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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Malpass

Hawking Radiation

Scientists and mathematicians propose so many interesting, exotic ideas to explain the truth about reality, don't you agree? Here's a nifty example from Stephen Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist who wrote A Brief History of Time, and made several TV guest appearances on shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Big Bang Theory.

(You know, I bought A Brief History of Time back in the early 1990s, when it was on all the bestseller lists. It's not a long book at all. Quite innocuous looking. Written in simple language for the non-scientist. Friends, I struggled mightily to finish it. Took a couple of years. In contrast, I easily watched every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Big Bang Theory. Just saying.)

Simulated view of a black hole in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud. (Alain r., Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris)

Here's a black hole. It has an event horizon, which is the boundary region inside which everything goes dark. See?

It's called Hawking radiation. The nifty idea Stephen Hawking came up with to explain observable reality, that is. Or in this case, non-observable reality, because Hawking radiation hasn't ever been observed, at least not yet. If one were searching for Hawking radiation, one would need to look near the event horizon of a black hole. And one would need to have a very sensitive matter-antimatter particle pair detector. (Isn't it already obvious why I simply adore Hawking radiation? Event horizon? Antimatter? Pretty awesome, right?)

Famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, predictor of Hawking radiation.

Famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, predictor of Hawking radiation, author of difficult to finish books about time, and TV personality.

So obviously, those matter-antimatter pairs are going to annihilate each other pretty quickly. (You know, because that's how they are. Never have gotten along.) But if they are right up next to the event horizon of a black hole, one member of the pair might slip across the event horizon before it can be annihilated, leaving the other particle "holding the bag," so to speak. The "bag" in this case is Hawking radiation. Get it? Questions?

(Okay, no, there's not an actual bag. It's just an expression.)

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