NASA Made an Impressive Simulation to Demonstrate What Happens When You Fall Into a Black Hole

The space agency has released a video that depicts two immersive scenarios, both of which involve the "event horizon," or the "point of no return."

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Black holes are one of the greatest enigmas of space. As such it’s not surprising that we had no idea of their existence until a little more than a century ago. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you fell into a black hole? NASA has tried to answer this question with a video simulation that immerses the viewer in the event horizon, which is a black hole's "point of no return."

What are we going to see? NASA has published two video scenarios. In the first one, a simulated camera acts as an astronaut positioned nearly 400 million miles away from a black hole. As the camera moves towards the black hole, you start to see the accretion disk around the black hole and then an internal structure known as a photon ring that becomes clearer as you “fall” deeper.

The closer the camera gets, however, the more distorted the elements and space-time become. Eventually, the flyby completes nearly two orbits around the black hole before plunging beyond the event horizon and undergoing a “spaghettification” process after 12.8 seconds. “Spaghettification” is a phenomenon where objects that fall towards a black hole are stretched into long and thin noddle-like shapes.

In the second scenario, the camera (which is again, simulating an astronaut) approaches the black hole, but instead of being pulled in, it escapes the gravitational pull and flies away. The destination is a supermassive black hole, which is 4.3 million times the mass of our Sun. Additionally, the black hole has an event horizon of 16 million miles.

Let’s watch the first video:

An educational simulation. NASA launched its simulation videos to explore the enigmatic finite region of space that Albert Einstein once described in his equations. Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, created this simulation with this idea in mind. “I simulated two different scenarios, one where a camera–a stand-in for a daring astronaut–just misses the event horizon and slingshots back out, and one where it crosses the boundary, sealing its fate,” Schnittman explains.

How they did it. To simulate what it would be like to be inside a black hole, Schnittman collaborated with his colleague Brian Powell and used NASA’s Discover supercomputer at the Center for Climate Simulation. The project generated a massive 10 terabytes of data and took five days to run, using only 0.3% of Discover’s 129,000 processors. To put this into perspective, the same simulation would take over a decade to run on a standard laptop.

A simple definition of a black hole. Black holes are formed from the cores of massive dead stars that have collapsed under their own gravity, causing their matter to become incredibly dense and compressed into an indescribable space. This compression creates an event horizon, which is an almost spherical boundary where gravity is so strong that even light can’t escape. We currently have no idea what lies beyond the event horizon.

Let’s examine the second scenario:

Is it possible to survive if we accidentally fall into a black hole? Unfortunately, there’s no tangible evidence to support this possibility. The gravitational environment surrounding a black hole is incredibly strong, causing anything that gets too close to be converted into atoms due to the forces involved. The location of this occurrence is dependent on the black hole’s mass.

What about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar? There’s a scene where it’s suggested that time behaves differently near a black hole. According to Schnittman, if you were on an orbit-only trip, you would come back younger. In a second trip, you would be 36 minutes younger than someone who stayed in your initial position. However, “this situation can be even more extreme,” Schnittman sais. If the black hole were rapidly spinning, as shown in the 2014 movie, you “would return many years younger than [your] shipmates.”

Image | NASA

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