physicist Carlo Rovelli ventures beyond black holes

Paris (AFP) – With his latest work, “White Holes”, the physicist Carlo Rovelli describes his quest “with the eyes of the mind” for the future of black holes, in a “diary” punctuated by the poetry of Dante, which gives pride of place to the emotions that scientific research provides.

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The existence of black holes is no longer in doubt, this research director at the CNRS, who lives in Canada, explains to AFP. “We have an idea of ​​their formation, with a star which finishes burning”, before collapsing in on itself. By concentrating such a mass in such a small volume that nothing can escape, not even light.

But then ? “Where does matter go?” asks the 67-year-old physicist, who describes in his work (Flammarion) a sort of funnel, invisible to any outside observer, which becomes increasingly long and narrow over time, and at bottom of which is the star that gave birth to the black hole.

The geometry of this space “very much resembles that of Dante’s Inferno” Alighieri, writes Carlo Rovelli, who chose, to accompany his story, the work of his favorite author and compatriot, Italian poet and thinker of the 13-14th century. century.

And which takes the reader into this “blind world (…) where the equations no longer work”. Because the general theory of relativity, which explains the functioning of the Universe, then comes up against the rules of quantum physics, which govern the infinitely small.

Carlo Rovelli is one of the founders of the theory of loop quantum gravity, an attempt to reconcile these two worlds. He admits today that he “lost all interest in developing the theory for its own sake”, and now prefers to “look for evidence” in the study of black holes.

“Bittersweet is science”

In his work, he postulates that at some point what remains of the star at the bottom of the black hole will “bounce back” and transform the black hole into a… white hole. An object into which, unlike its progenitor, nothing can enter. A currently undetectable object, perhaps “thick as a hair”, which is slowly losing its energy.

First image of the halo of matter surrounding a black hole, provided by the European Southern Observatory, April 10, 2019 © – / EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY/AFP

Exploring this blind world requires “seeing with the eyes of the mind”, respecting a delicate balance “between what we take with us, and what we leave behind us”, he writes.

Like physicists who for centuries have been combining and recombining the “pieces of the puzzle of our knowledge”, each time forcing themselves to look at things from a new perspective: since Anaximander who in the 6th century BC understood that Earth is suspended in space, until Einstein whose theory of general relativity postulates that the geometry of space and time is the toy of gravitational force.

A journey strewn with doubts, explains the physicist, because “bittersweet is science”. He describes his book as “the diary of a researcher who will look into the dark to try to understand the world.” And share with your reader “the emotions that carry us when we search”, and that we think we have found.

Why refer to Dante’s Divine Comedy? Because Carlo Rovelli sees “a parallelism between what happens in artistic production and in scientific production,” he says. Beyond their respective creativity, each “perhaps gives us a better understanding of the world”.

Imagining what is happening at the bottom of a black hole is like a writer imagining what is happening in the heads of his characters. “When I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, an imagined story, I came away with a different understanding of humans,” he explains.

Literature or painting “gives us better eyes to look at the world, and that is exactly what science does”, says Carlo Rovelli, who does not shy away from his pleasure in looking at the stars, without seeking anything to do with it. to understand.

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