Black Holes

In a paper written in 1939, Albert Einstein attempted to reject the notion of black holes that his theory of general relativity and gravity, published more than two decades earlier, seemed to predict. “The essential result of this investigation,” claimed Einstein, who at the time was six years into his appointment as a Professor at the Institute, “is a clear understanding as to why the ‘Schwarzschild singularities’ do not exist in physical reality.” Schwarzschild singularities, later coined “black holes” by John Wheeler, former Member in the School of Mathematics, describe objects that are so massive and compact that time disappears and space becomes infinite. The same year that Einstein sought to discount the existence of black holes, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who would become Director of the Institute in 1947, and his student Hartland S. Snyder used Einstein’s theory of general relativity to show how black holes could form. 

One of the surprising things about chaos is that it took so long for physicists to appreciate how common it is. This is despite the fact that people seem to come naturally programmed with intuition for the basic phenomenon: that small changes to...

On September 14, 2015, the two detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) observed a gravitational-wave signal from the merger of a pair of black holes. While this impressive technological triumph was celebrated...

The Institute sometimes spends money on risky ventures, giving sustained support to people who work on unfashionable and dubious projects. One example of a risky venture was Einstein, who worked here for twenty years on unified field theories...

Matias Zaldarriaga, Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, Scott Tremaine, Richard Black Professor in the School, Member Doron Kushnir, and Junior Visiting Professor Nadia Zakamska discuss LIGO's recent detection of gravitational waves,...

Black holes are among the strangest predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity: regions of spacetime in which gravity is so strong that nothing—not even light—can escape. More precisely, a black hole is a singularity in spacetime...

Robbert Dijkgraaf presents an overview of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, one of the great pillars of modern physics, and its enduring influence.

In 1935, Albert Einstein and collaborators wrote two papers at the Institute for Advanced Study. One was on quantum mechanics [1] and the other was on black holes [2]. The paper on quantum mechanics is very famous and influential. It pointed out...

"Einstein Attacks Quantum Theory” read the New York Times headline of May 4, 1935. The article continued:

Professor Albert Einstein will attack science’s important theory of quantum mechanics, a theory of which he was a sort...

In the public lecture “The Latest News from the Cosmos,” Matias Zaldarriaga, Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, explores the most detailed map of the infant universe to date. Publicly released on March 21, 2013, the...

In the public lecture “Gone with the Wind: Black Holes and their Gusty Influence on the Birth of Galaxies,” sponsored by the Association of Members of the Institute for Advanced Study (AMIAS), Nadia Zakamska, former John N....

The ancients thought that space and time were preexisting entities on which motion happens. Of course, this is also our naive intuition. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, we know that this is not true. Space and time are dynamical objects whose shape is modified by the bodies that move in it.

I sometimes like to think about what it might be like inside a black hole. What does that even mean? Is it really “like” anything inside a black hole? Nature keeps us from ever knowing. (Well, what we know for sure is that nature keeps us from...