During the past 30 years, research in the theory of black holes in general relativity has brought to light strong hints of a very deep and fundamental relationship between gravitation, thermodynamics, and quantum theory. The cornerstone of this relationship is black hole thermodynamics, where it appears that certain laws of black hole mechanics are, in fact, simply the ordinary laws of thermodynamics applied to a system containing a black hole. Indeed, the discovery of the thermodynamic behavior of black holes – achieved primarily by classical and semiclassical analyses – has given rise to most of our present physical insights into the nature of quantum phenomena occurring in strong gravitational fields.

The purpose of this article is to provide a review of the following aspects of black hole thermodynamics:

- At the purely classical level, black holes in general relativity (as well as in other diffeomorphism covariant theories of gravity) obey certain laws which bear a remarkable mathematical resemblance to the ordinary laws of thermodynamics. The derivation of these laws of classical black hole mechanics is reviewed in Section 2.
- Classically, black holes are perfect absorbers but do not emit anything; their physical temperature is absolute zero. However, in quantum theory black holes emit Hawking radiation with a perfect thermal spectrum. This allows a consistent interpretation of the laws of black hole mechanics as physically corresponding to the ordinary laws of thermodynamics. The status of the derivation of Hawking radiation is reviewed in Section 3.
- The generalized second law (GSL) directly links the laws of black hole mechanics to the ordinary laws of thermodynamics. The arguments in favor of the GSL are reviewed in Section 4. A discussion of entropy bounds is also included in this section.
- The classical laws of black hole mechanics together with the formula for the temperature of Hawking radiation allow one to identify a quantity associated with black holes – namely in general relativity – as playing the mathematical role of entropy. The apparent validity of the GSL provides strong evidence that this quantity truly is the physical entropy of a black hole. A major goal of research in quantum gravity is to provide an explanation for – and direct derivation of – the formula for the entropy of a black hole. A brief survey of work along these lines is provided in Section 5.
- Although much progress has been made in our understanding of black hole thermodynamics, many important issues remain unresolved. Primary among these are the “black hole information paradox” and issues related to the degrees of freedom responsible for the entropy of a black hole. These unresolved issues are briefly discussed in Section 6.

Throughout this article, we shall set , and we shall follow the sign and notational conventions of [99]. Although I have attempted to make this review be reasonably comprehensive and balanced, it should be understood that my choices of topics and emphasis naturally reflect my own personal viewpoints, expertise, and biases.

http://www.livingreviews.org/lrr-2001-6 |
© Max Planck Society and the author(s)
Problems/comments to |