An astronaut unfortunate enough to fall into a black hole would be in for certain demise. The method of this annihilation, however, has recently become a subject of fierce debate, thanks to a new idea that is throwing the world of theoretical physics for a loop. The notion is that the “event horizon, which forms the boundary of a black hole, beyond which no light can escape, is an actual physical wall—a firewall. These firewalls would be made of high-energy particles that would destroy anything on contact. Our hapless astronaut, rather than sinking straight to the heart of a black hole, would be instantly vaporized at its periphery.
In our April issue University of California, Santa Barbara, physicist Joseph Polchinski describes in depth how he and his colleagues reasoned that firewalls exist, and what they might mean not just for black holes but the nature of the universe as a whole. The existence of firewalls, some say, may represent the end of spacetime altogether. By investigating the theoretical quandaries firewalls pose, physicists hope to find a path toward rectifying the two successful but incompatible theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics.
Polchinski will chat with me about this mind-boggling notion during a Google Hangout video session in the coming weeks. In the meantime read his article here and submit any questions you’d like him to answer, either via the comments below, replies on Twitter or Facebook to this post, or by e-mailing email@example.com.