Black holes

10 January, 2010

This artist's concept shows a supermassive black hole at the center of a remote galaxy digesting the remnants of a star.
This artist's concept shows a supermassive black hole at the center of a remote galaxy digesting the remnants of a star.
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Question: What would happen to me if I got sucked into a black hole?

Answer: While we will obviously never know exactly what happens when a person is sucked into a black hole, a pretty good guess would be to say that you would be stretched and squeezed to look like a long piece of spaghetti. This happens because of the immense gravity of the black hole.

A black hole has two important parts: the singularity and the event horizon. The singularity is the point in a black hole where there is effectively zero volume and infinite density, because the black hole’s extremely large mass occupies such an extremely small space. The event horizon describes the black hole’s boundary – it is not a visible boundary, but it separates space from the inescapable gravitational pull of the black hole. Once an object crosses the event horizon of a black hole it cannot return, and cannot be seen by an outside observer.

Once you have crossed the event horizon, the strength of the gravitational pull you would feel would increase extremely quickly as you approached the singularity. The effects of this extremely strong gravity on your body would be to stretch and squeeze you until your body resembled something like a piece of spaghetti. This is a useful way for scientists to describe what happens to your body in a black hole: in reality, these spaghettification forces would stretch you into a long thin shape, if your body could, however human bodies aren't very stretchy so these forces would kill you by pulling you into a stream of atoms.

Spaghettification forces are strong when you cross the event horizon of a stellar mass black hole (which is tens to millions times the mass of the Sun), but in the case of a supermassive black hole, which has a mass around a 100 million times the mass of the Sun, spaghettification forces are not that strong when you cross the event horizon, and you can survive them. However now you face another danger. Light that is falling into the black hole behind you is becoming more and more energetic, so you will be fried by gamma radiation. If you do manage to survive the spaghettification and the gamma rays, unfortunately there is no way of avoiding impact with the central singularity, where all your mass will be compressed into a tiny volume.

Comments (2)

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lucy 16 March, 2011 21:56
Sounds painful! Would the atom pulling process happen quickly or one slow agonizing atom at a time?8
Discovery Centre 23 March, 2011 15:02
Hi Lucy, it would very likely be quick because as you move, you speed up, crossing the event horizon in towards the central singularity. We've added two links at top right from Universities of California and Colorado that might be of use.
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