Fall into a black hole in stunning NASA animation (video)

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you were unlucky enough to fall into a black hole, NASA has the answer.

A visualization created on a NASA supercomputer to celebrate the start of black hole week on Monday (May 6) takes viewers on a one-way journey beyond a black hole’s event horizon.

This outer limit of a black hole marks the point at which even light cannot move fast enough to escape the black hole’s intense gravity. That means the event horizon, marked by a gold ring outside the heart of the black hole, is the point of no return where no distant observer can ever retrieve any information.

In a second simulation, we instead fly around the event horizon, challenging our idea of ​​time and space.

Related: Record breaker! The Milky Way’s Most Monstrous Stellar-Mass Black Hole Is a Sleeping Giant Lurking Close to Earth (Video)

a series of spaghetti-like orange rings surround a black sphere

a series of spaghetti-like orange rings surround a black sphere

“People ask about this a lot, and simulating these hard-to-imagine processes helps me connect the math of relativity to actual consequences in the real universe,” says visualization creator Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Maryland, said in a statement.

“So I simulated two different scenarios, one in which a camera – a stand-in for a daring astronaut – narrowly misses the event horizon and shoots back out, and one in which it crosses the line and seals its fate.”

Falling into a black hole

The black hole that we as viewers of the NASA simulation fall into has a mass of about 4.3 times that of the sun. That makes it a supermassive black hole, comparable to Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, which is estimated to have about this mass. Other supermassive black holes are much more massive, some equivalent to billions of suns.

What’s interesting is that if you have a choice of which black hole you end up in, bigger is better.

“If you have a choice, you want to fall into a supermassive black hole,” Schnittman said. “Huge-mass black holes, containing up to about 30 solar masses, have much smaller event horizons and stronger tidal forces, which can tear approaching objects apart before they reach the horizon.”

Falling toward the black hole’s heart, its singularity, the gravitational forces increase the point at which the tidal forces are so intense that an object is stretched vertically and flattened horizontally. This leads to that object, whether a star or an astronaut, being turned into a noodle or ‘spaghettized’. It should come as no surprise that this process would kill every human who experiences it.

The more mass a black hole has, the further away its event horizon is from its singularity. That means an invading astronaut with a supermassive black hole would have a chance to cross the event horizon before meeting its gruesome fate.

The simulations begin about 400 million miles (640 million kilometers) away from our target as we race into the supermassive black hole at speeds approaching that of light. As the black hole fills our view, the light from the matter around it becomes more intense.

Closer to our destination, the view of the background stars changes as the distorting gravitational effects of the supermassive black holes on spacetime, and thus the light from background sources, becomes apparent. Immediately surrounding the black hole is a ring of light that circles the black hole due to the extreme curvature of space that the black hole with its enormous mass creates.

Before reaching the event horizon and the photon ring, the falling astronaut encounters an oblate cloud of hot and glowing gas, a so-called accretion disk, which gradually feeds the black hole. This acts as a reference point for our journey.

a fluffy orange donut in spacea fluffy orange donut in space

a fluffy orange donut in space

The event horizon of this simulated supermassive black hole gives it a width of about 25 million kilometers, about 17% of the distance between Earth and the Sun.

After a real-time duration of about 3 hours and 30 minutes during two orbits around the black hole, we reach the event horizon. This marks the last point at which any distant observer watching our descent would be able to see us. They would see our image forever frozen at the very edge of the event horizon.

Once the event horizon is crossed, it’s a one-way trip to the black hole’s central singularity, the infinitesimal point of infinite density where all the physics of the known universe breaks down.

Although we will never get there. Just 12.8 seconds after crossing the event horizon, we and our camera are spaghettiified while we are still 79,500 miles (128,000 kilometers) away from the singularity.

The second video gives us the chance to avoid this fate.

In this simulation, instead of falling into the black hole, we enclose the event horizon, but never cross it. This takes us on a six-hour tour around this black hole. When we return to our nearby mothership, the supermassive black hole’s distorting effects on space and time will result in our fellow astronauts being about 36 minutes older than us.

“This situation could be even more extreme,” Schnittman said. “If the black hole was spinning rapidly, as shown in the 2014 film ‘Interstellar,’ she would return many years younger than her shipmates.”


– How do some black holes get so big? The James Webb Space Telescope may have an answer

– The brightest quasar ever seen is powered by a black hole that eats ‘a sun a day’

—Black hole-like “gravastars” can be stacked like Russian tea dolls

The simulations of the black hole tour and dive into it were created using the Discover supercomputer at NASA’s Center for Climate Simulation. The supercomputer produced a whopping 10 terabytes of data, which NASA says is equivalent to half the text in the Library of Congress.

The simulations ran for five days on Discover, accounting for 0.35 of the supercomputer’s 129,000 processors. It would take a commercial laptop about ten years to create the same simulations.

Just as the supermassive black hole’s event horizon marks its outer limit, these stunning simulations mark the start of a five-day journey through Black Hole Week that promises to expand and compress our minds (in a good way).

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