It is true that, from an outside perspective, nothing can ever pass the event horizon. I will attempt to describe the situation as best I can, to the best of my knowledge.

First, let's imagine a classical black hole. By "classical" I mean a black-hole solution to Einstein's equations, which we imagine not to emit Hawking radiation (for now). Such an object would persist for ever. Let's imagine throwing a clock into it. We will stand a long way from the black hole and watch the clock fall in.

What we notice as the clock approaches the event horizon is that it slows down compared to our clock. In fact its hands will asymptotically approach a certain time, which we might as well call 12:00. The light from the clock will also slow down, becoming red-shifted quite rapidly towards the radio end of the spectrum. Because of this red shift, and because we can only ever see photons emitted by the clock before it struck twelve, it will rapidly become very hard to detect. Eventually it will get to the point where we'd have to wait billions of years in between photons. Nevertheless, as you say, it is always possible in principle to detect the clock, because it never passes the event horizon.

I had the opportunity to chat to a cosmologist about this subject a few months ago, and what he said was that this red-shifting towards undetectability happens very quickly. (I believe the "no hair theorem" provides the justification for this.) He also said that the black-hole-with-an-essentially-undetectable-object-just-outside-its-event-horizon is a very good approximation to a black hole of a slightly larger mass.

(At this point I want to note in passing that any "real" black hole will emit Hawking radiation until it eventually evaporates away to nothing. Since our clock will still not have passed the event horizon by the time this happens, it must eventually escape - although presumably the Hawking radiation interacts with it on the way out. Presumably, from the clock's perspective all those billions of years of radiation will appear in the split-second before 12:00, so it won't come out looking much like a clock any more. To my mind the resolution to the black hole information paradox lies along this line of reasoning and not in any specifics of string theory. But of course that's just my opinion.)

Now, this idea seems a bit weird (to me and I think to you as well) because if nothing ever passes the event horizon, how can there ever be a black hole in the first place? My friendly cosmologist's answer boiled down to this: *the black hole itself is only ever an approximation*. When a bunch of matter collapses in on itself it very rapidly converges towards something that looks like a black-hole solution to Einstein's equations, to the point where to all intents and purposes you can treat it as if the matter is inside the event horizon rather than outside it. But this is only ever an approximation because from our perspective none of the infalling matter can ever pass the event horizon.

## Best Answer

There is no unique way to answer this question. The problem is the following. You are asking if, at a specific proper time, a black hole of some radius exists. However, to do this you have to say something like "the black hole has a 10m radius at the same time that the observer's proper time is 5sec". Such simultaneous events are not well defined in GR unless you make an arbitrary choice of a coordinate system with a time coordinate. Nonetheless, if you make such a choice, it is true that the black hole will start with a radius of 0

inside of the infalling matterand then get larger. Eventually it will reach a maximum radius and then get smaller through Hawking radiation.So what will an observer literally see if she observes the star collapsing? The answer is that the observer will see infalling matter slow down and thermalize. The matter will never appear to "fall in" as far as this observer is concerned. However, the particles/light emitted will be redshifted more and more (and before long the only outgoing particles of reasonably not-low energy will be from Hawking radiation).