Five-dimensional black hole could ‘break’ general relativity

Researchers have shown how a bizarrely shaped black hole could cause Einstein’s general theory of relativity, a foundation of modern physics, to break down. However, such an object could only exist in a universe with five or more dimensions.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London, have successfully simulated a black hole shaped like a very thin ring, which gives rise to a series of ‘bulges’ connected by strings that become thinner over time. These strings eventually become so thin that they pinch off into a series of miniature black holes, similar to how a thin stream of water from a tap breaks up into droplets.

Ring-shaped black holes were ‘discovered’ by theoretical physicists in 2002, but this is the first time that their dynamics have been successfully simulated using supercomputers. Should this type of black hole form, it would lead to the appearance of a ‘naked singularity’, which would cause the equations behind general relativity to break down. The results are published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

General relativity underpins our current understanding of gravity: everything from the estimation of the age of the stars in the universe, to the GPS signals we rely on to help us navigate, is based on Einstein’s equations. In part, the theory tells us that matter warps its surrounding spacetime, and what we call gravity is the effect of that warp. In the 100 years since it was published, general relativity has passed every test that has been thrown at it, but one of its limitations is the existence of singularities.

A singularity is a point where gravity is so intense that space, time, and the laws of physics, break down. General relativity predicts that singularities exist at the centre of black holes, and that they are surrounded by an event horizon – the ‘point of no return’, where the gravitational pull becomes so strong that escape is impossible, meaning that they cannot be observed from the outside.

“As long as singularities stay hidden behind an event horizon, they do not cause trouble and general relativity holds – the ‘cosmic censorship conjecture’ says that this is always the case,” said study co-author Markus Kunesch, a PhD student at Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). “As long as the cosmic censorship conjecture is valid, we can safely predict the future outside of black holes. Because ultimately, what we’re trying to do in physics is to predict the future given knowledge about the state of the universe now.”

But what if a singularity existed outside of an event horizon? If it did, not only would it be visible from the outside, but it would represent an object that has collapsed to an infinite density, a state which causes the laws of physics to break down. Theoretical physicists have hypothesised that such a thing, called a naked singularity, might exist in higher dimensions.

“If naked singularities exist, general relativity breaks down,” said co-author Saran Tunyasuvunakool, also a PhD student from DAMTP. “And if general relativity breaks down, it would throw everything upside down, because it would no longer have any predictive power – it could no longer be considered as a standalone theory to explain the universe.”

We think of the universe as existing in three dimensions, plus the fourth dimension of time, which together are referred to as spacetime. But, in branches of theoretical physics such as string theory, the universe could be made up of as many as 11 dimensions. Additional dimensions could be large and expansive, or they could be curled up, tiny, and hard to detect. Since humans can only directly perceive three dimensions, the existence of extra dimensions can only be inferred through very high energy experiments, such as those conducted at the Large Hadron Collider.

Einstein’s theory itself does not state how many dimensions there are in the universe, so theoretical physicists have been studying general relativity in higher dimensions to see if cosmic censorship still holds. The discovery of ring-shaped black holes in five dimensions led researchers to hypothesise that they could break up and give rise to a naked singularity.

What the Cambridge researchers, along with their co-author Pau Figueras from Queen Mary University of London, have found is that if the ring is thin enough, it can lead to the formation of naked singularities.

Using the COSMOS supercomputer, the researchers were able to perform a full simulation of Einstein’s complete theory in higher dimensions, allowing them to not only confirm that these ‘black rings’ are unstable, but to also identify their eventual fate. Most of the time, a black ring collapses back into a sphere, so that the singularity would stay contained within the event horizon. Only a very thin black ring becomes sufficiently unstable as to form bulges connected by thinner and thinner strings, eventually breaking off and forming a naked singularity. New simulation techniques and computer code were required to handle these extreme shapes.

“The better we get at simulating Einstein’s theory of gravity in higher dimensions, the easier it will be for us to help with advancing new computational techniques – we’re pushing the limits of what you can do on a computer when it comes to Einstein’s theory,” said Tunyasuvunakool. “But if cosmic censorship doesn’t hold in higher dimensions, then maybe we need to look at what’s so special about a four-dimensional universe that means it does hold.”

The cosmic censorship conjecture is widely expected to be true in our four-dimensional universe, but should it be disproved, an alternative way of explaining the universe would then need to be identified. One possibility is quantum gravity, which approximates Einstein’s equations far away from a singularity, but also provides a description of new physics close to the singularity.

The COSMOS supercomputer at the University of Cambridge is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) DiRAC HPC Facility.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.


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21 thoughts on “Five-dimensional black hole could ‘break’ general relativity”

  1. @Jahus
    >”Not seeing or feeling doesn’t mean something doesn’t exist”

    It does if it’s magic. You don’t get nor deserve any consideration when just pull moronic drivel out of your lame pathetic arse that annuls the forces of nature.

    Your claim is literally a joke on The Onion: “Open-Minded Man Grimly Realizes How Much Life He’s Wasted Listening To Bullshyt”

    If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.
    In that simple statement is the key to science.
    It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is.
    It doesn’t matter how smart you are.
    It doesn’t matter what your name is.
    It doesn’t matter how much money you have.
    If it disagrees with experiment, IT’S WRONG.
    [ Richard Feynman ]

    It is a sad state of the world indeed when a prestigious university publishes such complete utter pretentious twaddle that can be mocked so easily.


    magic isn’t real

  2. How matthew 4:8 says the earth is flat (because you’re too fvcking stupid to do the reality math)…

    ISV>”the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor”

    When the devil takes jesus to a high mountain and declares that all the world is laid out before him… that is the statement of a flat earth.

    Only half a sphere can only be from seen any angle (like we see the moon), and from a point upon that sphere the visible area would be an extremely tiny piece of the whole sphere (as anyone who has climbed a mountain can verify).

    ONLY in the case of a flat earth would all the world be visible.


    That concludes today’s bilebull lesson. so says Amen (ancient Egyptian deity) and his kings AMENhotep &TutankhAMEN, who also proclaim, “the bilebull is polytheistic plagiarism.”

  3. >”the fourth dimension of time”

    Time does not exist & has no physical component. It is a measure of the motion of physical matter.

    But if you’re going to live in magical woowooville, then let’s just declare the 5th dimension to be love. L0L

    FYI (University of Cambridge): The 5th dimension is a pop band, not a science theory.

    When the moon is in the seventh house
    And Jupiter aligns with Mars
    Peace will guide the planets
    And love will steer the stars
    This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius

    Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in


  4. @Xaos Boob
    >”it’s Nobel prize, not noble, you illiterate prat”

    It’s called a typo, Boob. You can’t give me the benefit of the doubt on such an OBVIOUS error?

    Fine, then the next time you misspell a word remember the directive you proclaimed here and know that by your own hand you have declared yourself an “illiterate prat”
    …and if you don’t, then you have proven yourself a hypocrite.

    for when you lay down the measure by which you judge others, know that it is supreme poetic justice that you be judged by that measure too.


    pedantic bile is the tyranny of the impotent

  5. Naked singularities don’t ‘break’ General Relativity, they would just restrain its domain of usefulness to places far enough away for the behaviour at the singularity not to matter. (They break its usefulness as a completely predictive theory at all points on the manifold, but saying it were ‘broken’ would indicate to at leadt some lay-people that the theory weren’t at all accurate.)

  6. @MagicSintReal

    Going to say it–you’re an idiot. First off, Matthew 4.8 doesn’t say the earth is flat, doesn’t say anything of the sort. Second, we live in a 4D world/universe, not 3D–which is clearly stated IN THIS ARTICLE. Plainly you do not bother to read actual texts, just internet comments.

    Also, it’s Nobel prize, not noble, you illiterate prat.

  7. Not seeing or feeling doesn’t mean something doesn’t exist, just that you don’t have instruments for it. Even time is a notion that outgoes our understanding.

  8. @Krappa
    >”2000 years ago round Earth was nonsense”

    NO! 2K years ago, your magical woo woo religion (christipantyism) said the earth was flat (matthew 4:8); still in print today. But ancient &modern men could see the earth’s shadow on the moon & all have known religion is a lie.

    Parroting back such insipid lies just makes you a shill for this villainous corporation.

    It’s a 3D universe. Period. Math proves nothing until it can be demonstrated by physical experimentation (ability to predict) but all have failed.

    Disagree? Good, show me your noble prize. L0L.

  9. @donald, only naked singularities screw up GR, as the article stated. Singularities behind event horizons are fine in GR because no information can escape.

  10. oh and kappa the earth was proved to be round along time ago in ancient egypt by a guy named Eratosthenes when he noticed that if a stick was placed in the sand in 2 towns (one stick in each town) and if these towns where far enough apart at the same time one stick did not have a shadow the other stick in the other town might have a very significant shadow so he came to the hypothesis that the earth was round, anyway if you dont believe me just search up “ancient egyptians solved earth was round” and note he didn’t actually use a stick i just used it as a simple example and i think its degrading to human progress that many people think christopher columbus discovered that the world was not flat but round which is true that he did discover it but he was not the original discoverer, not trying to start anything im just giving you more facts that you can learn about. anyway have a good one, peace.

  11. ok magicisntreal i just typed in a long ass rant on theories and stuff but it got deleted so short version, everything is a theory or was a theory just like converting energy into motion once was just a theory until Michael Faraday came along and made the first electric motor, so time travel or other dimensions are just theories for now but when the right person in the right place and time comes along they just might prove that other dimensions or time travel are possible or a reality, so try to keep an open mind on things,…

  12. MagicIsntReal 2000 years ago round Earth was nonsense, 300 years ago flying machines, now it may seems like a nonsense but in 200 years everyone will have knew it.

  13. @Magic Go worship the Sun god and Cheetos. Leave the thinking to big boys and girls. There’s a reason why you’re not an Astrophysicist, you’re too dumb.

  14. You really think that they did no math at some point to prove these things ? The problem with this is that it is so complicated to explain that they cannot go into detail because the public would just not understand anything. There are always calculations to validate these theories.

  15. I wish I was an astrophysicist so I could spew total nonsensical rubbish and be taken seriously. Five dimensions. Parallel universes. Dark matter. Big bang. Time travel.
    Can’t wait for Michu Kaka & Alex Fillinyouoffko cover this drivel in their next sci-tainment shows on Discover TV.

  16. I wish I was an astrophysicist so I could spew total nonsensical rubbish and be taken seriously. Five dimensions. Parallel universes. Dark matter. Big bang. Time travel.

    Can’t wait for Michu Kaka & Alex Fillinyouoffko cover this drivel in their next sci-tainment shows on Discover TV.



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