What Is it Like to Fall into a Black Hole?

 

And I don’t mean this metaphorically. I’m not talking about a fiscal cliff or a socialist America. I’m bored, frankly, of politics, so I’m spending the next few days reading about cool stuff I don’t understand.

Like Black Holes. And what happens when you fall into them. From Scientific American:

According to current theories of physics, a black hole is mostly just empty space. Its perimeter or “event horizon” is not a material surface, but just a hypothetical location that marks the point of no return. Once inside, you are gripped too tightly by gravity ever to get back out. By then, falling at nearly the speed of light, you have a few seconds to look around before you reach the very center and get crushed into oblivion. But nothing noticeable should happen at the moment of crossing. One of Einstein’s great insights was that observers who are freely falling—whether into a black hole or toward the ground—don’t feel the force of gravity, since everything around them is falling, too. As they say, it’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end.

Do you get all stretchy? Unclear:

To the infalling observer, space looks like a vacuum, and in quantum theory, a vacuum is a very special state of affairs. It is a region of space that is empty of particles. It is not a region that is empty of everything. There’s no getting rid of the electromagnetic field and other fields. (If you could, the region would not merely be empty, but nonexistent.) A particle is nothing more or less than a vibration one of these fields, and what makes a vacuum a vacuum is that all the possible vibrations cancel one another precisely, leaving the fields becalmed. To maintain this finely balanced condition, the vibrations must be thoroughly quantum-entangled with one another.

To the outgoing observer, the horizon (or membrane) cleaves space in two, and the vibrations no longer appear to cancel out. It looks like there are particles flying off in every direction. This is perfectly compatible with the infalling observer’s viewpoint, since the fields are what is fundamental and the presence of particles is a matter of perspective. To put it differently, emptiness is a holistic property in quantum physics—true for a region of space in its entirety, but not for individual subregions.

I’m lost. I feel like falling into a black hole can’t be any more baffling than reading about falling into a black hole. But at least I’m not alone:

Someone falling into a black hole doesn’t pass uneventfully through the horizon, but hits a wall of fire and is instantly incinerated. “I think it’s crazy,” [physicist Joe] Polchinski admitted. But in order for a black hole to decay and its contents to spill out, as quantum mechanics demands, the infalling observer can’t see just a vacuum. The firewall idea strikes me as similar to past speculation that black holes are somehow material objects—so-called black stars or dark matter stars—rather than merely blank space.

“I spent 20 years confused by this,” Polchinski said, “and now I’m as confused as ever.” It would be nice to answer the question, if only so that no one ever has to undertake the journey to answer the question.

Actually, I have a better example: after a holiday feast, plump with sugar and animal fat and wine and dairy, I fall into a black hole. On the sofa.

Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Members have made 57 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Profile photo of EJHill Member

    Rob Long… in the Age of Obama

    Age-of-Obama.jpg

    • #1
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:24 am
  2. Profile photo of Scott Abel Member

    I thought the last Star Trek movie settled this.

    • #2
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:28 am
  3. Profile photo of HerrForce1 Member

    I get a vision of escaping Maximilian Schell and then coming out near Earth…or something.

    Slide1.jpg

    Happy New Year Rob & Ricochet!

    • #3
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:35 am
  4. Profile photo of Eric Hines Member

    There are a couple of things, and they have to do with the concept of relativity. Do you get all stretchy? Seems clear to me. From the perspective of your constituent atoms–and their constituents, the protons, electrons, and neutrons (and perhaps from the perspective of their constituents, as well), the gravity gradient varies significantly over the distances involved in traveling from your head to your toes–even from the distances between an atom’s nucleus and its “orbiting” electrons (in quotes because that’s only a way of visualizing things–the location of the electrons–even of the protons and neutrons–is only a probability guess, until something comes along and explicitly looks at them). Your body does get stretched out as your toes (I’m assuming you jumped into the hole, rather than dove in) are enough closer to the black hole than is your head to experience a significantly stronger pull of gravity. With your toes accelerating faster than your head, you’re stretching.

    Finally, the canceling is a relative thing, too. From our perspective, there is smoothness. From the quark’s perspective, there is much dissonance. Planck’s Length matters.

    Eric Hines

    • #4
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:40 am
  5. Profile photo of Casey Member

    I made the mistake of mentioning this to my wife. Now I have to go vacuum.

    • #5
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:42 am
  6. Profile photo of Pilli Member

    Neither light nor matter can escape from a Black Hole ( hence the term “Black” hole and not a midmight blue hole or a dark chocolate hole.)

    So how is it that gravity “escapes” from a Black Hole?

    • #6
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:45 am
  7. Profile photo of John Walker Contributor

    Here is an animation of falling into a black hole. This is based upon the assumption that the “firewall” doesn’t exist and that crossing the event horizon is no big thing.

    The firewall makes no sense to me. I understand how a stationary observer near the event horizon would be incinerated by Unruh radiation, but I fail to see any way an in-falling observer crossing the event horizon would perceive anything at all other than the tidal stretch getting a bit more severe.

    • #7
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:48 am
  8. Profile photo of Eric Hines Member
    Pilli: Neither light nor matter can escape from a Black Hole ( hence the term “Black” hole and not a midmight blue hole or a dark chocolate hole.)

    So how is it that gravity “escapes” from a Black Hole? · 4 minutes ago

    You’re assuming the gravity originates from within the black hole.

    Eric Hines

    • #8
    • December 28, 2012 at 4:51 am
  9. Profile photo of James Jones Member
    John Walker: The firewall makes no sense to me. I understand how a stationary observer near the event horizon would be incinerated by Unruh radiation, but I fail to see any way an in-falling observer crossing the event horizon would perceive anything at all other than the tidal stretch getting a bit more severe. · 6 minutes ago

    It’s Hawking radiation, not Unruh radiation, that causes the firewall.

    • #9
    • December 28, 2012 at 5:00 am
  10. Profile photo of flownover Inactive

    Ever since Oreck sold the vaccuum company, I am convinced that things just suck in general. Now I see that Hoover is gone, what’s left ?

    I started with Evelyn Waugh on Nov 7, haven’t looked back. 

    I look up in the sky and wonder why the hell NASA and the USA quit trying to send men up there and satisfied themselves with pictures. Now I know , no voters in outer space.

    • #10
    • December 28, 2012 at 5:11 am
  11. Profile photo of R. Craigen Inactive

    My cats consistently run for their lives when we turn on the vacuum cleaner, fearing they’ll be sucked into a black hole along with the spiders and chunks of candy cane now ground into the carpet.

    Their reaction only serves to illustrate that famous dictum:

    Nature abhors a vacuum.

    • #11
    • December 28, 2012 at 5:28 am
  12. Profile photo of Raxxalan Member

    Admittedly it has been a while since I researched this at all. I was under the impression though that beyond the event horizon it is impossible to apply normal physics. The normal constants take on new meaning and things that do not normally have importance in the quantum scale, like gravity, now have a measurable effect. In the end it may be like other fields of physics, Newtonian physics is a reasonable description of the way things work on a global scale; however is insufficient to a universal scale, Relativity works well on a Universal scale but breaks down on a quantum scale. Maybe quantum physics is insufficient to describe the space beyond the event horizon.

    • #12
    • December 28, 2012 at 5:32 am
  13. Profile photo of Raxxalan Member

    I believe the firewall theory comes from the fact that black holes radiate a tremendous amount of thermal energy.

    • #13
    • December 28, 2012 at 5:35 am
  14. Profile photo of Joan of Ark La Tex Member

    Very elitist suicidal thoughts. Take care. Thanks for entertaining the rest of us though 🙂 

    • #14
    • December 28, 2012 at 5:58 am
  15. Profile photo of I. raptus Member

    The “firewall” idea doesn’t come from Hawking or Unruh radiation. No, the firewall idea comes from an attempt to play around with string theory. Quantum mechanics and general relativity are both very well grounded (incredibly so) in experiment, but string theory has yet to make a single falsifiable prediction (except, one could argue, ones that appear to be wrong, such as predicting too many dimensions). So trying to figure out what it says about the interior of a black hole seems premature, since that’s really untestable — even if you could jump in a nearby black hole, survive the external radiation and tides, and come close enough to the singularity to really experience whatever quantum gravity effects might be waiting for you, there’s no way you could communicate what you found (even or even signal that you died early by hitting this “firewall”) to the outside, because you’re inside a horizon.

    All this is rather academic. Any stellar-massed black hole you fell into would have enough matter around it that it’d fry you before you got near the horizon and tides strong enough that you’d be torn apart before you got near the singularity.

    • #15
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:05 am
  16. Profile photo of I. raptus Member

    As for the question of how gravity “gets out” of a black hole, the answer is it was there to begin with as the black hole formed. Gravity is just spacetime curvature in general relativity, and if you have a collapsing star (or whatever) that will eventually form a star, spacetime is curved around it and as it gets more and more dense, the spacetime around is still there and curved more, until finally it falls within its own Schwarzschild radius*. The gravity is still there because the spacetime is still there, and still curved, even though all you see is a horizon.

    * People can quibble with this phrasing since to external observers one can make points about the Schwarzschild t coordinate vs. proper time, but you know what I mean.

    • #16
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:08 am
  17. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher
    James Lileks:

    In the theory of Lorentzian manifolds, spherically symmetric spacetimes admit a family of nested round spheres. In such a spacetime, a particularly important kind of coordinate chart is the Schwarzschild chart, a kind of polar spherical coordinate chart on a static and spherically symmetric spacetime, which is adapted to these nested round spheres.

    Static, spherically symmetric spacetimes? 

    Ptolemaicsystem-small.png

    Claudius Ptolemaeus, thou art avenged.

    • #17
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:09 am
  18. Profile photo of Hank Rhody Member
    James Lileks: As a casual consumer of pop cosmology, I’ve come to believe in the multiverse model, the “soap bubbles” construct […] It’s more emotionally satisfying than the one-shot / heat-death model, which makes me distrust my conclusions: science isn’t right just because it feels right. […]

    Really? I tend to reject the multiverse model precisely because I find it less emotionally satisfying. Specifically, it allows hack writers cover for their laziness.

    With respect to a rationale for an iterated universe, In Arthur C. Clarke’s later Rama novels he suggests that god spins out universes in order to determine the set of all possible starting conditions that would eventually lead to a harmonious outcome. It’s a staggering idea, but I always thought his god was too small. When I say “omniscient” I mean omniscient.

    • #18
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:13 am
  19. Profile photo of flownover Inactive
    Joan of Ark La Tex: Very elitist suicidal thoughts. Take care. Thanks for entertaining the rest of us though 🙂 · 14 minutes ago

    Elitist suicidal thoughts ? I read that and applied to my life. It worked .

    If I were to buy my wife a new vacuum as a present , it would be suicidal .(how many words have two ‘u’ in a row ?)
    • #19
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:15 am
  20. Profile photo of Joan of Ark La Tex Member
    flownover
    Joan of Ark La Tex: Very elitist suicidal thoughts. Take care. Thanks for entertaining the rest of us though 🙂 · 14 minutes ago

    Elitist suicidal thoughts ? I read that and applied to my life. It worked .

    If I were to buy my wife a new vacuum as a present , it would be suicidal .(how many words have two ‘u’ in a row ?) · 2 minutes ago

    I tend to agree with Craigen. Everything from nature’s perspective, about the vacuum, pretty much, sucks. 

    • #20
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:19 am
  21. Profile photo of Hank Rhody Member
    Pilli: Neither light nor matter can escape from a Black Hole ( hence the term “Black” hole and not a midmight blue hole or a dark chocolate hole.)

    So how is it that gravity “escapes” from a Black Hole? · 13 hours ago

    Because, as far as we know. gravity is neither. What makes something move? Gravity makes things fall. Magnets can pull metals around. So can my cat. Broadly speaking, a century or so ago we’d gotten it down to four basic forces. Electromagnetism (which includes light, baseball bats and steam amongst almost everything else), two types of nuclear force (generally irrelevant yet they do power atom bombs), and gravity. Maxwell pushed science forward by figuring out that electric and magnetic fields produce light, that really they’re all the same thing. We’ve been trying to do the same with the other three ever since. Thats what they mean when they say “Unified Field Theory”. Last I heard they’d figured out how to put the two nuclear forces in, but not gravity.

    But hey, I haven’t been paying much attention to that Higgs Boson rot, maybe they got it and I didn’t hear.

    • #21
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:36 am
  22. Profile photo of Robert Promm Inactive

    So, it’s a hole and it is black. How deep is the hole? My understanding is that it has zero depth. Particles go in and they don’t come out but where do they go? What would you experience if you were at the other side of the black hole (i.e. not the business end). Or, does a black hole have two business ends or is it spherical and if approached from any direction, that direction is the business end? So that the event horizon is just some distance from the black hole regardless of the direction? Do the particles cease to exist or are they simply slowed down to zero vibration so that it only appears that they do not exist? That would occur at absolute zero. But nowhere in the universe is it absolute zero today. My head hurts.

    • #22
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:38 am
  23. Profile photo of 10 cents Member

    My philosophical question are:

    • If someone works in Hollywood would they ever realize it was a black hole they fell in or just complain about poor cell phone coverage before they made the obit page of Variety?
    •  Would the lack of gravity of Hollywood neutralize the black hole?
    • Did anyone notice I added this last question for filler?
    • #23
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:43 am
  24. Profile photo of Hank Rhody Member

    According to current theories of physics, a black hole is mostly just empty space. Its perimeter or “event horizon” is not a material surface, but just a hypothetical location that marks the point of no return.

    See, this sort of thing really annoys me. They take pains to define the event horizon as the point where you can no longer measure stuff (because light can’t yadda yadda), but then they don’t offer anything about WHY they think it’s mostly empty space beyond that. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation but the scientist dumbed it down so the journalist could understand it, who dumbed it down further for what he presumes the troglodytes who read him can understand.

    That’s one of the reasons I don’t read much popular science. Err, not just the magazine. The other one might be present here too–maybe there isn’t a perfectly good explanation. I’ve spent enough time reading about quantum mechanics to know that physicists as much as anybody are just as susceptible to putting their own interpretations on stuff that can’t be tested or proven.

    • #24
    • December 28, 2012 at 6:57 am
  25. Profile photo of Cornelius Julius Sebastian Thatcher

    I’m pretty sure Yvette Mimieux is on the other side, so its probably worth the trip.

    yvette-mimieux-black-hole-85.jpg

    • #25
    • December 28, 2012 at 7:13 am
  26. Profile photo of Recovering Liberal Inactive

    Those who know, don’t tell.

    Those who tell, don’t know.

    • #26
    • December 28, 2012 at 7:17 am
  27. Profile photo of Pilli Member
    I. raptus: As for the question of how gravity “gets out” of a black hole, the answer is it was there to begin with as the black hole formed. Gravity is just spacetime curvature in general relativity, and if you have a collapsing star (or whatever) that will eventually form a star, spacetime is curved around it and as it gets more and more dense, the spacetime around is still there and curved more, until finally it falls within its own Schwarzschild radius*. The gravity is still there because the spacetime is still there, and still curved, even though all you see is a horizon.

    * People can quibble with this phrasing since to external observers one can make points about the Schwarzschild t coordinate vs. proper time, but you know what I mean. · 13 hours ago

    So you’re saying that gravity is not a force but just a defect in the fabric of space/time?

    • #27
    • December 28, 2012 at 7:32 am
  28. Profile photo of Jimmy Carter Member

    Ever been audited?

    • #28
    • December 28, 2012 at 7:38 am
  29. Profile photo of Joan of Ark La Tex Member
    Jimmy Carter: Ever been audited? · 4 minutes ago

    Jimmy Carter! I have always suspected you hid your wealth well in those farms. 

    • #29
    • December 28, 2012 at 7:45 am
  30. Profile photo of Schrodinger's Cat Inactive
    What is it Like to Fall into a Black Hole?

    We will all find out in a few years.

     

    BlHHlthcare.jpg

     

    blH.jpg

    • #30
    • December 28, 2012 at 7:56 am
  1. 1
  2. 2