Hawking Radiation, theorised by Stephen Hawking, is a process where a black hole gradually loses radiation and mass.

Generally black holes are objects from which nothing can escape, not even light; so how can Hawking Radiation exist? 

Once matter or radiation passes the event horizon, it cannot escape. The event horizon is an area around the black hole and once matter or light crosses it, it cannot leave again.

This was a well-known fact in physics, until Stephen Hawking came along and made us rethink everything we thought we knew about black holes. He proposed that particles smaller than atoms (subatomic particles) are created at the event horizon boundary of the black hole, known as virtual particles. The idea is that these particles continually pop in and out of existence, usually combining and annihilating if the have opposite charge and other characteristics. In the case of Hawking Radiation, one particle may escape the event horizon boundary, while the other falls into the black hole. This results in what would appear to be matter leaving the black hole, which is not actually the case.

Hawking radiation allows a black hole to reduce in mass and it is theorised that this eventually causes the evaporation of the black hole, though this has never been observed. One of Stephen Hawking’s famous quotes summarises this phenomenon nicely, 

“black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought.”

He in fact continued this quote by offering hope to anyone in a difficult situation by saying “if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.”

 

Graphic reference: Hawking Radiation, ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Hawking-radiation_fig8_304743590

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