NASA Shows What It Looks Like to Fly into and Around a Black Hole

Ever since NASA released the first image of a black hole in 2019, we've learned more and more about these enigmatic celestial formations. Still, there are many mysteries around them, as their unique physics make them hard to grasp. For example, how would it look to fly into a black hole? While it's hard to know for sure, NASA has made an effort to offer an answer. The agency's Goddard Space Flight Center released a pair of immersive visualizations based on the data available at the moment.

“People often ask about this, and simulating these difficult-to-imagine processes helps me connect the mathematics of relativity to actual consequences in the real Universe,” says Goddard Space Flight Center astrophysicist Jeremy Schnittman. “So I simulated two different scenarios, one where a camera—a stand-in for a daring astronaut—just misses the event horizon and slingshots back out, and one where it crosses the boundary, sealing its fate.”

To better understand what the video depicts, we ought to take a look at the nature of black holes. By definition, they are regions of spacetime where gravity is so strong that not even light is capable of possessing enough energy to escape it. The event horizon, as shown in the videos, is the boundary of no escape. The warped visuals throw back to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which states that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole.

Creating these 360-degree visualizations was also a feat. To build this hypothetical supermassive black hole with 4.3 million times the mass of our Sun—similar to that at the center of the Milky Way—Schnittman teamed up with scientist Brian Powell. Using the Discover supercomputer at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation, the project generated about 10 terabytes of data. Processing something of this size would take more than a decade on a typical laptop, but on this supercomputer, it took about five days running on just 0.3% of Discover’s 129,000 processors.

“If you have the choice, you want to fall into a supermassive black hole,” Schnittman explained. “Stellar-mass black holes, which contain up to about 30 solar masses, possess much smaller event horizons and stronger tidal forces, which can rip apart approaching objects before they get to the horizon.” While it wouldn't be a nice experience, it looks amazing, to say the least.

You can watch both versions of the black hole flyby, as well as the explainers shared by NASA, below.

How would it look to fly into a black hole? While it's hard to know for sure, NASA has made an effort to offer an answer with a pair of immersive visualizations.

On top of projecting how it would look to fall into a black hole, they've also produced a visualization of a daring flyby—missing the event horizon and escaping safely.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: Website | YouTube

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Regina Sienra

Regina Sienra is a Staff Writer at My Modern Met. Based in Mexico City, Mexico, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications with specialization in Journalism from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She has 10+ years’ experience in Digital Media, writing for outlets in both English and Spanish. Her love for the creative arts—especially music and film—drives her forward every day.
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