In a week of historical happenings, this article on black holes and “naked singularities” (i.e., whereupon singularities, the tiniest prick of what’s left of a star collapsed upon itself, is without the veil-like event horizon that separates us from any encounter with or knowledge about it) is easily the most interesting thing I’ve encountered all week.
Another possibility is that singularities may really have an infinite density after all that they are not things to be explained away by quantum gravity but to be accepted as they are. The breakdown of general relativity at such a location may not be a failure of the theory per se but a sign that space and time have an edge. The singularity marks the place where the physical world ends. We should think of it as an event rather than an object, a moment when collapsing matter reaches the edge and ceases to be, like the big bang in reverse.
In that case, questions such as what will come out of a naked singularity are not really meaningful; there is nothing to come out of, because the singularity is just a moment in time. What we see from a distance is not the singularity itself but the processes that occur in the extreme conditions of matter near this event, such as shock waves caused by inhomogeneities in this ultradense medium or quantum-gravitational effects in its vicinity.
Obviously, considering the crowd this blog draws, this idea has some potential philosophical relevance. Or, as Adam said when we were talking about this, “Quick, somebody email Agamben this article, NOW!”
I rather like this bit especially:
To explore how naked singularities might provide a glimpse into otherwise unobservable phenomena, we recently simulated how a star collapses to a naked singularity, taking into account the effects predicted by loop quantum gravity. According to this theory, space consists of tiny atoms, which become conspicuous when matter becomes sufficiently dense; the result is an extremely powerful repulsive force that prevents the density from ever becoming infinite [see "Follow the Bouncing Universe," by Martin Bojowald; Scientific American, October 2008]. In our model, such a repulsive force dispersed the star and dissolved the singularity. Nearly a quarter of the mass of the star was ejected within the final fraction of a microsecond. Just before it did so, a faraway observer would have seen a sudden dip in the intensity of radiation from the collapsing star a direct result of quantum-gravitational effects.
Would that we all, upon our demise, effectively exploded.
There is something rather beautiful, and indeed ecological, about the notion of death, the singularity that is fully our own, and thus in a way where we are fully ourselves, as a similar “extreme condition,” whose effects on everything surrounding is without adequate measure.