NASA Simulation Visualizes A Terrifying 360 Degree Plunge Into A Black Hole

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In honor of Black Hole Week, NASA has released a couple of videos produced on a NASA supercomputer, giving viewers a bird's-eye view of what it might look like if they ever plunged into the event horizon. While one video explains the black hole plunge, another renders a 360-degree view of what it would be like.

The two videos work hand-in-hand, with one acting as a “sightseeing guide,” while the other takes the viewer on a celestial trip through and around a supermassive black hole. NASA commented that the videos illuminate the “bizarre effects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.” The project produced about 10 terabytes of data, equivalent to about half of the estimated text content in the Library of Congress, and took 5 days running on only 0.3% of Discover’s 129,000 processors.

“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,” explained Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who created the visualizations. “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.”

The chosen black hole to venture into was the supermassive black hole located at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This mammoth black hole is estimated to be 4.3 million times the mass of Earth’s Sun.

“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.”

Luckily for the viewers, there is no need to worry about being torn apart, which is said to occur because of gravitational pull on the end of an object being much stronger than on the other end. NASA explained that objects falling into the supermassive black hole stretch out like noodles, a process astrophysicists call spaghettification.

“Once the camera crosses the horizon, its destruction by spaghettification is just 12.8 seconds away,” remarked Schnittman. NASA further explains that from that point, it is only 79,500 miles to the singularity, which occurs in the blink of an eye.

With the flight around the black hole already being quite extreme, Schnittman added that it could be much more so. He points to the black hole like the one shown in the movie Interstellar, which was rotating more rapidly.