NASA video shows what it looks like

Illustration of a black hole destroying a planet.
Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

  • A video from NASA shows in astonishing detail what falling into a black hole would look like.
  • A NASA astrophysicist used Einstein's general theory of relativity to simulate a wild ride.
  • The black hole's gravity distorts the light around it, creating a surreal experience. see for yourself.

NASA recently released a series of trippy videos showing what it would look like if you fell into a black hole.

But not just any black hole – a supermassive black hole with a mass 4.3 million times that of our Sun. That's about the size of the supermassive black hole that hides at the center of our galaxy.

Black holes are extreme cosmic environments where gravity, time and light act differently than what we are used to on Earth.

This is what Albert Einstein predicted with his general theory of relativity in 1915: Massive objects, like black holes, distort the fabric of space-time.

In those extreme conditions, things get weird: Time moves differently than it does on Earth and light travels on strange paths, distorting your view of reality.

Einstein probably had an idea of ​​what this would look like, but now using the theory of general relativity, NASA astrophysicist Jeremy Schnittman can actually show you.

Getting closer to a supermassive black hole

Black holes trap super-hot gas in their orbit which then forms an accretion disk, like the one you see here.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/J. Schnittman and B. powell

Schnittman began his simulation with a distant view of a massive black hole surrounded by a glowing ring of gas.

By definition, black holes are invisible because their gravitational pull is so great that nothing can escape – not even light.

However, if a star or gas cloud gets too close to a black hole, the black hole's gravitational grip may tear it apart.

The result is that gas orbits the black hole, forming an accretion disk, which is the red ring visible around the black hole in this illustration.

approaching oblivion

You can see where your spacechip will be at this point in the journey by looking at the little key at the bottom right of this image. Right now, it is still outside the photon ring.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/J. Schnittman and B. powell

As the camera gets closer, you can see a dark band within the accretion disk, followed by a thin ring of light near the center of the black hole. This ring is called the photon ring.

The photon ring is the last feature of the black hole you can see before it enters the point of no return, called the event horizon.

Once you cross the event horizon, you are permanently trapped in the black hole's gravitational grip. nowhere to run.

And that dark band just outside the photon ring? This is called the event horizon shadow. It is a strange trick of light that plays on our eyes by distorting space-time around the event horizon.

rapidly moving towards your destruction

Your spacecraft is close to the photon ring, approaching the event horizon – the point of no return.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/J. Schnittman and B. powell

As your spacecraft gets closer to the event horizon, the black hole's gravity becomes stronger, causing your speed to approach the speed of light.

As a result, the light you see is amplified and appears brighter, “just like the sound of an oncoming racecar increases in pitch,” NASA said in a press release describing the video.

Light also becomes increasingly distorted as the space-time region you are entering becomes more distorted by the black hole's gravity.

10 minutes and counting

Your spacecraft has crossed the photon ring and is now falling towards the center of the black hole at enormous speed.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/J. Schnittman and B. powell

According to NASA calculations, once you cross the photon ring, you are only 10 minutes away from reaching the event horizon.

During those 10 minutes, you continue to watch light from the accretion disk and photon rings warp in repeated cycles of growing and shrinking distorted ovals.

After the countdown reaches zero, “once the camera crosses the horizon, it is annihilated by spaghettification in just 12.8 seconds,” Schnittman said in a NASA press release.

Spaghettification is the term that describes how the gravity of a black hole will shrink your body to as thin as a piece of spaghetti, killing you in the process.

the point of no return

Your spacecraft has crossed the event horizon and is now trapped inside the black hole forever. Death is imminent.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/J. Schnittman and B. powell

At this point, you'll probably be too concerned with the spread of your body to look outside. But if you did, you would only see a faint, thin red line of light as you moved toward the center of the black hole.

Once you cross the event horizon, there are only 79,500 miles left from the center of this black hole. The center of the black hole is what is called the singularity. It's a mysterious place where gravity is so extreme that our laws of physics break and we don't know what happens.

However, we know that you will be dead before you reach it.

How black holes spaghettify their prey

Black holes have the strongest gravitational pull of any object in our universe, capable of stretching your body as thin as a piece of spaghetti.
European Southern Observatory

Death by black hole is sometimes called death by spaghettification, due to the black hole's extreme gravity.

Black holes have the strongest gravitational pull of any object in our universe. That's why they can easily take a whole star and break it into pieces if the star gets too close.

Imagine you could stand on the surface of a black hole. Your feet will feel a stronger gravitational pull than your head because your feet will be closer to the center of the black hole, where gravity is the strongest.

As a result, the black hole will pull your feet towards the center faster than your head, sucking you in slowly, inch by inch, until you're as thin as spaghetti.

what does a real black hole look like

Actual photo of the supermassive black hole that lies at the center of our galaxy called Sagittarius A*.
EHT cooperation

NASA's simulation is based on a supermassive black hole about the same size as the center of our galaxy: Sagittarius A*. Here's an image of what Sagittarius A* actually looks like.

Scientists released this image of Sagittarius A* taken by the Event Horizon Telescope in 2022. It's not as clear as NASA's simulation, but you can still see some clear features: an accretion disk of light around a dark center.

Although it may not seem that surprising at first, this picture of a black hole becomes even more impressive when you realize that Sagittarius A* is about 26,000 light years from Earth.

Simulating a black hole with the help of Einstein

Photograph of Albert Einstein on the porch of his home in Princeton, New Jersey.
Ernst Haas/Contributor

Einstein's greatest theory was his theory of general relativity. Without it, scientists could not understand gravitational waves, the expansion of the universe, time dilation, and black holes.

,Simulating these hard-to-imagine processes helps me connect the mathematics of relativity to real outcomes in the real universe,” Snitman, who created the visualization, said in a NASA press release.

Schnittman created these beautiful simulations using Search for supercomputer here NASA Center for Climate Simulation. It took only 5 days to build them whereas if they had used a normal laptop it would have taken more than 10 years to build.

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