In 1974, Hawking [54] made the startling discovery that the physical temperature of a black hole is not absolute zero: As a result of quantum particle creation effects, a black hole radiates to infinity all species of particles with a perfect black body spectrum, at temperature (in units with )

Thus, truly is the physical temperature of a black hole, not merely a quantity playing a role mathematically analogous to temperature in the laws of black hole mechanics. In this section, we review the status of the derivation of the Hawking effect and also discuss the closely related Unruh effect.

The original derivation of the Hawking effect [54] made direct use of the formalism for calculating particle creation in a curved spacetime that had been developed by Parker [73] and others. Hawking considered a classical spacetime describing gravitational collapse to a Schwarzschild black hole. He then considered a free (i.e., linear) quantum field propagating in this background spacetime, which is initially in its vacuum state prior to the collapse, and he computed the particle content of the field at infinity at late times. This calculation involves taking the positive frequency mode function corresponding to a particle state at late times, propagating it backwards in time, and determining its positive and negative frequency parts in the asymptotic past. His calculation revealed that at late times, the expected number of particles at infinity corresponds to emission from a perfect black body (of finite size) at the Hawking temperature (Eq. (10)). It should be noted that this result relies only on the analysis of quantum fields in the region exterior to the black hole, and it does not make use of any gravitational field equations.

The original Hawking calculation can be straightforwardly generalized and extended in the following ways. First, one may consider a spacetime representing an arbitrary gravitational collapse to a black hole such that the black hole “settles down” to a stationary final state satisfying the zeroth law of black hole mechanics (so that the surface gravity, , of the black hole final state is constant over its event horizon). The initial state of the quantum field may be taken to be any nonsingular state (i.e., any Hadamard state – see, e.g., [101]) rather than the initial vacuum state. Finally, it can be shown [98] that all aspects of the final state at late times (i.e., not merely the expected number of particles in each mode) correspond to black body thermal radiation emanating from the black hole at temperature (Eq. (10)).

It should be noted that no infinities arise in the calculation of the Hawking effect for a free field, so the results are mathematically well defined, without any need for regularization or renormalization. The original derivations [5498] made use of notions of “particles propagating into the black hole”, but the results for what an observer sees at infinity were shown to be independent of the ambiguities inherent in such notions and, indeed, a derivation of the Hawking effect has been given [44] which entirely avoids the introduction of any notion of “particles”. However, there remains one significant difficultly with the Hawking derivation: In the calculation of the backward-in-time propagation of a mode, it is found that the mode undergoes a large blueshift as it propagates near the event horizon, but there is no correspondingly large redshift as the mode propagates back through the collapsing matter into the asymptotic past. Indeed, the net blueshift factor of the mode is proportional to , where is the time that the mode would reach an observer at infinity. Thus, within a time of order of the formation of a black hole (i.e., seconds for a one solar mass Schwarzschild black hole), the Hawking derivation involves (in its intermediate steps) the propagation of modes of frequency much higher than the Planck frequency. In this regime, it is difficult to believe in the accuracy of free field theory – or any other theory known to mankind.

An approach to investigating this issue was first suggested by Unruh [92], who noted that a close analog of the Hawking effect occurs for quantized sound waves in a fluid undergoing supersonic flow. A similar blueshifting of the modes quickly brings one into a regime well outside the domain of validity of the continuum fluid equations. Unruh suggested replacing the continuum fluid equations with a more realistic model at high frequencies to see if the fluid analog of the Hawking effect would still occur. More recently, Unruh investigated models where the dispersion relation is altered at ultra-high frequencies, and he found no deviation from the Hawking prediction [93]. A variety of alternative models have been considered by other researchers [28396279974063]. Again, agreement with the Hawking effect prediction was found in all cases, despite significant modifications of the theory at high frequencies.

The robustness of the Hawking effect with respect to modifications of the theory at ultra-high frequency probably can be understood on the following grounds. One may view the backward-in-time propagation of modes as consisting of two stages: a first stage where the blueshifting of the mode brings it into a WKB regime but the frequencies remain well below the Planck scale, and a second stage where the continued blueshifting takes one to the Planck scale and beyond. In the first stage, the usual field theory calculations should be reliable. On the other hand, after the mode has entered a WKB regime, it seems plausible that the kinds of modifications to its propagation laws considered in [9328396279974063] should not affect its essential properties, in particular the magnitude of its negative frequency part.

Indeed, an issue closely related to the validity of the original Hawking derivation arises if one asks how a uniformly accelerating observer in Minkowski spacetime perceives the ordinary (inertial) vacuum state (see below). The outgoing modes of a given frequency as seen by the accelerating observer at proper time along his worldline correspond to modes of frequency in a fixed inertial frame. Therefore, at time one might worry about field-theoretic derivations of what the accelerating observer would see. However, in this case one can appeal to Lorentz invariance to argue that what the accelerating observer sees cannot change with time. It seems likely that one could similarly argue that the Hawking effect cannot be altered by modifications of the theory at ultra-high frequencies, provided that these modifications preserve an appropriate “local Lorentz invariance” of the theory. Thus, there appears to be strong reasons for believing in the validity of the Hawking effect despite the occurrence of ultra-high-frequency modes in the derivation.

There is a second, logically independent result – namely, the Unruh effect [91] and its generalization to curved spacetime – which also gives rise to the formula (10). Although the Unruh effect is mathematically very closely related to the Hawking effect, it is important to distinguish clearly between them. In its most general form, the Unruh effect may be stated as follows (see [64101] for further discussion): Consider a classical spacetime that contains a bifurcate Killing horizon, , so that there is a one-parameter group of isometries whose associated Killing field, , is normal to . Consider a free quantum field on this spacetime. Then there exists at most one globally nonsingular state of the field which is invariant under the isometries. Furthermore, in the “wedges” of the spacetime where the isometries have timelike orbits, this state (if it exists) is a KMS (i.e., thermal equilibrium) state at temperature (10) with respect to the isometries.

Note that in Minkowski spacetime, any one-parameter group of Lorentz boosts has an associated bifurcate Killing horizon, comprised by two intersecting null planes. The unique, globally nonsingular state which is invariant under these isometries is simply the usual (“inertial”) vacuum state, . In the “right and left wedges” of Minkowski spacetime defined by the Killing horizon, the orbits of the Lorentz boost isometries are timelike, and, indeed, these orbits correspond to worldlines of uniformly accelerating observers. If we normalize the boost Killing field, , so that Killing time equals proper time on an orbit with acceleration , then the surface gravity of the Killing horizon is . An observer following this orbit would naturally use to define a notion of “time translation symmetry”. Consequently, by the above general result, when the field is in the inertial vacuum state, a uniformly accelerating observer would describe the field as being in a thermal equilibrium state at temperature

as originally discovered by Unruh [91]. A mathematically rigorous proof of the Unruh effect in Minkowski spacetime was given by Bisognano and Wichmann [23] in work motivated by entirely different considerations (and done independently of and nearly simultaneously with the work of Unruh). Furthermore, the Bisognano–Wichmann theorem is formulated in the general context of axiomatic quantum field theory, thus establishing that the Unruh effect is not limited to free field theory.

Although there is a close mathematical relationship between the Unruh effect and the Hawking effect, it should be emphasized that these results refer to different states of the quantum field. We can divide the late time modes of the quantum field in the following manner, according to the properties that they would have in the analytically continued spacetime [78] representing the asymptotic final stationary state of the black hole: We refer to modes that would have emanated from the white hole region of the analytically continued spacetime as “UP modes” and those that would have originated from infinity as “IN modes”. In the Hawking effect, the asymptotic final state of the quantum field is a state in which the UP modes of the quantum field are thermally populated at temperature (10), but the IN modes are unpopulated. This state (usually referred to as the “Unruh vacuum”) would be singular on the white hole horizon in the analytically continued spacetime. On the other hand, in the Unruh effect and its generalization to curved spacetimes, the state in question (usually referred to as the “Hartle–Hawking vacuum” [52]) is globally nonsingular, and all modes of the quantum field in the “left and right wedges” are thermally populated.

The differences between the Unruh and Hawking effects can be seen dramatically in the case of a Kerr black hole. For the Kerr black hole, it can be shown [64] that there does not exist any globally nonsingular state of the field which is invariant under the isometries associated with the Killing horizon, i.e., there does not exist a “Hartle–Hawking vacuum state” on Kerr spacetime. However, there is no difficultly with the derivation of the Hawking effect for Kerr black holes, i.e., the “Unruh vacuum state” does exist.

It should be emphasized that in the Hawking effect, the temperature (10) represents the temperature as measured by an observer near infinity. For any observer following an orbit of the Killing field, , normal to the horizon, the locally measured temperature of the UP modes is given by

where . In other words, the locally measured temperature of the Hawking radiation follows the Tolman law. Now, as one approaches the horizon of the black hole, the UP modes dominate over the IN modes. Taking Eq. (4) into account, we see that as the black hole horizon, , is approached, i.e., in this limit Eq. (12) corresponds to the flat spacetime Unruh effect.

Equation (12) shows that when quantum effects are taken into account, a black hole is surrounded by a “thermal atmosphere” whose local temperature as measured by observers following orbits of becomes divergent as one approaches the horizon. As we shall see in the next Section 4, this thermal atmosphere produces important physical effects on quasi-stationary bodies near the black hole. On the other hand, it should be emphasized that for a macroscopic black hole, observers who freely fall into the black hole would not notice any important quantum effects as they approach and cross the horizon.