Black holes are astronomical entities that are intriguing enough to make our minds run wild—but the speculations of mankind and the treasures of the cosmos don’t end there. Most of us have heard of black holes—incredibly dense objects that swallow everything in their vicinity, including light. But how many of us have heard of white holes?
In the words of Sean Carroll, a cosmologist and professor in Caltech, “A black hole is a place where you can go in but you can never escape; a white hole is a place where you can leave but you can never go back”. In other words, a white hole is the exact opposite of a black hole, although both possess the same mathematical and geometrical features. In a black hole, where crossing the elusive event horizon is synonymous to no escape, white holes are also one-way passages—except that it means entrance, as opposed to exit, is impossible.
However, do white holes even exist? Because if they did, they would violate the second law of thermodynamics; this law states that the state of entropy (disorder or lack of arrangement) of the entire universe, as an isolated system, will always increase over time. Black holes are cosmic objects that do precisely this—black holes can eat away stars or other celestial bodies over long periods of time, thereby spreading their matter across a larger space and adding to the chaos of the universe. Then white holes, on the other hand, would theoretically do precisely the opposite—they would bring objects or scattered materials into arrangement or order, which blatantly goes against the second law of thermodynamics. And anything that violates such a universal law will undoubtedly be extremely unstable, and unlikely to exist for over a few minutes. So how can the possibility of a white hole even remotely exist?
White holes ceased to become pure theory after a fascinating discovery on June 14, 2006. On this eventful day, an extraordinary gamma-ray burst was sighted by the Swift satellite (of NASA); this phenomenon was then known as GRB 060614. However, this gamma-ray burst did not fit into the normal category and parameters of these processes, since such phenomena take place in regions of low star formation or are commonly linked with supernovae. Furthermore, whereas typical gamma-ray bursts last for about 2 seconds, the one sighted in 2006 had lasted for an amazing 102 seconds, and was trillions of times more powerful than the energy emitted by the sun! And since this sudden, massive burst didn’t originate from a supernova, scientists and astronomers could only conclude that it had emerged from nowhere, or from an infinitesimally small speck, and then collapsed upon itself once those 102 seconds were over. Moreover, the features of the 2006 gamma-ray burst immaculately aligned with whatever humanity knows about white holes—the spewing out of a whole lot of matter in a matter of minutes before disappearing.
Certainly, the occurrence of this inexplicable phenomenon by no means corroborates the highly unlikely existence of a white hole, but it does lead to some interesting speculation. In fact, it has even been hypothesized that the Big Bang itself was a white hole!—everything stemming from apparent nothingness. So, as proposed in a paper by Alon Retter and Shlomo Heller, “The observed wealth of different types of gamma-ray burst sources may contain appearance events of white holes […] This is brand new territory; we have no theories to guide us”. Such is the mystery and intrigue emanating from an entity which we are uncertain even exists or could potentially exist—a white hole.
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