Shedding Some Light on Black Holes

Some people are under the impression that black holes are the absence of matter, that they are void of color because they cannot absorb light, simple because it is called a black hole. This is utterly false. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. According to NASA, a black hole is “a star ten times more massive than the sun squeezed into a sphere approximately the diameter of New York City.” 

Another misconception about black holes is that the gravitational pull around one sucks  in anything and everything around it. While this is partly true—anything that falls into its center instantly gets squished, but more on that in a second—, black holes actually have the same gravitational pull as the star that it once was. It definitely seems like it sucks in every object in its pull, seeing as how nothing could get remotely close to it while is was a live star, but it is the exact same. Except in the center.

When a black hole is created, the dead star gets compressed into almost infinite density. This is the center, and it is called a singularity. From here to a few miles out, the gravitational pull is so strong that it does pull in everything around it. Don’t get confused here—a couple miles is completely different from the entire gravitational pull, which would probably be a couple million miles depending on the black hole. Because the density of the center is near-infinite, a strange phenomenon happens while the star is collapsing. It is a thing that I still don’t fully understand called the event horizon. As the star compresses, the escape velocity—the speed at which an object would have to travel at to “escape” the black hole’s gravitational pull—increases. So the event horizon occurs when the escape velocity exceeds the speed of light. From what I understand, this means that the event horizon is just the part of a black hole’s surface that doesn’t let anything—including light, since Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that the speed of light is the fastest something can travel through space—out.

Let’s say for a second, that, somehow, you manage to fall—or more accurately, get sucked into—a black hole. As I mentioned, you would never escape. The extreme gravity, which is also almost infinite at the center or event horizon, would instantly stretch you vertically and compress you horizontally because of a process that scientists legitimately call spaghettification. Of course we don’t actually know what would happen since it never actually has happened. But scientists expect that the way you would perceive space and time would be completely different.

Although a person has never had an encounter with a black hole, scientists have seen and created advanced simulations of stars entering black holes. You may be surprised to hear that though some get ripped to shreds, there have been several instances of the star entering, warping and being slightly compressed, but managing to exit the gravitational pull fully intact.

Works Cited:

To learn more about black holes in general, visit:

To learn more about a black hole’s event horizon, visit:

To learn more about and see simulations of when a star nears a black hole, visit:

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