Stephen Hawking has announced a groundbreaking theory on the nature of black holes — apparently, things can escape from them after all. "If you feel you are in a black hole, don't give up," he said a public lecture in Stockholm, Sweden on Tuesday, the New Scientist reports. 

According to the New Scientist, Hawking explained his theory to experts in a meeting. "The message of this lecture is that black holes ain't as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought," he said. "Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly come out in another universe."

The Wall Street Journal points out that this is an interesting stance for Hawking, who "vociferously maintained that this could never happen" for years. In physics class, most students learn that black holes are like terrifying vacuums — anything gets too close, and it gets sucked into the black hole's gravitational force and is never heard from again. 

Now, Hawking believes that the "information" of particles that get sucked into black holes may eventually come back out as radiation. However, the information isn't actually useful at that point anymore. According to the Washington Post, Hawking compared it to "burning an encyclopedia: You wouldn't technically lose any information if you kept all the ashes ... but you'd have a hard time looking up the capital of Minnesota."

NPR notes that this is not the first time that someone has proposed this idea: in 1996, Gerard 't Hooft (who won the 1999 Noble Prize in physics) presented a similar theory. He was not able to prove it mathematically, however, and doesn't seem to be too happy that Hawking is putting forth the theory again. "If he announces this as a new idea," he told the WSJ, "I won't be thrilled."

[via the New ScientistNPR]