What happens to your body in a black hole? Luckily, that question is purely hypothetical - humans currently have no way of reaching these mysterious cosmic bodies, and even if they could they wouldn't be able to enjoy the experience for long. Can people die in black holes? Yes, although not in the ways you might expect.
The answers to these questions are both mind-boggling and fascinating. But before you can delve deeper into the mysteries of death by black hole, you need to know about the event horizon, or the boundary of a black hole. Commonly known as the “point of no return,” the event horizon can be imagined as the edge of a waterfall, where gravity becomes a monopolizing force. In fact, gravity is so strong along the event horizon that it’s impossible for even light to escape.
But what happens to you on the event horizon of a black hole is actually up for debate. Some physicists contend that it would be a peaceful crossing, while others describe an incredibly gruesome and horrifying death. Despite the differing opinions, one thing everyone seems to agree upon is that surviving a black hole would be impossible. If you're ready to learn more, keep reading - and thank your lucky stars you're not currently drifting towards the event horizon yourself.
While gravity remains a black hole's most dominant and devastating force, the first life-threatening feature you might encounter could actually be lurking along the celestial body’s perimeter. A hypothetical characteristic of black holes known as Hawking radiation says that gravity affects particles and anti-particles at the event horizon, resulting in thermal emissions. If this is true, your space trip would be cut short when you found yourself abruptly incinerated just outside the black hole's edge.
Stephen Hawking, whom the phenomenon is named after, has since modified his findings on black holes and event horizons to propose something he calls an "apparent horizon." Unfortunately, the journey doesn’t appear to be any less perilous for would-be visitors to black holes.
If you did manage to get past any obstructive radiation at the edge of the black hole, intense gravity wouldn’t just pull you inside - it would start to stretch your body out. But because gravity increases the closer you get to its source, tidal forces would cause the part of your body nearest the center of the black hole to elongate more than the part of your body farthest from it. Crossing the event horizon feet first would mean the gravitational effect would be exponentially greater at your toes than at your head. This phenomenon, known as “spaghettification,” would not only be the biggest stretch of your life, it would be your last.
Spaghettification doesn't just describe your body's vertical stretch as you travel deeper into a black hole, but also the horizontal compression you'd experience as the space around you narrowed underneath. As astrophysicist Charles Liu describes it, you’d resemble, "toothpaste being extruded out of the tube.”
A human body can only be yanked and squeezed so much before its structural integrity is compromised. Pushed to its threshold inside the black hole, your body would likely be snapped in half. From there, the halves would tear into other halves, and so on and so on. Eventually, the very cells in your body would be ripped apart until you were nothing more than a stream of atoms.