The strange fate of a person falling into a black hole

The strange fate of a person falling into a black hole

It could happen to anyone. Maybe you're out trying to find a new habitable planet for the human race, or maybe you're just on a long walk and you slip. Whatever the circumstances, at some point we all find ourselves confronted with the age-old question: what happens when you fall into a black hole?

You might expect to get crushed, or maybe torn to pieces. But the reality is stranger than that.

The instant you entered the black hole, reality would split in two. In one, you would be instantly incinerated, and in the other you would plunge on into the black hole utterly unharmed.

A black hole is a place where the laws of physics as we know them break down. Einstein taught us that gravity warps space itself, causing it to curve. So given a dense enough object, space-time can become so warped that it twists in on itself, burrowing a hole through the very fabric of reality.

A massive star that has run out of fuel can produce the kind of extreme density needed to create such a mangled bit of world. As it buckles under its own weight and collapses inward, space-time caves in with it. The gravitational field becomes so strong that not even light can escape, rendering the region where the star used to be profoundly dark: a black hole.

The outermost boundary of the hole is its event horizon, the point at which the gravitational force precisely counteracts the light's efforts to escape it. Go closer than this, and there's no escape.

The event horizon is ablaze with energy. Quantum effects at the edge create streams of hot particles that radiate back out into the universe. This is called Hawking radiation, after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who predicted it.

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