Black holes are actually giant fuzzballs of string, claims new research

A new paper strengthens the theory that black holes are like balls of space yarn and debunks the idea of "firewalls".

Black holes are wonderfully strange and trying to understand how they work has put many a crazy-sounding theory into the spotlight. In 2012, a group of astrophysicists concluded that black holes featured firewalls on their outer edges, potentially burning up anything that may end up caught inside. The idea that the event horizon had a ring of fire, swarming with high-energy particles, was startling and added to the potential paradoxes scientists have proposed in relation to black holes. Now, physicists have found that there may be no firewalls after all. Instead, they think black holes work like growing balls of strings or “fuzzballs”.


The team from Ohio University, led by the professor of physics Dr. Samir D. Mathur, calculated what would happen if an electron fell into an average black hole, with a mass similar to our sun's. Their work shows that the electron would not be likely to burn up. 

“The probability of the electron hitting a photon from the radiation and burning up is negligible, dropping even further if one considers larger black holes known to exist in space,” said Mathur.

Mathur’s work adds to his previous theory from 2004 that proposed black holes to be like gigantic balls of yarn or “fuzzballs”. He thinks they grow as they suck in more and more objects.  

The paper by the physicists uses string theory, which supposes that the universe is made of string-like tubes of energy, to discount the notion of firewalls.  

“The question is ‘Where does the black hole grab you?’ We think that as a person approaches the horizon, the fuzzball surface grows to meet it before it has a chance to reach the hottest part of the radiation, and this is a crucial finding in this new physics paper that invalidates the firewall argument,” explained Mathur. 

What would really happen to a person falling into a black hole? Certainly, no one knows precisely. Mathur thinks a person suffering such a fate would get “tangled up in strings” but not sure what that would look like, aiming to do more detailed calculations. Interestingly, the paper says the "infall energy" of the falling person would create new fuzzballs, and this "motion gets encoded in the evolution of these new fuzzballs."

You can check out the new paper here. It is published in the Journal of High Energy Physics.

 

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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