Earlier this year, physicists celebrated the discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). These are ripples in spacetime curvature, and they were discovered at the site of a black hole merger, confirming part of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

However, it may be the case that this discovery suggests that the same theory breaks down at the edge of black holes.

Physicists who have studied in more depth LIGO’s data on the black hole merger claim that it reveals “echos” of gravitational waves which contradict what Einstein’s general theory of relativity say should appear.

It used to be that physicists thought Einstein’s theory broke down in extreme conditions like what we find at a black hole’s core. Now, they believe the recently discovered echos indicate that relativity fails around a black hole’s edges.

According to the standard model based on Einstein’s theory, there shouldn’t be anything at the edge of a black hole. This is in contrast with other theories such as quantum physics, which suggests the edge should have a ring of high-energy particles around it.

Cosmologist Niayesh Afshordi of the University of Waterloo in Candada created models of these black hole mergers, assuming they do have something at their edges. The model suggests that black holes do have some kind of structure and not a whole lot of nothingness as suggested by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“The LIGO detections, and the prospect of many more, offer an exciting opportunity to investigate a new physical regime,” said black-hole researcher Steve Giddings from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

It’s no surprise that we’re finding evidence that confirms one theory and then breaks it the next.