Previous work has shown that, in general relativity, the compression of matter past a certain point
can lead to the formation of a zone containing vacuum energy, the background energy of empty space.
Instead of an infinitely dense singularity, it is therefore possible that black holes contain a well of such energy,
the presence of which would account for the observed mass discrepancy.
“This”, says Dr. Pearson,
“is the first time there’s been observational evidence that links these theories to the real world.”
More radical implications follow.
One of the universe’s most mysterious features is that the expansion which began with the Big Bang is accelerating.
The driving force is labeled “dark energy”, but no one knows what it actually is.
In a daring theoretical leap, Dr. Pearson and his colleagues suggest that
the pockets of vacuum energy present in black holes could be responsible.
What would make this possible is that the properties of vacuum energy are dependent on the size of the universe as a whole.
An expanding universe, say theorists, would contain vacuum energy at ever greater densities.
This not only means that black holes would gain mass in hitherto unexplained ways,
but that their growth would fill the universe with vast reservoirs of energy.
They could, in other words, be sources of dark energy.
The team’s calculations show that the size and number of black holes in the universe
would be enough to account for all the measured influence of dark energy.
The neatness of this explanation is remarkable, but elegance is no proof of truth.
Much more work is needed to discount other, albeit less spectacular, possibilities.