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Betting on the Cosmos

TO  :  ALL
Re  :  bet Dr. Stephen W. Hawking lost

Press-Telegram []
Monday, February 17, 1997
Page B6

Betting on the cosmos

If we had to choose sides in a dispute over the cosmos between Dr. Stephen
W. Hawking and just about anyone, we'd put our money on Hawking.  But if we
had in one recent bet, we'd have lost.
     Hawking, the brilliant Cambridge University scientist who is regarded
as being almost in the same theoretical league as Albert Einstein, made a
bet with two California Institute of Technology professors six years ago that
naked singularities could not exist.  Last week Hawking paid off:  100 pounds
sterling, plus a T-shirt inscribed, ''Nature Abhors a Naked Singularity.''
     That message isn't exactly a total concession, but that's because
Hawking lost on a technicality.  We'll explain.
     Actually, we can't explain because we don't quite get it.  So we'll
borrow the description of New York Times science writer Malcolm W. Browne.
     First, Browne's definition of the terms:  A singularity is a
mathematical point at which space and time are infinitely distorted, where
matter is infinitely dense, and where the rules of relativistic physics and
quantum mechanics break down.  Singularities are believed to lurk at the
hearts of black holes, which conceal their existence from the outer world.
     A naked singularity would be a singularity without a black-hole shell,
and therefore visible, in principle, to outside observers.
     Black holes can't actually be seen, but they can be observed because
their gravitational effects suck in matter, which spirals toward the hole,
is heated and gives off light; their X-rays and other radiation have been
detected by observatories.
     By the way, this sort of stuff isn't just the whimsical speculation of
astrophysical theorists.  The right answers could help explain the working
of one naked singularity of singular importance to us:  the Big Bang, which
theoretically spun off our universe, and perhaps countless others, 15 billion
years ago.
     The winners of the bet with Hawking are Dr. Kip S. Thorne and Dr. John
P. Preskill who, like Hawking, are researchers into cosmic relativity.  They
based their victory, such as it is, on some recent supercomputer calculations
by Dr. Matthew Choptuik of the University of Texas at Austin, who concluded
that there could be special circumstances in which a naked singularity could
be created from a collapsing black hole.
     Choptuik concedes that the circumstances are a long shot, comparable to
standing a pencil on is sharpened tip:  improbable, but theoretically
     Now you can see why Hawking hasn't given up easily.  He's never seen a
pencil stand on its tip, either.
     Hawking promptly made another bet with his two Cal Tech peers:  Although
there may be a very limited set of conditions that could result in a naked
singularity, no general conditions for such a phenomenon would be found.
     That makes sense to us.  We're putting our money on Hawking.

''TIME'' []
February 24, 1997

Page 77

In Physics, the Naked Win

Scientists are not what you'd call high rollers.  But in 1991 STEPHEN HAWKING, 
the brilliant, paralyzed British physicist, bet American colleagues KIP THORNE 
and JOHN PRESKILL that there is no such thing as a naked singularity in 
physics.  A singularity is an object of such density that the laws of physics 
do not apply to it.  A naked singularity is such an object outside a black 
hole, but Hawking believes it can exist only inside a black hole.  He lost his 
bet when someone else proved that you could, in theory, focus gravity waves so 
precisely as to create a naked singularity.  ''Stephen took a while to accept 
the result,'' says Preskill, but now Hawking has paid up:  #100 (about 
[US]$163), some ''clothing to cover the winner's nakedness'' and a thumbprint 
on a concession statement.  The physicist didn't give in easily.  The message 
on the T shirts he gave Thorne and Preskill reads, NATURE ABHORS A NAKE 

Till later, MAC??? / tNATOA / [PRo-iauR]

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