It is about the year 1964. Roger Penrose and Ivor Robinson – two friends, two English scientists – one physicist, another astronomer.
One day in September. Robinson then worked in Dallas, Texas, USA, from where he returned to England. He came to see Roger Penrose.
Whenever the two of them met, they spoke fluently, there was no lack of subject matter. The two were walking to Roger Penrose’s office at Burkeback College in London that day.
On the way they stood in one place on the sidewalk, to find a gap in the flow of vehicles moving on the road. At the time of crossing the road, there was a pause in the words of both of them.
And in the midst of that silence, Roger Penrose’s mind seemed to go somewhere in space two and a half billion light-years away. There he sees the particles of a quasar spinning and spinning as if a whole galaxy is being pushed into its own center by the force of gravity, the more it was shrinking – the more it was spinning.
Roger Penrose seemed to see the whole thing clearly in those few moments. From there, a realization was born in his mind – which would bring him the Nobel Prize in Physics 56 years later.
Roger Penrose was a relativist physicist in the nineteen-sixties. They were working to further expand Einstein’s theory of relativity through experimentation and research. Penrose in particular was working on a particular aspect – the so-called singularity problem.
‘Singularity’ and ‘Black Hole’
This is a strange and complex problem for physicists.Einstein published his General Theory in 1915, which revolutionized the way scientists have understood space, time, gravity, matter, and energy.
By the nineteenth century, Einstein’s theory was very successful, but many of the predictions based on it were uncertain and could not be tested.
For example, Einstein’s equations showed that the force of gravity could break down in such a way that it could compress a large amount of matter into a very small space – where the particles would become so ‘dense’ that everything would merge to form a state of ‘singularity’ – even light. Can’t escape from his hands. This is know as ‘black hole’ or black hole.
But the environment within that singularity will be such that none of the laws of physics that we know will work anymore, not even Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Does a black hole really exist?
This is why mathematical physicists are so interest in singularity. But most physicists thought that our universe is so organized and bound by the laws of physics – that there could be no such thing as singularity anywhere.
Many would say that it is not possible for us to see the singularity even if it exists. Roger Penrose says, “There was a lot of skepticism. People thought that if an object fell into the singularity, it would spin in an incomprehensible way and then it would come out again.
Something new in the sky: very small, but very bright
Some of the observations made by those who worked in the world of radio astronomy in the late nineteen-fifties caused a great deal of controversy among physicists.
These scientists found some new types of objects in space. These are very bright, very small, and their location is far away. These were first called quasars, abbreviated as quasar-stellar objects. Which means it’s about to be the most delusional time of the year, as well.
They seem to have accumulated too much energy – but in a very small space. It seemed impossible to scientists. But from each new observation only one conclusion could be reached – and that is that these quasars are actually some very ancient galaxies or galaxies that are going to vanish and become a singularity.
Scientists were force to ask themselves a question. So the idea that the singularity will never be seen – is not correct?The prediction that came from the theory of relativity – isn’t it just a mathematical hypothesis?
At universities such as Austin, Princeton, Moscow, Cambridge, and Oxford, and astronomers and mathematicians from South Africa and New Zealand to India, they sought a theory that could explain the nature and behavior of these quasars. Most scientists have tried to identify the special cosmic situation in which a singularity can be born.
Scientists in search of a theory
Roger Penrose was then a reader at Burkeback College in London. He did it in a different way. His goal has always been to find out the underlying formula and the basic mathematical structure. Roger Penrose spent hours and hours drawing various lines, maths and diagrams on a huge board at Barkbeck. Then, in 1973, a group of Russian theorists, led by Isaac Khalatnikov, publish a paper that was widely acclaimed.
This confirms what most scientists thought.The idea is that these singularities are not part of the way we know the universe. Even if a star in the universe collapses, it will continue to expand before it reaches the state of singularity. So there must be a different explanation for quasars.
Russian scientists are right?
Doubt remained in Roger Penrose’s mind. “I always felt that the method they were using might not lead to a definite conclusion. I thought the problem should be looking at differently.”
But despite their arguments, Penrose himself was unable to find a solution to the singularity problem. That’s when Robinson met him.Robinson himself was researching the singularity problem. But they did not discuss it on that autumn day in London in 1984.
Sudden flash of light
But as he was crossing the road with Robinson, a thought suddenly ran through Penrose’s head. He realized that Russian scientists had made a mistake.
When a star or galaxy begins to compress all at once with all its energy, speed and mass – so high a temperature will be created that radiation of different wavelengths will spread around. The smaller the particle cloud, the brighter it will be.
This time he tried to think through the drawings on his board and the sketches in the journal, and at what point, according to Russian scientists, it began to expand again. Penrose did not see any such point.
He saw with his mind’s eye that the star that was breaking would actually continue. The light that will be produced outside its very dense center will be greater than the total brightness of those in our galaxy. And the direction of light inside the center will continue to be dramatically curved, space-time will be twisted. All directions will come together in one place, a moment will come from which there will be no turning back. Light, space and tomorrow everything will stop. A black hole is created – a black hole.
At that moment, Penrose realized – singularity does not need any special situation, it is not an impossible thing in our universe, but an inevitable thing.
The solution came to mind in those silent moments
Penrose and Robinson crossed the road, went to the other side and started talking again. And at the same time, Penrose forgot what he was thinking. But after saying goodbye to his friend, he returned to his office room and sat down again with the board and paper chase.
Penrose spent the rest of the afternoon naturally and in a good mood. He did not understand why his mind felt so good. He tried to remember what had happened all day. Once he remembered the silent moment of crossing that road.
And immediately he remembered everything again. He realized that he had found a solution to the singularity problem.He then began to write his equations over and over again, checking them out, editing them, rearranging them. The arguments were not yet sophisticated, but they all fit together.
Roger Penrose saw the whole process in such a way that it became clear – there are actually hundreds of billions of singularity scattered throughout this universe.It was an idea that would change our perception of the universe and affect what we know today.
Within two months, Roger Penrose began lecturing on his theory. An article in the journal Physical Review Letters was published in mid-December – just four months after crossing the road with Ivor Robinson.
Debate, rejection and opposition
The reaction to this article is what he probably didn’t expect. The “Penrose Singularity Theorem” was debated, with many rejecting and opposing it. Russian scientists were also outraged.
But a few days later it was revealed that there were some serious mathematical errors in the research of Russian scientists, and their theory was no longer logical.
By the end of the nineteen-sixties, Penrose’s theorem began to catch people’s eye. The idea of this singularity began to be adopted in all the research that has been done since then on the origin and structure of the universe.
The idea of singularity began to enter people’s minds. However, the “black hole” is the new name – first used by American science journalist Ann Ewing.
Another scientist, Steven Hawking, developed his new theory of the origin of the universe from Roger Penrose’s theorem. The two have been working together on the singularity for a long time.
In addition to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Gengel and Andrea Gage have won the Nobel Prize in Physics this year. The two have discovered a huge black hole in the center of the Milky Way – part of our Milky Way galaxy.
Roger Penrose, also known as Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, has come up with an alternative to the Big Bang Theory of the Origin of the Universe. Perhaps evidence could find if a signal is find from an ancient black hole.
Pictures of black holes
At one time the idea of a black hole was a controversial theory of Einstein and Penrose. But now it is possible to take pictures of black holes.In 2013, a team of researchers led by engineer and computer scientist Katie Bowman develop an algorithm that raised hopes that it might be possible to take pictures of black holes this time around.
Using that algorithm, a telescope called Event Horizon was able to take pictures of black holes for the first time in 2019. Dramatic visual confirmation of the once-controversial theory was found in that film.
Roger Penrose is now 69 years old. He is a delight to have won the Nobel Prize, but there are many more ideas working in his mind now, writing three research papers together.
“It’s a great honor. But now the phone is always ringing – people are congratulating, journalists are asking for interviews. I’m trying to cope,” he said.
The work of his latest theory is being hampered by this, but Penrose knows best how much power there is in silence, and how it can open the door to new ideas, like a flash of light.
Photo credit: NASA
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