What, exactly, would happen if you fell into a black hole? You probably expect that you’d be crushed or torn apart but, according to BBC Earth, the story is actually much more bizarre than that. In fact, the moment you entered the black hole, reality would shift dramatically; in one sense, you would be instantly destroyed and, in another, you would come out unscathed.
Black holes have always been a mystery to us because the laws of physics do not necessarily apply. Einstein surmised that gravity can actually warp space itself, causing it to curve. Given a dense enough object, space-time becomes warp, twisting in on itself and shifting reality as we know it. The gravitational field becomes so strong that not even light can escape.
The event horizon is the point at which the gravitational force counteracts the light’s efforts to escape it. It is full of Hawking radiation, streams of hot particles that radiate back out into the universe. With enough time, the black hole will radiate away its own mass and vanish. If you go deeper into the black hole, space becomes curvier until you reach the center, where it is infinitely curved in singularity. Space and time are no longer relevant and the laws of physics no longer apply. The rest is a mystery.
Here’s what would happen if you were to break those bounds, according to BBC.
Imagine you are plunging into a black hole. As you accelerate toward the event horizon, your body is stretched and contorted. The closer you get to the horizon the more you seem to be moving in slow motion—until suddenly you appear paused, suspending in time, as a growing heat starts to engulf you. Before you cross into the black hole’s darkness, you’ve been reduced to ash.
Of course, that is all from an outside perspective. From your point of view, nothing seems to happen. You don’t feel the stretching, the slowing, or the radiation. Instead, you’re in freefall, and you feel no gravity. That’s because the event horizon simply shifts perspective. An observer who remains outside the black hole can’t see through it, but if you were engulfed by it, there is no horizon.
If the black hole were off a smaller size, the force of gravity would likely stretch you out like a piece of spaghetti. But in a larger black hole, you would likely live out the rest of your life before dying at the singularity. It would be a bizarre life—being sucked in the space-time continuum, pulled against your will and unable to turn back. But isn’t that how we already live our lives, not with space but with time? In a black hole, space and time actually swap roles. In that sense, time is what pulls you toward the singularity.
Interestingly, the laws of physics for this are rather nonsensical. They require that you both be outside the black hole in a pile of ashes and inside the black hole alive as well. Of course, the third law of physics says information can’t be cloned—so you have to be in two places, but there can only be one you. This is called the black hole information paradox.
In the 1990s, Leonard Susskind argued that there is no paradox because no one would ever see your ‘clone.’ Though the perspective of an outsider watching you getting pulled into a black hole and your own experience inside of it would be vastly different, you would never compare note. So no laws of physics would actually be broken—reality would just be a matter of perspective.
Physicists have spent more than a century trying to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics. Eventually, one or the other has to give. But if both your own story and the story of an observer are true, and reality is observer-dependent, all the laws of physics remain intact. This gives physicists something interesting to grapple with: the connections between complex calculations and space-time.