Stephen Hawking's famous theory of how black holes die could mean our entire universe is doomed to evaporate, a new study found

Illustration in red and orange of a black hole.
Stephen Hawking theorized that black holes died by evaporation.Science Photo Library - MARK GARLICK/Getty Images
  • Stephen Hawking famously predicted in 1974 that black holes died by evaporation.

  • But experts thought the extreme gravitational environments of black holes were unique to his theory.

  • A new study said that Hawking radiation — which kills black holes — could also kill everything else.

The ultimate fate of our universe is unknown. But that doesn't stop astronomers from trying to figure it out.

The most recent idea of how our universe might end is that it could simply evaporate. That's right; a new study published in the journal Physical Review Letters suggests that everything could evaporate.

The scientists from Radboud University were examining Stephen Hawking's theory of how black holes die by a phenomenon now famously known as Hawking radiation, which the theoretical physicist predicted in 1974.

Quantum-physics theory and Einstein's theory of gravity say that particles spontaneously form and annihilate under the intense gravitational environment at the mouths of black holes, aka the event horizon.

Hawking calculated that these particles were sometimes trapped behind the event horizon, but others escaped outside in the form of Hawking radiation. Over time, enough particles escape that the entire black hole evaporates.

Hawking radiation has been observed around a black hole in our universe, confirming the late genius' predictions. And up to this point, black holes were the only places experts had looked for it.

But this new study may change that.

"Objects without an event horizon, such as the remnants of dead stars and other large objects in the universe, also have this sort of radiation," Heino Falcke, a study coauthor, said in a statement on Friday. "And, after a very long period, that would lead to everything in the universe eventually evaporating, just like black holes."

In the study, the scientists proposed that you didn't necessarily need extreme gravitational environments for Hawking radiation to exist.

Rather, anything with mass that warped the fabric of spacetime could trigger this radiation.

"We show that far beyond a black hole the curvature of spacetime plays a big role in creating radiation," the study coauthor Walter van Suijlekom said in the statement.

The scientists' calculations need further analysis, testing, and observational proof to confirm their predictions.

Even if their theory holds true, though, there's nothing to worry about in the near future.

Researchers have estimated that it took black holes longer than the age of the universe to evaporate. While it's unclear how long it would take something like a star to do the same, chances are our universe will remain intact for the foreseeable future.

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