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 Phys.org 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.
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.