I have been reading up on the trans-Planckian problem with the black hole evaporation process. (See the end for an update in March 2018)
Here is the problem.
An observer far away from a black hole sees photons of normal infared or radio wave energies coming from a black hole (i.e. << 1eV). If one calculates the energies that these photons should have once they are in the vicinity of the black hole horizon, the energy is becomes high – higher than the Planck energy, exponentially so. Of course if we ride with the photon down to the horizon, the photon blue shifts like mad, going ‘trans-Planckian’ – i.e. having more energy than the Planck energy.
Looked at another way: if a photon starts out at the horizon, then we won’t ever see it as a distant observer. So it needs to start out just above the horizon where the distance from the horizon is given by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and propagate to us. The problem is that the energy of these evaporating photons must be enormous at this quantum distance from the horizon – not merely enormous, but exponentially enormous. A proper analysis actually starts the photon off in the formation of the black hole, but the physics is the same.
Adam Helfer puts it well in his paper. Great clear writing and thinking.
Trans–Planckian modes, back–reaction, and the Hawking process
My take is simple. After reading Hefler’s paper plus others on the subject, I’m fairly convinced that black holes of astrophysical size (or even down to trillions of tons) do not evaporate.
The math is good. The physics isn’t
Let’s get things straight here: the math behind Hawking evaporation is good: Hawking’s math for black hole evaporation is not in question.
It should be emphasized that the problems uncovered here are entirely physical, not mathematical. While there are some technical mathematical concerns with details of Hawking’s computation, we do not anticipate any real difficulty in resolving these (cf. Fredenhagen and Haag 1990). The issues are whether the physical assumptions underlying the mathematics are correct, and whether the correct physical lessons are being drawn from the calculations.
Yet Hawking’s prediction of black hole evaporation is one of the great predictions of late 20th century physics.
Whether black holes turn out to radiate or not, it would be hard to overstate the significance of these papers. Hawking had found one of those key physical systems which at once bring vexing foundational issues to a point, are accessible to analytic techniques, and suggest deep connections between disparate areas of physics. (Helfer, A. D. (2003). Do black holes radiate? Retrieved from https://arxiv.org/pdf/gr-qc/0304042.pdf)
So it’s an important concept. In fact it so important that much of not only black hole physics but quantum gravity and cosmology all use or even depend on black hole evaporation. Papers with titles like “Avoiding the Trans-Planckian Problem in Black Hole Physics” abound.
The trans-Planckian problem is indicative of the state of modern physics.
There are so many theories in physics today that rely on an unreasonable extrapolation of the efficacy of quantum mechanics at energies and scales that are not merely larger than experimental data, but exponentially larger than we have experimental evidence for. Its like that old joke about putting a dollar into a bank account and waiting a million years – even at a few per cent interest your money will be worth more than the planet. A straightforward look at history shows that currency and banks live for hundreds of years – not millions. The same thing happens in physics – you can’t connect two reasonable physical states through an unphysical one and expect it to work.
The trans-Planckian problem is replicated perfectly in inflationary big bang theory.
The trans-Planckian problem seems like a circle the wagons type of situation in physics. Black hole evaporation now has too many careers built on it to be easily torn down.
To emphasize the essential way these high–frequency modes enter, suppose we had initially imposed an ultraviolet cut–off Λ on the in–modes. Then we should have found no Hawking quanta at late times, for the out–modes’ maximum frequency would be ∼ v′(u)Λ, which goes to zero rapidly. (It is worth pointing out that this procedure is within what may be fairly described as text–book quantum field theory: start with a cut–off, do the calculation, and at the very end take the cut–off to infinity. That this results in no Hawking quanta emphasizes the delicacy of the issues. In this sense, the trans–Planckian problem may be thought of as a renormalization–ambiguity problem.)
Some may argue that other researchers have solved the trans-Planckian problem, but its just too simple a problem to get around.
One way around it – which I assume is what many researchers think – is that quantum mechanics is somehow different than every other physical theory ever found, in that it has no UV, IR, no limits at all. In my view that is extremely unlikely. Quantum mechanics has limits, like every other theory.
Possible limits of quantum mechanics:
- Zero point: Perhaps there is a UV cut – ( Λ ) . The quantum vacuum cannot create particles of arbitrarily large energies.
- Instant collapse. While its an experimental fact that QM has non-local connections, the actual speed of these connections is only tested to a few times the speed of light.
- Quantum measurement – Schrödinger’s cat is as Schrödinger initially intended it to be seen – as an illustration of the absurdity of QM in macroscopic systems.
If there is a limit on quantum mechanics – that QM is like any other theory – a tool that works very well in some domain of physical problems, then many many pillars of theoretical physics will have to tumble, black hole evaporation being one of them.
The other argument – Unruh saves evaporation?
March 2018 update: Ok – upon reading this paper by Steven B. Giddings
Where does Hawking radiation originate? A common picture is that it arises from excitations very near or at the horizon, and this viewpoint has supported the “firewall” argument and arguments for a key role for the UV-dependent entanglement entropy in describing the quantum mechanics of black holes. However, closer investigation of both the total emission rate and the stress tensor of Hawking radiation supports the statement that its source is a near-horizon quantum region, or “atmosphere,” whose radial extent is set by the horizon radius scale.
So after I wrote this I am not convinced that holes don’t radiate.
Adam’s argument is below. Basically in order for Unruh’s/Giddings ‘saving’ of black hole radiation to work, there has to be enough ‘source space’ around the black hole to generate the Hawking radiation. There might be.