside the hole is exchanging particles with matter outside the hole – in which case what happened to the event horizon?

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  26. 26. dantevialetto 4:46 pm 08/5/2011

    Somebody laughs a lot to comment with jokes, but in his small world he is the only one that laughs!

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  27. 27. bucketofsquid 12:35 pm 08/10/2011

    Most of this conversation is way over my head but it is pretty obvious that a lot of people having physics discussions seem to lose sight of the difference between a universal and an observational value. Mass is essentially a universal value. A mass that at 1 standard gravity weighs an ounce does not gain mass as it gets accelerated up to 500 miles per hour relative to the observer but the observational mass (the kinetic energy conveyed when it strikes something) does become 500 ounces by our standard math because it imparts the same energy as a 500 ounce object at 1 mile per hour would impart on impact. I may not be a quantum physicist but I haven’t found any quantum physicist yet that has stated that this basic rule is incorrect.

    If this basic rule is correct then simple compression should rip apart atoms and even subatomic particles and allow the transference of energy to force something out of the potential black hole. At about this point in the discussion my understanding fails completely. Interesting article and follow on discussion. I wish I understood more of it.

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  28. 28. R.Blakely 5:20 am 08/18/2011

    I think a compact object can be a black hole. When an object has enough gravity to cause light to orbit it, then the object appears to be a black hole. Since a black hole is mostly made of orbiting light this means light is not escaping, and so the object is black.
    A black hole is mostly photons. Since photons have gravity, photons attract each other. A black hole thus has much gravity. But a black hole has a star at its core, which can eject radiation from its poles.
    Dark matter is probably photons. Photons have gravity. This means that the universe is probably not expanding. The illusion of expansion occurs because light bends as it comes from distant stars. Photons converge due to mutual gravity, so that the distant stars are not as distant as they appear. Mutual gravity causes a red shift since energy is lost to gravity as photons separate.

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  29. 29. Emanuel Of God 1:37 am 09/7/2011

    It may well be that all particles are a black whole of sorts. If each particle was the sum of all events that have interacted with that point in space and time which means they may arrive at variable velocities, trajectories and spins an effect similar to infinity may occur which would cause what we consider laws of physics to make no sense at all. Like a soliton the wave function would persist but still be suseptable to other interactions both future and past. I find the photon to be nothing more than a result of a quantum event and if it interacts with other particles it becomes something new while still containing the initial information. If this could be proved it may tie quantum to relativity quite easily. I don’t think infinity exist but then that leaves us all inside of a singularity. Now my head hurts. But the geometry that would be created would be very much like Einsteins description of gravity thus mass. Maybe we don’t need a new particle like a Higgs Boson just more numbers to add to the equation.

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  30. 30. drtoivowillmann 8:22 am 06/5/2012


    General Theory of Relativity says that gravity interaction moves like a wave at light velocity and not more. If Escape Velocity beyond the so-called Horizon of Events is higher than light velocity, how gravity itself could escape from it? Gravity should be “zero” outside and not hughe, like in black-hole-theory. So I cannot believe in existance of black holes, at least upon the point of view of the classic theory of it.
    If, on the other hand, they realliy exist, something is missing in common theory to explain it.

    Yours truly:
    Ph.D. Toivo Willmann

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