I was fascinated by black holes as a kitten. I liked them because they were scary. But they’re also far away so I knew I was safe.
I talked about this with my friend Vivienne Baldassare. She’s an astronomer at Washington State University.
Baldassare told me a black hole is an area in space with lots of gravity. That’s the same force that pulls your body toward the Earth.
“If we want to send a spacecraft somewhere else in the solar system, it has to travel fast enough to escape the gravity of Earth—so the rocket doesn’t just fall back down to Earth,” she said. “A black hole is a place where that escape speed is the speed of light. Nothing can move faster than the speed of light. So, nothing can escape from inside the black hole.”
If you were sucked into a black hole, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Let’s say you fell in feet first. The gravity of the black hole would pull much harder on your feet than your head. It would squeeze your sides together. You would be stretched into a long, thin noodle shape. Scientists call it spaghettification—like being turned into spaghetti. At some point, you would stretch so much that you were no longer one piece.
A small black hole is a few times heavier than the sun. If a small black hole sucked you in, you would become a noodle before you got to the point of no return—called the event horizon.
A big black hole is a million or billion times heavier than the sun. If you fall into one of those, you’d pass the event horizon before you started stretching. So, you’d probably be able to see what’s inside the black hole before you became a noodle. Sadly, you couldn’t tell anyone what you saw. That’s because you can’t send information faster than the speed of light. Your radio signal would be trapped in the black hole with you.
So, what would you see inside that big black hole? Nobody knows!
Black holes form when a massive star dies. There’s a huge explosion called a supernova. The inside of the star collapses. Everything in the massive star squishes into a point so tiny you couldn’t see it—called a singularity. That’s a black hole.
That black hole sucks in the gas and dust around it. If it’s close to a star, it will suck in star material. Everything a black hole ever sucked up is still inside it. We can only imagine what that looks like.
The good news is there’s no way you’ll ever get sucked into a black hole. You would have to get really close to one. The nearest black hole is about 1,500 light years away. So, you would have to travel at the speed of light—which we can’t do—for 1,500 years to get there.
You will never be spaghettified. It’s impastable.