What would happen if you fell into a black hole? Most likely, a phenomenon known as ‘spaghettification’ would stretch your body past it’s elastic limits and snap you apart just above the hips. The same mechanism would continue to break down each half of your body, and over the course of a few seconds you would be reduced to a string of disconnected atoms plummeting towards the inescapable singularity.
How does this spaghettification occur? Dr. Stephen Hawking famously described a fictional situation in which an astronaut approaches the event horizon of a black hole feet-first. Newtonian mathematics tell us that the force of gravity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between two objects. Therefore, as a human body approaches a black hole, the difference in distance from the toes to singularity and the head to singularity would have disastrous consequences. The extreme, non-homogeneous gravitational field would provide a drastically different gravitational pull on the feet and head. This difference in gravity would lead to spaghettification, or the vertical stretching and horizontal compressing of the human body. When the body would reach its elastic limit would depend on the size of the black hole consuming it. In a supermassive black hole, stretching of the body likely wouldn’t begin until after crossing the event horizon, whereas it would likely be spaghettified before crossing the horizon of a stellar-mass black hole. Regardless of when it occurred, the stretching effect would not stop after breaking you in two. It would continue to work on the resulting parts and ultimately break your body down into its smallest constituents. Therefore, our bodies and brains will arrive at the singularity represented by the atoms that composed them. What happens to physical matter at this point is unknown and may be one of the unanswerable questions of the universe.
Photo credit: NASA/ESA; Interstellar