Black holes are regions of space where the gravity is so thick that not even light can force its way out. As we discussed in a previous episode, black holes can form as a result of stellar death. Once a star runs out of fuel to burn, and thus can no longer support itself via radiation pressure, the layers of metals fused up to that point will all come crashing down towards the center. The stellar core can then implode in the production of a supernova or, as is the case for more massive stars, collapse to then form a black hole.
If massless photons cannot escape the clutches of a black hole, then certainly neither could we. But what would happen to you if you were to find yourself falling into a black hole? Thanks to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, a framework that helps us understand how space and time behave in the presence of strong gravity, we can predict the specifics of what would happen to us without having to go through it ourselves.
The answer is surprising because you get a different one depending on whom you ask. You, as the faller, would experience a reality very different from what I, as an observer from the outside, would see. So, if we can’t agree, what do we think happens to you?
Black holes don’t suck
First, let’s clear up a common misconception. Black holes get a bad reputation for sucking in their surroundings, like some sort of cosmic vacuum cleaner. In reality, the gravitational pull of a black hole is the same of that for a regular star—just a lot stronger.