Stephen Hawking has produced a "mind-bending" new theory that argues black holes do not actually exist - at least not in the way we currently perceive them.
Instead, in his paper, Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes, Hawking proposes that black holes can exist without 'event horizons', the invisible cover believed to surround every black hole.
During a previous lecture, 'Into the Black Hole', Hawkins described an event horizon as the boundary of a black hole, "where gravity is just strong enough to drag light back, and prevent it escaping".
“Falling through the event horizon, is a bit like going over Niagara Falls in a canoe", he said. "If you are above the falls, you can get away if you paddle fast enough, but once you are over the edge, you are lost. There's no way back.
"As you get nearer the falls, the current gets faster. This means it pulls harder on the front of the canoe, than the back. There's a danger that the canoe will be pulled apart. It is the same with black holes.”
But now, Hawking is proposing 'apparent horizons' could exist instead, which would only hold light and information temporarily before releasing them back into space in 'garbled form', Nature has reported.
The internationally-renowned theoretical physicist suggests that quantum mechanics and general relativity remain intact, but black holes do not have an event horizon to catch fire.
His work attempts to address the 'black-hole firewall paradox' first discovered by theoretical physicist Joseph Polchinski and his colleagues almost two years ago, when Polchinski and his team began investigating what would happen to an astronaut who fell into a black hole.
They hypothesised that instead of being gradually ripped apart by gravitational forces, the event horizon would be transformed into a 'highly energetic region', and anyone who fell in would hit a wall of fire and burn to death in an instant - violating Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.
In his paper, Hawking writes: "The absence of event horizons means that there are no black holes - in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity."
He told Nature journal: “There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory, but quantum theory, however, “enables energy and information to escape from a black hole.”
Don Page, a physicist and expert on black holes at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada told Nature that "the picture Hawking gives sounds pretty reasonable".
“You could say that it is radical to propose there’s no event horizon", he said. "But these are highly quantum conditions, and there’s ambiguity about what space-time even is, let alone whether there is a definite region that can be marked as an event horizon.”
NASA: Space in pictures
NASA: Space in pictures
A false colour image of Cassiopeia A comprised with data from the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes and the Chandra X-Ray observatory
The Barred Spiral Galaxy (NGC 6217) in the Ursa Minor constellation is pictured in Space
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Rex Features/Mood Board
The barred spiral galaxy M83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel. The Hubble photograph captures thousands of star clusters, hundreds of thousands of individual stars, and 'ghosts' of dead stars called supernova remnants
Acosmic creepy-crawly known as the Tarantula Nebula in infrared light
A spiral galaxy ESO 373-8 - together with at least seven of its galactic neighbours, this galaxy is a member of the NGC 2997 group
A massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744, according to NASA these are some of the faintest and youngest galaxies ever detected in space
A giant cloud of solar particles, a coronal mass ejection, explodes off the sun, lower right, captured by the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
Current conditions of the quiet corona and upper transition region of the Sun
First color image of the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968
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Astronaut Mike Hopkins, Expedition 38 Flight Engineer, is shown in the second of two spacewalks designed to allow the crew to change out a faulty water pump on the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station