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No black holes according to general relativity?
In a controversial paper in a peer-reviewed journal', Abhas Mitra, a theoretical physicist at the Bhabha Atomic ResearchCentre in Mumbai, argues that black holes do not exist. It is generally accepted that black holes areobjectswhose pull of gravity is so- strong that even light cannot escape from its clutches. And because no light comes out, the objects appear black. But according to Mitra, Einstein'sgeneral theory of relativity prohibits both the formation and the existence of (finite mass) black holes. "The primitive idea of black holes, called 'dark stars' in those days, was due to the English natural philosopher John Michell way back in 1783. But the modern concept of black holes grew by fits and starts after the birth of [Einstein's theory] in 1915," Mitra told Newslndia. But Mitra declares that no realistic calculations have ever demonstrated the formation of black holes in a strict sense .. "The concept of black holes took root by means of apparently correct assumptions, inferencesand the interpretation of highly idealized, unrealistic calculations." Einstein "unsuccessfully struggled to convince his followers and peers that his theory actually does not allow the existence of black holes," Mitra continues. "Despite his objections, the concept of black holes rose... in the 1960s and continues to fascinate,dominate and overawe not only modern astrophysics, but also theoretical physicsin generaL" Mitra claims to have shown that all the idealized calculations (by .Robert Oppenheimer and Hartland Snyder), and some of the crucial assumptions made by Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose and others, which consolidated the notion of black holes, "are either faulty or invalid". Once the errors caused by these faulty assumptions are removed, "their work too does not allow the formation of black holes," reported Mitra in his paper'. -

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The crux of Mitra's proof relies on the principle that the (local) speed of collapsing matter cannot exceed the speed of light. According to Einstein's theory of relativity, actual physical space-time is like a rubber membrane that curves or sags in the presence of. mass or energy - where there is a star, for example. And this curvature of space-time manifests itself as gravity. Mitra argues that, as the collapsing object becomes more and more compact, the gravity associated with it continues to sag the space-time membrane without limit. "As a result, the star continues to collapse indefinitely in this infinitely deep pit," says Mitra. This means that for isolated bodies such as stars, Einstein's relativity theory may be free of singularities. In other words, it does not allow the occurrence of infinite density or pressure. As the massivestar collapses indefinitely and no (finite-mass) black hole is formed, the star tends to radiate away all of its entire mass-energy. "lf true, this would immediately explain the origin of the enigmatic cosmic gamma-ray bursts, which are not properly understood at present," says Mitra. These bursts are explosive events lasting only tens of seconds during which the entire energy of a Sun-like star can be radiated as gamma-rays. According to Mitra, black holes are actually ultracompact objects collapsing with negligible yet finite speed. Because such eternally collapsing objects may have strong magnetic fields, which black holes do not, Mitra's work, if he is right, may help to explain many astrophysical phenomena that are currently poorly understood. "Thus, contrary to widespread notions, Einstein's intuition about [the non-existence of] black holes was after all correct," Mitra says. The controversial paper has .been available on the Internet? for more than

two years. Mitra says he invited Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, Charles Misner and other notable black-hole theorists to criticize his work, but no one replied.. Yet : Mitra has been encouraged by scores of e-mails from physicists around the world. One from Salvatore Antoci of the University of Padova, Italy, says: "Let me expressto you my great joy in seeing your much-disputed paper eventually accepted for publication' by Foundations of Physics Letters. Convincing the community of relativists about the rpythical nature of black holes will remain a tremendous task, but it is a little less desperate thanks to your success." Peder Norberg of the department of physics at Durham University, UK, said he carefully read through Mitra's paper and found "that most of the results presented there are more than impressive". Stanley Robertson of Southwestern Oklahoma University, USA, said: "On first becoming acquainted with your work, I was dubious, thinking it unlikely that something as profound as belief in the existence of black holes could become erroneously established in the literature. In the meanwhile, I have found no errors in your work. It is fascinating." And Pankaj Joshi of the Tata Institute of ;Fundamental Research in Mumbai, said: "I have not detected any errors so far." Mitra recites an episode from the 19305 when SubrahmanyanChandrasekhar'swork on the upper mass limit of white dwarfs was considered incorrect by celebrated astrophysicists such as Arthur Eddington, even though no one could find an errorin his work. Mitra is confident that his work, too, will eventually be recognized by the scientific community.

I . Mitra, A. Found. Phys. Lett. 13, 543-579 (2000). 2. http://arXiv.org/abs/astro-ph/9910408 e-mail: amitra@apsara.barc.ernet.in

NewsIndia I August 2001

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