One of the most fascinating topics, from age of 5 years old on up, is the question of what happens when one falls into a black hole? Let’s look at the specific case of falling into a giant black hole, which for this discussion refers to the kind of black hole that is found at the center of the Milky Way.
A black hole is given the distinction of ‘giant’ or more formerly ’supermassive’ as it has a weight equal to many millions of stars. So, if one is lucky enough to fall into such a monster, what will the experience be like? Will one get instantly crushed out of existence by the enormous gravity or will one survive? It sounds pretty obvious that one would get stretched and twisted completely out of existence, or would one?
A black hole has an edge to it which we call the event horizon. At the event horizon, the gravitational force is exactly counterbalanced by the ability of light to escape it. Just outside the event horizon itself, there is a lot of high energy X-ray and gamma-ray radiation which can escape (just barely). This is a black hole’s way of cooling itself down (and losing energy).
Just as we humans sweat in order to cool off and lose energy from the skin, a black hole allows energy to escape from outside the event horizon. We stop sweating when we finish cooling off (and hopefully get hydrated again).
A black hole, on the other hand, is constantly evaporating away its energy in a process called ‘Hawking radiation’ after Professor Stephan Hawking. It is thought that eventually every black hole will disappear utterly. This will take billions of years, so this effect will not save you.
Now then, just inside the event horizon, the gravity is so high that not even light can escape. That makes a black hole invisible on the sky, hence the name “black hole.” Inside the black hole, space starts to get contorted, and as one descends towards the center, space gets more and more twisted up until it completely twists back upon itself.
The laws of physics as we define them are based on there being a reasonable concept of space and time. Inside of a black hole space and time get so curved and confused that our intuitive concepts of space of time disappear, and the known laws of physics disappear along with them. Even so, we can still peer into the black hole from a safe distance away and learn what happens to anyone who might wish to jump into one.
In the next installment, let’s take a front row seat and watch a hero named “Cooper” fall into a supermassive black hole similar to what happened to the hero by the same name in the recent film “Interstellar” and see what happens!