spaceSpace and Physics

What Would Happen If You Touched A Black Hole?

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Caroline Reid

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2860 What Would Happen If You Touched A Black Hole?
Would you survive an encounter with a black hole? NASA/Aphelleon/Shutterstock.

A black hole is the final stage in the lifetime of some supermassive stars. It is a dark, massive, guzzler of matter; consuming everything that it can drag into its unfillable belly.

If we know anything about black holes, it's that if you were ever to touch one we would never know your thoughts and feelings about it. Black holes are so massive, with such a powerful gravitational field, that even light can't escape it (that's why a black hole isn't something that we can directly see). The border around the hole, from which no light can return, is called the "event horizon". No information about a human's voyage could ever make it out of this region, so we can never know for sure what happens in there, but plenty of people have taken the time to speculate. 


Certain annihilation

You reach out your hand, toward and over the black hole's event horizon. From an observer's perspective (imagine that the spaceship that dumped you around the black hole is monitoring your progress in the background), you are being stretched around the black hole's event horizon.  At least you'll look like you're made of elastic, like Elastigirl from the Incredibles. 

Due to the intense curvature of space-time around the black hole, the spaceship crew sees your image being stretched. As the image of your distorted body gets longer and longer, you will also slow down until eventually you stop and are stretched across the surface horizon of the black hole. This effect is called "spaghettification," a horrific, warped, frozen, final image of you. Eventually, you will appear to be obliterated by the radiation spewing from the black hole. A gruesome death indeed.

Your true fate


If the black hole is so gargantuan in size that it can be considered a supermassive black hole, then the event horizon will be quite far away from the black hole. In this case, from your perspective, something even stranger has happened than your gruesome death. You haven't been horribly stretched around the event horizon; you haven't been incinerated in a heat death, and actually, absolutely nothing has happened to you. Nothing whatsoever. 

In fact, if you remained beyond this enormous black hole's event horizon in a well-stocked space-house in orbit, you may very well live quite happily in isolation for the rest of your black hole days. This is due to your body not really experiencing the true effects of the epic pull of gravity between the event horizon and the black hole. Instead, you are "freefalling" around the black hole, much like the Earth is in permanent "freefall" (orbit) around the Sun. This mild effect only happens if the black hole is supermassive and therefore the event horizon is far enough away from the black hole.

If the black hole is not supermassive, or as you move toward the center of the supermassive black hole, something more on the dramatic side and less on the fun side happens to you. Space-time becomes so curved that you start to become influenced by tidal forces – like the ones that control our oceans. If you were heading feet-first into the black hole singularity, then the tips of your toes would start stretching towards the hole at a faster rate than your head. This is because the tidal forces at your feet are so much stronger than at your head – here you actually would be ripped apart.

So, in general, IFLScience recommends avoiding black holes wherever possible. It must also be added that this is all theory. Your true fate, if you fall into a black hole, is ultimately unknown.


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