Black holes do not obliterate information about things which fall into them, but mangle information instead, cosmologist Stephen Hawking told a conference in Dublin today.

‘I want to report that I think I have solved a major problem in theoretical physics,’ he announced as he described his solution to the black hole information paradox.

This paradox stems from his own work. In the 1970s he proved that black holes lose mass by emitting radiation and eventually evaporate altogether.

But this conflicted with the laws of quantum physics, which state that information about what fell into the black hole can never be completely wiped out.

Prof Hawking previously argued that the intense gravitational fields inside the black hole were unravelling the laws of quantum mechanics, possibly sending the information shooting off into other universes. Now he thinks the information simply leaks out back into our own universe.

He said the implications would disappoint science fiction fans.

‘If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our Universe, but in a mangled form, which contains information about what you were like, but in an unrecognisable state.’

In concluding that information escapes, Prof Hawking’s views have come into line with ideas that other theorists have been pushing for years.