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Hairy black holes?! Black holes might be distinguishable from one another, say scientists.

Black holes might emit distinct gravitational waves, contradicting an earlier model of the massive celestial objects.

Image

An artist's illustration shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun at the center, surrounded by matter flowing onto the black hole in what is termed an accretion disk.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Reuters

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Black holes are a spot in the universe where you won’t see the sun shine in, to paraphrase that 1960s rock-musical Hair. But speaking of “hair”, a group of scientists says these singularities may have matter (sometimes referred to as “hair”) that could affect how they appear.

This is a tangled concept to figure out (so to speak), so let’s unpack what the new study in Physical Review Letters means.

When black hole understanding was still in its infancy in the scientific literature, physicist John Wheeler wrote a phrase that is now famous among scientists in that field: “Black holes have no hair.” His phrase referred to how black holes are defined, which he believed came down to only two factors: their mass, and their angular momentum, or the rotation velocity of the hole. (Some sources also say electric charge was included as a third factor.)

 

Say you have a black hole that was created out of a huge star that imploded. Even though the star itself had distinctive properties, this theory says they would vanish in a black hole. So to take that to a generality, Wheeler’s phrase said all black holes are essentially the same.

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