Scientists have seen an analogue of Hawking radiation in a laboratory simulation of a black hole

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Physicists have observed the equivalent of Hawking radiation by lining up a chain of atoms to simulate the event horizon of a black hole. Hawking radiation, first proposed by Stephen Hawking in 1974, is too weak for us to detect, but this experiment offers a way to study its properties in a laboratory. The study’s authors believe it may help to come closer to resolving the contradiction between two currently irreconcilable theories describing the universe: general relativity and quantum mechanics, and could open up opportunities to study fundamental quantum mechanical aspects alongside gravity and warped spaces in various settings.

Scientists have seen an analogue of Hawking radiation in a laboratory simulation of a black hole

By lining up a chain of atoms to simulate the event horizon of a black hole, a group of physicists observed the equivalent of what we call Hawking radiation—particles born from the perturbations of quantum fluctuations caused by the black hole’s rift in spacetime.

According to them, this experiment may help to come closer to resolving the contradiction between two currently irreconcilable theories describing the universe: general relativity, which describes the behavior of gravity within the continuous fabric of space-time, and quantum mechanics, which describes the behavior of discrete entities according to using probabilities. The study was published in the journal Physical Review Research.

In order to create a unified theory of quantum gravity that could become the long-awaited “Theory of Everything”, these two incompatible theories must find a way to somehow get along with each other.


This is where black holes come into play — possibly the strangest and most extreme objects in the universe. These massive objects are so dense that within a certain distance from the center of the black hole, no speed, not even the speed of light, is sufficient to escape from their gravitational well.

This distance, which varies depending on the mass of the black hole, is called the event horizon radius. As soon as the object crosses its border, it becomes lost to us, and we can only imagine what happens to it, since no information is returned from there.

But in 1974, Stephen Hawking suggested that the interruption of quantum fluctuations caused by the event horizon leads to the appearance of radiation very similar to thermal radiation.

If this Hawking radiation exists, it is too weak for us to detect. We may never be able to isolate it from the background radiation of the universe. But we can study its properties by creating analogues of black holes in laboratory conditions.

This has been done before, but in a study published last year led by Lotta Mertens from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, scientists did something new.

In the experiment, electrons “jumped” along a one-dimensional chain of atoms from one position to another. By adjusting the parameters of the atoms that affect the ease with which this jump occurs, physicists were able to create a kind of event horizon that interacts with the wave nature of electrons.

According to the team, the effect of this pseudo-event horizon led to an increase in temperature that was consistent with theoretical expectations from a black hole. This could mean that the entanglement of particles beyond the event horizon plays an important role in the creation of Hawking radiation.

It is not clear what this means for the construction of a theory of quantum gravity, but this model offers a way to study the appearance of Hawking radiation in a medium that is not affected by the turbulent dynamics of a forming black hole. And because it’s so simple, it can be used in a wide range of experimental settings, the researchers say.

“This could open up opportunities to study fundamental quantum mechanical aspects alongside gravity and warped spaces in various condensed matter settings,” the researchers explain in their paper.

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