So, what would happen if you
fell into a black hole? For years scientists thought they knew how you
would meet your end. Imagine falling into the black hole feet first. As your
feet are closer to the black hole, they would feel a stronger gravitational
force and will thus start to move faster than the rest of your body, causing
you to get stretched into a long noodle. Physicists call this process ‘spaghettification’.
An analogy inspired by William
G. Unruh of the University of British Columbia, one of the pioneers in black
hole quantum mechanics, helps to explain the significance of this pull. Imagine
sitting in a boat, carried along a river that leads towards a waterfall. If you
are significantly far away from the cliff, you can easily row your boat to
safety. But once you get far enough downstream, no matter how fast you row your
boat in the opposite direction, you cannot escape the pull of the water. For
black holes, this ‘point of no return’ is called the event horizon and it is
the place beyond which nothing, not even light can escape.
For most of the past century, the
scientific community thought that the extreme gravitational pull would crush all
the matter that made up the black hole into a one-dimensional point, called a
singularity which is not only incredibly massive, but also incredibly dense.
The closer you are to this point, the stronger the gravitational attraction is.
To begin to understand this controversy, we need to first understand
what a black hole is. A black hole is a
region in space where the force of gravity is so strong that even light is not able to escape. Although some black holes are thought to have formed
in the early universe, soon after the big bang, most medium-sized black holes form
when the center of a very massive star collapses in upon itself.
One of the biggest paradoxes in physics
today is one that sounds straight out of science fiction. What would happen if
you fell into a black hole? Rest assured, the answer to this bizarre question is that you would die –
that is not up for discussion. But it is how exactly you would die that is keeping
physicists up at night. There are currently two major theories
fighting over this horrifying scenario and the outcome of this battle could revolutionize
the fundamental laws of our universe.