Naked Physics

Einstein’s general theory of relativity is a cornerstone of our understanding of how the universe works. A great deal of the science we do has roots in this theory. As points out, estimating the age of stars, using GPS for navigation, and a host of other possibilities exist thanks to Einstien’s calculations. The theory has stood the test of time, even with over a century of challenges.

The theory does break down — as do all standard laws of physics — at a singularity. Singularities are points in the universe where a celestial body’s gravitational field becomes infinite. In our universe, general relativity says that this phenomenon exists only in the center of a black hole. Singularities existing outside of this condition would be known as “naked singularities.” A concept known as the cosmic censorship conjecture, introduced in 1969, stated all singularities would be cloaked by an event horizon. Naked singularities, however, would be exempt from this principle.

Anti-de Sitter space. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Saddle Up

Using computer simulations, researchers have predicted the formation of a naked singularity in three-dimensional space for the first time. That being said, although the simulations may have shown a naked singularity, it wasn’t a simulation of our universe. Researchers Toby Crisford and Jorge Santos from Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics used a universe shaped quite differently from our (relatively) flat one. They used anti-de Sitter space for their simulation, which curves in the shape of a saddle. Having a universe with curvature allows for some novel possibilities. Given this shape, researchers were able to force the creation of a naked singularity.

The known universe is not curved, therefore the findings are not directly applicable to our universe. However, that does not make this discovery insignificant: other seemingly unrelated theories of particle physics are connected to gravity in anti-de Sitter space. Equipped with this simulated cosmic censorship violation, there’s no telling what the future has in store for the field of theoretical physics.

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