How can black holes destroy all traces of consumed matter and energy, as Hawking long believed, when subatomic theory says such elements must survive in some form?
Hawking's answer is that the black holes hold their contents for eons but themselves eventually deteriorate and die. As the black hole disintegrates, they send their transformed contents back out into the infinite universal horizons from whence they came.
Previously, Hawking, 62, had held out the possibility that disappearing matter travels through the black hole to a new parallel universe — 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 copy of his speech distributed just before he appeared at the conference.
"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," he said. "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 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."
Much less exciting. Now all that's left for SF to do is tell the mangled tales of returned space travellers' unrecognizable forms.