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Stephen Hawking believes he’s solved a huge mystery about black holes

On Tuesday, famed physicist Stephen Hawking presented new theories on black holes to a crowd of esteemed scientists and members of the media at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Hawking focused on something called the information paradox, which continues to puzzle scientists who study black holes. In a nutshell, theparadox involves the fact that information about the star that formed a black hole seems to be lost inside it, presumably disappearing when the black hole inevitably disappears. These things cannot be lost, according to the way we think the universe works, and physicists generally believe that they aren’t really lost. But where does the information go when the black hole that’s absorbed it goes kaput?

It’s brainy stuff, but without an explanation for the apparent paradox, some of the most basic laws we think exist in the universe are at stake. At a public lecture in Stockholm on Monday, Hawking implied that our concept of time itself could fall apart if black holes proved to be exempt from such laws.

Hawking with Nobel laureate Gerard t’Hooft in Stockholm. (KTH)

On Tuesday, he explained his new theory: “I propose that the information is stored not in the interior of the black hole as one might expect, but in its boundary, the event horizon,” Hawking said. The event horizon is the sort of shell around a black hole, past which all matter will be drawn into the dense object’s powerful embrace.

According to Hawking’s idea, the particles that enter a black hole leave traces of their information on the event horizon. When particles come back out — in a phenomenon called Hawking Radiation — they carry some of that information back out, preserving it. Technically, anyway.