Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said Wednesday that black holes, the mysterious massive vortexes formed from collapsed stars, do not destroy everything they consume and instead can regurgitate matter and energy "in a mangled form."
Hawking's radical new thinking, presented in a paper to the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation in Dublin, capped his three-decade struggle to explain an elemental paradox: How can black holes destroy all record of consumed matter and energy, as Hawking long believed, when subatomic theory says they must survive in some form?
Hawking's answer is that the holes hold their contents for eons but that as a black hole disintegrates, it sends its transformed contents back into the infinite universal horizons from which they came.
Previously, Hawking, 62, said disappearing matter may travel into a new parallel universe within the black hole -- the very stuff of most visionary science fiction.
"There is no baby universe branching off, as I once thought. The information remains firmly in our universe," Hawking said in a speech to about 800 scientists from 50 countries. "I'm sorry to disappoint science fiction fans, but if information is preserved, there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes."
"If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe, but in a mangled form, which contains the information about what you were like, but in an unrecognizable state," he said with a smile, sparking laughter from the audience.
Hawking added, "It is great to solve a problem that has been troubling me for nearly 30 years, even though the answer is less exciting than the alternative I suggested."
In a humorous aside, Hawking settled a seven-year-old bet with California Institute of Technology astrophysicist John Preskill, who insisted in 1997 that matter consumed by black holes could not be destroyed. He presented Preskill a favored reference work, "Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia," after having it flown over from the United States.
Later, Preskill said he was very pleased to have won the bet but added: "I'll be honest; I didn't understand the talk." Like other scientists there, he said he looked forward to reading the detailed paper Hawking is expected to publish next month.
Hawking pioneered the understanding of black holes in the mid-1970s. He has insisted that the holes emit radiation but never cough up any trace of matter they consume, a view that conflicts with subatomic theory and its view that matter can never be completely destroyed.
Hawking, a mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge, shot to international fame with his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time," which sought to explain to a general audience the most complex aspects of how the universe works.
Despite being paralyzed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis since his mid-twenties, Hawking travels the world on speaking engagements. He communicates by using a handheld device to select words on his wheelchair's computer screen, then sending them to a speech synthesizer.