Black holes are one of science’s biggest mysteries. Known to us as the result of the death of a star with the ability to suck in anything around it, this natural phenomenon is one with a captivating beauty to marvel at, but has hidden dangers lurking beneath the depths of blackness it possesses. The black hole is a scientific theory that brings several burning questions with it. Is it possible for humans to travel towards it safely? Why does time slow in a black hole? Are they even real, or just simply a hypothetical idea? All of these questions remain unanswered, and contribute to the great mystery surrounding these faded stars.
WHAT IS A BLACK HOLE?
Essentially, a black hole is the remnant of the death of a star. A star of a size larger than the sun will spend the majority of its lifespan as a main sequence star, carrying out the process of nuclear fusion, to create heavy elements such as uranium or plutonium. It will then transform into a red supergiant – the next phase of its life. After this, the star will either end as a colourful explosion known as a supernova, or will simply fade into a black hole at the end of its life cycle. Black holes are said to be a region of spacetime with immense gravitational forces acting on it, meaning nothing, not even particles or electromagnetic radiation can escape from its grasp.
ARE THEY DANGEROUS TO US?
As per current knowledge, there is a zero percent chance that the Earth will be swallowed by a black hole, until it is destroyed by the sun in roughly 5 billion years’ time. However, in theory, they can pose an immense threat to human life if we were ever to reach a black hole. Theoretically, if a human was sucked into a black hole, there would be several changes. First of all, the extremely strong gravitational field surrounding a black hole would mean that spacetime would be curved in such a way that time would slow down significantly near a black hole – this is known as the theory of general relativity. Secondly, the black hole would have a deadly impact on our physical selves. The term ‘spaghettification’ – coined by Stephen Hawking, essentially describes the physical transform we would undergo. Essentially, the intense gravitational force would pull a human body apart, separating muscles, bones and even molecules – the final result would be a very thin, stretched out figure – similar to spaghetti, hence the term used to describe this process. So, while the effect being swallowed by a black hole would have on humans would be extremely deadly, there is a low probability of it occurring at this stage in time.
WHAT HAPPENS TO BLACK HOLES OVER TIME?
While black holes do not necessarily have a life cycle of their own, as they simply complete the life of a star, they are not permanent. Just like any other cosmic object, black holes move through spacetime, though not in a regular orbit as many planets. A discovery of Stephen Hawking revealed the surprising journey a black hole undergoes up until its obliteration. He found that an interaction between the quantum fields of our universe and the one-way barrier of the event horizon allowed for energy to leave the black hole in the form of a slow stream of radiation. Over time, the black hole loses mass due to the escape of energy and shrinks, eventually fading out of existence forever.
Overall, black holes are a thing of both wonder and beauty, and advances in modern physics and science will allow us to one day, understand and appreciate the true complexity of this giant object with the capacity to warp spacetime.