You can now hear in full on the BBC’s website the first part of Stephen Hawking’s 2016 Reith Lecture—“Do Black Holes Have No Hair?” Just above, listen to Hawking’s lecture while you follow along with an animated chalkboard on which artist Andrew Park sketches out the key points in helpful images and diagrams. We alerted you to the coming lecture this past Tuesday, and we also pointed you toward the paper Hawking recently posted online, “Soft Hair on Black Holes,” co-authored with Malcolm J. Perry and Andrew Strominger. There, Hawking argues that black holes may indeed have “hair,” or waves of zero-energy particles that store information previously thought lost.
The article is tough going for anyone without a background in theoretical physics, but Hawking’s talk above makes these ideas approachable, without dumbing them down. He has a winning way of communicating with everyday examples and witticisms, and Park’s illustrations further help make sense of things. Hawking begins with a brief history of black hole theory, then builds slowly to his thesis: as the BBC puts it, rather than see black holes as “scary, destructive and dark he says if properly understood, they could unlock the deepest secrets of the cosmos.”
Hawking is introduced by BBC broadcaster Sue Lawley, who also chairs a question-and-answer session (in the full lecture audio) with a few select Radio 4 listeners whose questions Hawking chose from hundreds submitted to the BBC. Stay tuned for Part Two, which should come online shortly after Tuesday’s broadcast.
The short animated video above gives us a tantalizing excerpt from Hawking’s second talk. “If you feel you are in a black hole,” he says reassuringly, “don’t give up. There’s a way out.” That nice little aside is but one of many colorful ways Hawking has of expressing himself when discussing the theoretical physics of black holes, a subject that could turn deadly serious, and—speaking for myself—incomprehensible. As far as I know, black holes work in the real universe just like they do in Interstellar.
I kid, but there is, however, at least one way in which Christopher Nolan’s apocalyptic space fantasy with its improbably happy ending may not be total hokum: as Hawking theorizes above, certain particles (or anti-particles) may escape from a black hole, “to infinity,” he says, or “possibly to another universe.” The main idea, says Hawking, is that black holes “are not the eternal prisons they were once thought.” Or, in other words, “black holes ain’t as black as they are painted,” which also happens to be the title of his next talk. Stay tuned: we’ll bring you more of Hawking’s fascinating black hole theory soon.