Black hole thermodynamics

In physics, black hole thermodynamics[1] is the area of study that seeks to reconcile the laws of thermodynamics with the existence of black-hole event horizons. As the study of the statistical mechanics of black-body radiation led to the advent of the theory of quantum mechanics, the effort to understand the statistical mechanics of black holes has had a deep impact upon the understanding of quantum gravity, leading to the formulation of the holographic principle.[2]

An artist's depiction of two black holes merging, a process in which the laws of thermodynamics are upheld


The second law of thermodynamics requires that black holes have entropy. If black holes carried no entropy, it would be possible to violate the second law by throwing mass into the black hole. The increase of the entropy of the black hole more than compensates for the decrease of the entropy carried by the object that was swallowed.

Starting from theorems proved by Stephen Hawking, Jacob Bekenstein conjectured that the black hole entropy was proportional to the area of its event horizon divided by the Planck area. In 1973 Bekenstein suggested as the constant of proportionality, asserting that if the constant was not exactly this, it must be very close to it. The next year, in 1974, Hawking showed that black holes emit thermal Hawking radiation[3][4] corresponding to a certain temperature (Hawking temperature).[5][6] Using the thermodynamic relationship between energy, temperature and entropy, Hawking was able to confirm Bekenstein's conjecture and fix the constant of proportionality at :[7][8]

where is the area of the event horizon, is Boltzmann's constant, and is the Planck length. This is often referred to as the Bekenstein–Hawking formula. The subscript BH either stands for "black hole" or "Bekenstein–Hawking". The black-hole entropy is proportional to the area of its event horizon . The fact that the black-hole entropy is also the maximal entropy that can be obtained by the Bekenstein bound (wherein the Bekenstein bound becomes an equality) was the main observation that led to the holographic principle.[2] This area relationship was generalized to arbitrary regions via the Ryu-Takayanagi formula, which relates the entanglement entropy of a boundary conformal field theory to a specific surface in its dual gravitational theory.[9]

Although Hawking's calculations gave further thermodynamic evidence for black-hole entropy, until 1995 no one was able to make a controlled calculation of black-hole entropy based on statistical mechanics, which associates entropy with a large number of microstates. In fact, so called "no-hair" theorems[10] appeared to suggest that black holes could have only a single microstate. The situation changed in 1995 when Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa calculated[11] the right Bekenstein–Hawking entropy of a supersymmetric black hole in string theory, using methods based on D-branes and string duality. Their calculation was followed by many similar computations of entropy of large classes of other extremal and near-extremal black holes, and the result always agreed with the Bekenstein–Hawking formula. However, for the Schwarzschild black hole, viewed as the most far-from-extremal black hole, the relationship between micro- and macrostates has not been characterized. Efforts to develop an adequate answer within the framework of string theory continue.

In loop quantum gravity (LQG)[nb 1] it is possible to associate a geometrical interpretation to the microstates: these are the quantum geometries of the horizon. LQG offers a geometric explanation of the finiteness of the entropy and of the proportionality of the area of the horizon.[12][13] It is possible to derive, from the covariant formulation of full quantum theory (spinfoam) the correct relation between energy and area (1st law), the Unruh temperature and the distribution that yields Hawking entropy.[14] The calculation makes use of the notion of dynamical horizon and is done for non-extremal black holes. There seems to be also discussed the calculation of Bekenstein–Hawking entropy from the point of view of LQG.

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