A black hole is supposed to be a piece of space-time so incredibly dense, it vacuums up all matter and light in the vicinity and effectively destroys it. But it doesn’t always work that way. We’ve already seen evidence of black holes lunching on some delicious cosmic material, and then burping some of it back out. Even more crazy — Stephen Hawking has put forth a hypothesis for how information could escape a black hole.

Now, researchers at the awesomely-named Institute of Corpuscular Physics in Valencia, Spain, suggest that matter isn’t always destroyed in a black hole — and when it escapes, it’s not as a deformed vomited chunk or as pure information. Instead, in a new paper published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, the Valencian physicists put forth a proposal that matter can survive and exit a black hole just out through the other side.

This “back door” hypothesis works like this: a black hole is considered a gravitational singularity, where space-time curves toward infinity. (For this reason, some researchers believe a black hole might actually just be a two-dimensional structure projecting as a 3D hologram.) The new paper outlines an idea that this singularity is imperfect — it is not a smooth geometric structure, the same way even crystals have imperfections when you look at them under a microscope.

Under this new geometric framework, the researchers derived an illustration of a simple type of black hole — which doesn’t rotate and possesses an electrical charge — where the center becomes a small spherical surface that signals the existence of a wormhole within the black hole itself. This wormhole is, indeed, a back door leading back to the universe as we know it.

“We resolve the problem of the singularity, since there is a door at the centre of the black hole, the wormhole, through which space and time can continue,” said Gonzalo Olmo, a researcher at the University of Valencia, in a news release.

The wormhole starts out small, but gets bigger as the electric charge rises. So theoretically, a traveler could enter the black hole, become stretched out and zonked out by the gravitational effects, but exit the black hole through the wormhole and revert back to their normal size.

Under this model, matter is not lost to infinite forces, and can indeed survive a black hole experience. Furthermore, this interpretation also resolves the issues raised by other properties of black holes, like negative pressure and strange densities. It suggests a wormhole can be created “out of ordinary matter and energy, such as an electric field,” said Olmo.

Perhaps even more crucial to the world of physics, the interpretation could help explain what quantum entanglement is and how it works.

The whole paper has a strong science fiction feel to it, and for good reason — it’s theoretical. Nevertheless, the new research is another interesting way scientists use black holes as a laboratory setting to play around with hypothetical ideas. As humans develop better tools to actually observe black holes, we might actually have quite a few chances to see if black holes really do have an escape hatch.

Photos via ESO